Monday, July 30, 2012

Collins & Co Manufacturing; Guest Post by OPERATOR1975

This is another post made by OPERATOR1975 on Blades and Bushcraft. This time the subject is the Collins company and their axes. It is full of great information, and actual pictures showing examples of the axes discussed.

This is a little history and pictoral on the Collins & Co axe maker.  I have done manufacturing threads elsewhere that have gone over well, so thought I would share this one here too.

After you get done reading it, hopefully you can see why it took some time.  A good portion of it was just rounding up my Collins axes for picture day.

This will be broken down into 5 sections as follows -
Name(s) and associated timelines
Influence and competition
Wrap up

So get comfortable, grab a delicious beverage(my nephew calls them "daddy pops"), and have some time on your hands - might be here awhile.


Collins is one of the more familar names in the history of axes, and with good reason.  One of the dominant manufacturers with axes, not only in the USA, but at its peak, in the world.  There is a TON of information on a company this big and spread out over 140 some years, and one could easily write a book just on Collins(they have, lol).  I will attempt to look at the "meat and potatoes" for us axe heads - hopefully we can all come out a little bit better.

Collins is perhaps one of the oldest axe manufacturers.  They started in 1824-1826(depending on what you read and what you take into account).  Other axe makers were around before sure, but none with the eventual size and influence of Collins.

Started by David Wells and his two cousins, Sam and David Collins in Canton, CT.  As with almost all axe companies regardless of the time period, there were shake ups, reorganization, renaming, etc.  This can be very confusing, I will try and keep it as simple as possible here - basically broke down into 3 main names - Collins & Co, The Collins Manufacturing Co, The Collins Company.  Confusion already no doubt, but the timelines with each name went something like 1826-1834, (reorganize), 1834-1843, (reorganize), 1843-1966.  As noted, they started in Canton CT, but with the popularity and size of the Collins plant, the town was renamed to Collinsville.  We will discuss the different names on the axes, the towns, etc, and what they mean and why.

Collins, as mentioned, was a very successful company.  They absorbed other axe manufacturers along the way, one most notebly being the Warren Axe and Tool Co in 1950-1955, depending on your source.  Collins would eventually feel the pressure of the mighty chainsaw and overseas competition and eventually fall prey to the Mann Edge Tool Co of Lewistown Pa in 1966.  METCo continued the Collins axe line due to its popularity.  As time wore on though, not even METCo could survive, and was eventually sold and moved to Mexico via Truper Herramientas(Industries) in 2003.  The Collins Axe name is still made by them today, though quality is no where near the same as what the great company once gave us.


As mentioned, Collins at its height was perhaps the largest overall axe maker in the world.  It can be debated that Collins and Kelly were 1-2, or perhaps 2-1, depending on what you read from whom, etc.  That is for another day.  Collins influence on the axe world is undeniable.  Early on (mid 1800s) as Collins and their name grew in popularity, out came other axe manufacturers to try and make money of similar names, logos, labels, etc.  Collins wouldnt stand for this - and they took action directly with the government, and then also via themselves.

A quote from one of their catalogs I have - 1921 - "There are offered in the various markets of the world, axes, hatchets, and other tools with various imitations of our trade mark, which is COLLINS & CO.  Some tools have been stamped B COLLINS, D COLLINS, or H COLLINS, and were made by American manufacturers.  While others, principly made in Germany, either have exact imitations of our stamps and labels, or those which purposely bear a resemblance to them.  For better protection of buyers against counterfeit goods, we adopted and registered an additional trade mark as follows:  (Legitimus crown, arm and hammer logo), being a crown with arm and hammer over the motto : LEGITIMUS.  All Collins tools are now stamped with this design.  Buyers wishing this genuine should address the makers, or buy only of reputable houses.  We would highly apprciate information leading to the conviction of any manufacturer or dealer making or selling spurious Collins goods.  Such information would be held as strictly confidential."  (You can read this later on in the catalog pic)

Legitmus Logo -


There are many many different styles of the Legitimus logo used over the years, and is still one of the most recognized axe stampings ever.  I had never heard of the word Legitimus until Collins.  Do yourself a favor and look up the meaning of it.

