Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Justin Burke Tomahawk/ Q & A

In late 2013 I did a blog page called Five Items I'd Love but can't Justify and as time and my skills set has moved on several kit suppliers have trousered some cash as I have now purchased some of the items.

I am however no kit tart but I reached the situation where I had some accumulated birthday and Christmas money and I eventually decided on the extravagance of an American made Tomahawk. Incidentally a tomahawk wasn't one of the five items in my 'justification' blog.

I won't be the only one who saw Ben Fogle stay in Tennessee with blacksmith Justin Burke. Despite the fact that he was living in virtual solitude I was taken by his work including, not surprisingly, a tomahawk that Ben got to take home.

The lead time was stated as 1-3 months so with my Summer birthday at the outer limit of that timeline I bit the bullet and followed up my Facebook price inquiry with a website contact   on the 11th May

Justin replied the same day to say that he just happened to have one and I asked for an invoice and went from inquirer to payee in one day. He also agreed to do a quick Q and A via email to add to this blog page.


He had promised me a shot of my hawk and then promptly sent not, one, not two, not three but four pictures of which I've reproduced three above.

I then had an early morning email the next day to say that it had been mailed on the 12th. That's some turnaround, and with a predicted delivery date of Tuesday  May 16th, even though it had been pinged around to several destinations in the US before shipment.

So far so good and to be honest even if there was a little slippage it wasn't a big deal, and sure enough it was in a Customs area in Coventry on the Tuesday...And then when I tracked it again I noticed that the message said 'Customs charges raised'. Naively I'd just expected the package to pinged over and if I'd known the extend of the charges I might have had a wobble, not due to the axe cost because bespoke stuff quite rightly costs more I might add. Read the Customs page I did for more information.

I paid the charges through gritted teeth (no pay, no toy) and the package eventually came via Parcelforce on Tuesday 23rd May. Three days from the US to England, eight days from arrival to delivery via the customs mugging and bureaucracy. 

The axe arrived well packaged and sure enough I had two spare handles. