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Chop above the rest

Some of the finished axe blades. PHOTOS/ELISA VORSTER

If you go to the shops on High St Solway, you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables, get a haircut and grab a treat from the bakery. You can also buy a top-of-the-range axe, but you’ll have to get on the international waiting list first, writes ELISA VORSTER.

Jo and Eddie Fawcett.

When Eddie Fawcett started his career saw doctoring, he never imagined he would develop an internationally-renowned business making hundreds of championship winning axes.

Fast forward almost 50 years and Tuatahi Racing Axes and Saws in Masterton has become a successful business that has been in the Fawcett family for three generations.

It all began when Mr Fawcett was working with a man named Ed Ferguson who suggested they get a grinder so they could grind farmers’ axes during the downtime.

They were at an engineer’s workshop in Martinborough together when they spotted a piece of machinery for sale for only $10.

They fashioned it into a grinder, and so the racing axe business was born.

“Some friends stayed with us and asked me to do a couple of axes,” Mr Fawcett said.

Those friends then showed the axes to a top woodchopping competitor and before he knew it, he was being sent boxes of axes to repair from Canada.

Tuatahi produces racing axes and saws, used for woodchopping competitions, as well as work axes and saws, throwing axes and training axes.

They also sell covers, handles, jigs and clothing.

Finished racing axe heads sell for up to $570, whereas racing saws go for up to $2500 and more. The workmanship which goes into every axe was described as “an art form” by his daughter and office manager, Jo Fawcett.

“Everyone has got their own technique and they all cut slightly differently,” she said.

“It’s really hard to teach.”

Ninety per cent of Tuatahi’s business comes from overseas, with the company exporting to around 30 countries and people from all different walks of life.

Quintin Fawcett forging an axe.

And the Fawcetts really needed to be experts in their field to cater for the international demand, knowing precisely how to hone the blade depending on which country they’re sending the axe to.

“Every country has a different edge because of the different wood types they have,” Mr Fawcett said.

The business produces up to 30 axes a week and has enough demand for them to expand to 50 axes a week.

“We’ve just taken on an extra grinder to help with production,” Ms Fawcett said.

But they were still looking to add to their team of nine, with a vacancy for an axe and handle maker.

“It’s a really different field to be in – it’s not just a job.

“We want someone who is really interested in it and wants to give it a crack.”

The company was also looking at investing in new technology over the next few years to streamline the production process and make it easier for the staff.

This includes bringing in CNC equipment, which is computer automated machinery that will assist with a large portion of the production work.

“We’ve still got to keep the hand work there on some things, though, or it’s not going to work,” said Mr Fawcett.

“We don’t take anything for granted and we’re always looking at improvement,” Ms Fawcett said.

She laughed as she explained that being a female in a male-dominated field, in conjunction with her in-depth knowledge, meant overseas clients often mistook her name on email correspondence as belonging to a male.

However, women around the world have been making their marks in the competitive wood chopping arena in recent years.

“It’s the biggest growing part of our sport,” Mr Fawcett said.

Although Ms Fawcett no longer competes, Mr Fawcett’s son and grandson, Grant and Quintin, both compete, as well as work in the workshop.

 

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