So as you can see, Collins recognized the threat, and took action with not only the Legitimus stamping, but then by also calling on the public.  This I find fascinating.  Wonder what manufacturer would do this today.  Probably just sick a lawyer on someone.

Other influence came from Collins not only in the form of axes, but in various other tools.  Collins was widely known for manufacturing hammers, wrenches, knives, machetes, hatchets, adzes, picks, mattocks, and plows, to name a few items.  One can see with this overall line, name recognition, and loylaty, it was no wonder Collins took off in the market.  Collins had multiple contracts with government and produced bowie/fighting knives in ww2, along with machetes and axes during the war.


Collins, as many axe manufacturers, used a huge variety of axe patterns, and then also labels and stampings.  Some of these included :

R King
Charter Oak
Red Seal

Thats no where near all of them, just some of them.  Lets take a look at some -

Homestead :



Red Seal : (newer logo)


Legitimus :  (couple variations)




Commander -


One thing that Collins did perhaps better than any other axe manufacturer was the detail on its paper labels.  Some of the old Legitimus labels had spectacular graphics, raised lettering, colors, etc.  This helped the buyer know it was indeed a true Collins.  Hell it even had the signature of Sam Collins on it -


Obviously with an axe company this big - they had to think about handles.  They made their own to meet their demand and specifications - this was not uncommon in axe manufacturing, but Collins did it perhaps as well as any other manufacturer -


Collins also as stated above was a major player in the world market.  The sold axes, knives, machetes all around the globe, but had a heavy influence in Mexico and South America especially.  So, with that, they had to make axes especially for that market -



Notice the paper label - it is in spanish.  They produced these labels in english, spanish, portugese, and I believe what is known as mexican spanish, if there is indeed truly such a thing.  I would guess this would be to reach out to local areas as needed.  Also notice the axes themselves, and how they differed from the conventional american felling axe - no poll to speak of.

Pattern wise they made everything and anything it seems to meet and fit the needs of the buyer -

Undercutter -


Hewing -


And then even for the tobacco market -


Their presence in the axe world is undeniable as stated.  I firmly believe one main reason for this is though how Collins dealt with our next section -


Collins was a supreme outfit when it came to getting its name out to the public.  They recognized early on the importance of the best advertising, which is word of mouth.  That being said, you can build word of mouth by building the brand, the aura of the product you are selling.  They did very well at this.  Collins was big into the catalog market -






The quote above about the frauds was from this same catalog - a reprint from 1921.  You can see they were very very proud and almost oppressive about the Legitimus mark and quality.

Collins was also huge into the signing market - especially south of the USA -



This is the same sign, double sided with different wording on each side.  Pic 1 states - Legitimus brand Collins Save using the best.  Pic 2 states - Legitimus brand Collins They cut the best they last longer.

While signs in spanish and portugese seem to be more plentiful, there were of course english signs as well -


All 3 signs are relatively small, that is my pocket bushman I got off of fortytwoblades for comparison.

A thing to note is that we stated that the Collins plant was in Collinsville CT, but when you look at the signs and paper labels - they all say Hartford CT.  This was due to the fact that Hartford was more well known globally then Collinsville.  You will also see New York listed on some signage - this is due to the fact that they had an office in New York city.  Also, lets not forget at their prime they had 4 major plants going - one in Collinsville, one in Mexico, one in Columbia, and one in Brazil.  Their influence in south america is major as you can tell.

Also another way of advertising is through producing other lines for other companies or institutions -

You might of heard of this major institution - Boys Scouts (Collins - 1923-1936)



Front side of hewing hatchet -


Back side - stating W.U Tel Co - Western Union Telephone Co -


This undoubtedly helped to get the Collins name even more recognition.

As time went on though, and business literally went south, the company as we said eventually was bought out by Mann Edge Tool Co.  Special note, as stated Collins had the four main plants - when they sold to Mann Edge, Mann bought the naming rights and the Collinsville CT plant.  The other three plants were sold to a company you might have heard of - Stanley.

