Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Historical Amnesia and the Manufacturing of History

A while back I did a post On the Quality of Cutting Tool. There I mentioned how sometimes we have a tendency to assume that some tool manufacturers possess what can almost be described as magical secrets. As I mentioned, I generally don’t believe that to be the case.

Often times I will hear people say that one tool must be better quality than another because one comes from a more respected or an older manufacturer. As such, they must know better how to make their cutting implement. Of course, there are variations in quality out there, but here I am specifically talking about thing such as the quality of the metal used in an axe head, or its edge retention being a result of “better” knowledge rather than market forces.

Specifically, I’ve heard comments like “an edge on a Gransfors Bruks axe will certainly outlast the edge of a hardware store axe if they had the same grind”. In my opinion, a statement like that is not based on factual analysis, but rather relies on the mystical reputation that the particular manufacturer has developed. After all, they have been making high quality axes for over a hundred years, they must know the perfect way to make an axe, right?

Well, if we actually start to examine history, we will quickly see that there is almost no truth to that belief. There is no doubt that Gransfors Bruks makes some of the finest axes out on the market today, but that is because of a lot of hard work and dedication put into the product by the current owners.

If we look back in time however, we will see that in 1985 Gransfors Bruks was bankrupt. We will also see that a Gransfors Bruks axe from that time period was identical to every other hardware store axe you will find today. You will also find that the “classical” axe designs which we covet today, were developed in 1989 by the new owner of the company, who had no prior experience with axes, after they did extensive research into the topic, much as we do. It is also a fact that similarly shaped axes by Wetterlings and Hults Bruk were put out on the market, after the new Gransfors Bruks designs showed selling power in the market.

My point is, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because someone has been around for a while, or because they make a good product, that they have some magical secret that others know nothing about. There are certainly quality variations, but they most often result from market forces, not special knowledge. Judge each tool based on what it is and what it can do fo you. It may in fact turn out that the oldest or most expensive manufacturer makes the best product. However, make that call for yourself. Don’t just buy the hype.