Mann Edge still tried to use the labels for advertising though - but obviously it wasnt the same as what it used to be -

This axe and hatchet are from the Mann Edge days - and upon inspection are of some pretty questionable quality.  The axe has the made in use label, yet a marking for mexico on the back......




Collins & Co will never be forgotten in the history of axes, that is for sure.  Their presence, influence, and business tactics helped to set the stage for others as well.  Just imagine what the company saw over its tenure from 1826 to 1966.  In 1826 the USA had 24 states!  Water was the major source of industrial power.  We were 120+ years still from the first real impact of the chainsaw......

Collins gave us the Legitimus stamp - one of the most recognizable tool stampings ever.  It was created to ward off frauds, while also showing a dominant untochable quality for the buyer.  I can see many a buyer technically buying the stamp and wording, and the axe just happened to come along for the ride.

Collins was one of the first companies to recognize that if you used quality iron and steel you would get the ultimate payback from your customer base.  They combined the two into one major tool behemoth that will live in the halls of axe history.

Thanks to yesteryear tools, catalogs, conversations/emails with Tom Lammond and Larry Mcphail, and some basic digging and research.  Hope everyone liked this.

A revamped Kelly thread will be next.


Friday, July 27, 2012

The Weakest Link in Your Gear System

In this post I want to discuss looking at gear as a system based on particular tasks. Too often we only look at specific items, and forget that in order for them to work, other tools are also required. In such a system, the reliability of the whole is dependant on the weakest link.

Here I will use fire lighting as an example.


Over and over again, we hear from everyone from the expert to the novice, that a ferro rod is the way to go when it comes to fire lighting. The benefits? Well, they say, it will work even when wet, and it can start thousands of fires. I remember an episode where Ray Mears crossed a river, got completely wet, then took the ferro rod from his neck, struck some sparks, and told us that he now has a way to start fire.

Indeed, all of that is true, although the devil is always in the details. The ferro rod works in combination with a tinder. The two work as a system. By itself, the ferro rod produces sparks, but to translate that into flame, you need adequate tinder. So, the ferro rod can make sparks when wet, but can your tinder ignite into flame when wet? The ferro rod can make sparks thousands of times, but for how many fires do you have tinder? If you plan on using natural tinder, how good are you at finding it when it is raining, or snowing, or when you have just pulled yourself out of a freezing river?

If the task is fire lighting, and we are using a ferro rod, then this one tool is part of a system. How easily you can start a fire, and under what conditions depends not only on the one tool, but on all of the components. I would venture to say that in this system the tinder is the weakest link.

That is something that I think should be considered when we discuss how good a particular fire lighting method is, especially when compared to available alternatives. For example, lets say you fall into a river, pull yourself out, and try to make a fire. In your pocket you have a lighter and a ferro rod. They are both wet. The lighter is not working because it’s wet, the ferro rod can still make sparks. Option one is to wait two or three minutes for the water to drain out of the lighter. Option two is to start looking for tinder for the ferro rod. Which one will take you longer? What if it was raining, or snowing?

Maybe you were carrying some tinder in your pocket in a waterproof container. Together with the ferro rod, you now have fire. However, what if you had the lighter, or some matches in that waterproof container? Same result. How many fires can you start with the tinder you have in that pouch as opposed to the lighter?

Anyway, all I’m trying to say is that we should look at whether particular gear items work only as a part of a larger gear system, and if so, whether there are any weak links in the chain, and how they can be addressed.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Kovea Spider Stove Review

If you have been following my reviews, you probably noticed that a few months back I did a review of a stove made by Kovea, the Kovea Camp 5. As I mentioned there, Kovea is a Korean company that has had a good track record in terms of quality, and from what I understand manufactures a lot of products for better known companies in the US like MSR.

I was recently contacted by Kovea, and was told that they are looking into entering the US market. They were kind enough to provide me with another one of their stoves for testing. The stove is the Kovea Spider. It is not currently on the market, but will enter production shortly. In the interest of full disclosure, the stove was provided to me free of charge for purposes of this test. If you are interested in any of the Kovea products, you can currently get them in the US through their Ebay Store.


The Kovea Spider is a remote canister stove. It uses a standard threaded canister as a fuel, and as such is compatible with all such canisters, including MSR and Snow Peak.

The stove is light weight for a remote canister stove, coming in at 6.0 oz. The next lightest stove currently on the US market is the MSR Windpro II, which comes in at 6.6 oz. The only lighter remote canister stove of which I am aware is the Kovea Camp 5 which I reviewed earlier, at 5.3 oz. I am told that when the stove hits the US market, it will be priced somewhere in the $55 range. To me that is the most amazing aspect of this stove, allowing it to come in at less than half the price of similar remote canister stoves by MSR and Primus.

The stove comes in a small box. Inside there is a carrying pouch for the stove, as well as a remote igniter. The igniter simply produces a spark when you press a button, igniting the stove. It works well, but I find that I have little use for it, since I always have a lighter for that purpose. I am very happy that Kovea has chosen to offer the igniter as a separate tool rather than integrating it into the stove. Integrated igniters are always an issue for me, malfunctioning and adding unnecessary weight to the stove.


As you can see, the stove folds up into a fairly small package. The stove plus a 8 oz MSR canister fit inside my Open Country 2qt pot along with a windscreen, a lighter, and a bandana. The legs fold out very easily and lock into place, creating a very stable platform. As you remember, my biggest issue with the Kovea Camp 5, tested earlier, was that it was too unstable. This problem has been completely fixed with the Kovea Spider. The stove is extremely easy to set up, allowing easy operation without worry about the stove moving or tipping over. While it is 0.7 oz heavier that the Camp 5, it is well worth the added weight. In the picture below, you see my Open Country 2qt pot balanced on the stove at a pretty serious incline without any issues.


The flame pattern of the Kovea Spider is wider than it is on the Kovea Camp 5, although smaller than the MSR Windpro II. It is reminiscent of the GigaPower GS-100, although quite a bit larger. I found the flame distribution to be fairly good. I did not experience any issue when cooking thinks like rice. However, if your style of cooking requires a very large flame dispersion pattern for gourmet cooking, you may be more comfortable with the MSR Windpro II. 


Interestingly, the Kovea Spider looks very similar to the end product of my modification of the Kovea Camp 5 that I did earlier. Here you can see the two of them side by side.


While my modified stove weighs only 4.7 oz, while the Kovea Spider weighs 6.0 oz, the Spider is a lot more stable, not to mention that the legs actually fold. This leads me to think that the 6.0 oz range is the lightest you can make a remote canister stove before it becomes unstable. Any lighter, and the tension of the hose becomes enough to move the stove around and tip it over.

Here you can see the Kovea Spider next to the MSR Whisperlite International.


The main feature I look for in a remote canister stove is that it has a vaporization tube. Without it, I would just get a lighter canister mounted stove. The vaporization tube allows the fuel to pass through the flame before it is released, much like you have in a white gas stove like the Whisperlite. This allows the stove to be used in liquid feed mode, where the canister is inverted, and the liquid fuel inside is utilized without needing it to vaporize within the canister. With such a set up, a canister stove can operate at much lower temperatures than one without a vaporization tube, or simply a canister mounted stove. For example, using MSR Isobutane/Propane mix, a canister mounted stove will stop working at about 20F. A remote canister stove with a vaporization tube will function at 0F and even lower, without any tricks.

The Kovea Spider has a such a vaporization tube, allowing for inverted canister operation.


When operating the stove with an inverted canister, some monitoring is required due to flame fluctuation, but it worked quite well. As all the instruction are in Korean, I am not sure if this is a recommended use for the stove, but it works none the less.

The only minor issue I had with the stove is that the top part of the legs are slightly bent down towards the burner. This means that a pot placed on them does not make full contact with the whole horizontal part of the legs. I am not sure why that was done, but I imagine that if the top parts of the legs were completely horizontal, it would offer better pot stability.

So in summary, the stove is lightweight for a remote canister stove (6.0 oz); it is relatively cheap ($55); it is stable and easy to operate; it allows for inverted canister operation; it packs up fairly well; and has decent flame pattern.

I am not a huge stove guy. I am sure that someone who spends a lot more time thinking about stove details can give you more specific aspects of the stove that can be differentiated when compared to its competitors on the market, but that is beyond anything I have been able to notice or care about. My main concern with a stove is whether it gets the job done at a reasonable weight and a reasonable price. The Kovea Spider fulfills all of these categories. So far I am very happy with the operation of the stove, and will be using it as my main stove for some time to come.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Warren Axe and Tool Co; Guest Post by OPERATOR 1975

For those of you who do not know him, for a number of years now, OPERATOR1975 has been posting some great content on several different forums. I always find his posts to be well though out and solidly based on the information he has collected. Speaking of collections, he has one of the most spectacular axe collections I have ever seen.

Most recently, he started several threads on Blades and Bushcraft, outlining the history of some axe manufacturers. He has generously allowed me to re-post them here. I will be sure to post more of them as he makes them available.

Ok so here we go - try and provide what I can on our topic - the Warren Axe and Tool Company - Warren Pa - 1893 - 1950(55).

Basic background -

The WATCo was founded in 1893 by William Sager and others, William being the main player in the operation. Sager had played a role in various other axe and related companies in the years prior, in Pa and perhaps even Ohio.  Some references ask if he might have been involved with the Mann crew in Lewistown - though at this time, from what I have read, this cannot be proved, but they very well could of had some sort of business relationship.

The WATCo got going with William being able to gain a patent on a new "chemical process" for axes that no one else in the industry currently had.  This came about in 1895 with the Sager Chemical Process Axe - which many of you have at least seen or read about before.  So - what is it, and what did that mean at the time?

As stated in one of their catalogs promoting the new "process" - "An improved method of treating steel used for forging axes and other edged tools, which increases the wearing qualities of these tools at least 100 percent, has been adopted by the WATCo, Warren Pa."

This process was to combine two main aspects of axe heads needed in daily work - toughness and hardness.  This was to improve total life of the product, and it would have no superior.

These Chemical Axes came in multiple patterns - double bit being the most popular -



However, they did come in single bit as well - though as far as I can tell - no where near as popular - though this is just based off of my observations :


I got that single bit off of a Mr Greg Burkett - a local from the area of Warren Pa that also supplied the pictures of the working conditions in the factory as seen in Axe Makers of North America.  Hell of a guy, great stories too.

So the Chemical Process became one of the backbone lines of the company.  This particular line of course was in production from 1895 until around 1950 - 1950 being the last one I have seen, though that doesnt mean much.

Other early history would include -

1900- Fire destorys the plant - company almost decided not to rebuild - but did.
1907 - Acquire Drop Forge Co - Wayland Ny - (this leads to the manufacture of a complete logging tool line - to come)
1912 - Acquire - Ridgway Axe and Tool Co
1916 - Acquire Romer Axe Company - Dunkirk Ny

Hopefully someone has seen the timeline and noticed one key aspect in it, especially when it comes to axe companies and the turn of the century - WATCo had no involvement with the AmericanAx Tool Co - the huge grouping of axe companies aimed at market domination.  Not sure why they were not included/swallowed - but they made it.

Interesting side story here with the AATCo around this time is, that like other axe manufacturers, the WATCo fell on some hard times with the increased competition around 1899-1900.  Then the fire of 1900 hit.  A decision was made to hire only the best - that is what they did.  The company hired a Herbert Stone as general manager to run the operation.  He decided to rebuild.  Upon further review, he decided he needed the best of the best to run the actual operation, so he hired superintendent D Murphy to run the ground operations - stolen from the AATCo!

My favorite story or aspect of the WATCo is that they knew now with the Chemical Axe they had the best product, but it also came at the highest price as well - so it was a difficult sell to hardware stores, department stores, etc.  So they hit the ground running.  An aggressive campaign was instituted to have physical appearances at logging camps - proving why their product was best.  This is what turned the tide for the company.  It created such demand for the product, especially with the loggers, that it soon trickled down into the general public as well.  This is what made the company.

The WATCo decided that axes werent the only way to go, and developed also their BULLDOG line, - which was the manufacture of a huge expanse of logging tools.  From their 1937 catalog :



And then also a personal sample - hope you can see it :


They manufactured everything under the sun for the logging industry - which made sense - you were already targeting the industry with your axes - why not dominate it all together.  You can still find on your journeys many cant hooks, peavies, chain accessories, etc with their name on it.

As you can tell, they were pretty aggressive in marketing - the 1937 catalog I have shows it - some of you already saw some pics - and it is available in PDF on the net :




Back to Axes -

So the WATCo had a great run with their lines, obviously as stated the Chemical Process Axe being their most famous - but they had others :

Sager Line -



They also had an Old Faithful line -



The Old Faithful line usually had the year of manufacture on it - similar to the Chemical axes.  Not always though.


They also had many other lines, just like other manufactures.  Some included -

Warren line  (name in cursive - a factory line)
Forest King
Romer Axe
Hiawatha (third line, or slight defect, etc)
Lake City (same as above)
Matchless (same)
Unlce Sams (same)

A pic of one of the "Celebrated" lines -


The Canada Operation -

So, not only did WATCo operate in the US, they also operated in Canada.  The Canadian Warren Axe and Tool Co was founded in 1912 after WATCo purchased Standard Axe and Tool Works, then transported all that machinery N to St Catherines, Ontario.  Then, after 2 mergers later, it was settled in as Canadian Warren Pink.  They also has a distro center in Vancouver, BC.

An example of one of those -


These axes only said "SAGER" on one side - no other markings - that is one way to tell them apart from other offerings from the USA.  This was a way to get into the Canadian business side of things, especially the logging camps.  True Temper would be in the mix also (USA wise), though later on, as Welland Vale(TT bought out Welland Vale in 1930 - but they(Welland Vale) had been there in some capacity since 1869....)

The WATCo continued on until 1950 (or 1955 depending on what you read and talk to) until Collins bought them out.  Collins then of course was bought out by Mann Edge Tool in 1966.  There are reports of advertisements in catalogs that Mann ran that stated Warren, Collins, and Mann all on the same page, all out of Lewistown Pa.  I have no idea if this is indeed true, but it wouldnt be hard to believe.  Also this means that Collins was producing Warren labled products, then Mann was producing Collins and Warren products.  Again I have no idea for how long.  Damn interesting though.

An interesting piece I have posted before :




This is a Sager head with a Collins handle - from right after the merger - wonder how many of these are around?

The WATCo is one of my favorites for a couple reasons -

They could of folded up shop when it all burnt down - but continued on.
They went out and aggressively marketed their products as the best to the camps themselves.
They expanded the product line when they saw the opportunity
They expanded into other markets when they saw the opportunity

I have been to the old site - it is now mostly a refinery.  Greg told me that you can still find old grind stones on the property, and that many locals had them as driveway markers at the end of their driveway.  I thought now this guy is pulling my leg, but sure enough, drive around and I saw a couple.  Unreal.  I can only imagine what the spread looked like back in the day.

All in all a great tale.  It is a shame they couldnt of kept going, but like most axe makers, they met their maker sooner or later after the chainsaw.  It was meant to be though I guess.  I am surprised by the amount of Chemical Sagers on the west coast, though I guess I shouldnt be - that was prime time for the business.  Interesting, multiple occasions I have purchased them online, and they are coming from Oregon.  Though I see this as me bringing the axe back home, so to speak.

A great company with a great story overall.  Hope this helps.  It is not all inclusive, and I probably messed something up somewhere.  Thanks to Axe Makers of North America, YesteryearTools, conversations with Greg Burkett, emails with Larry Mcphail(writer of 2nd edition Axe Makers North America) and multiple catalogs and information I have found for all this information.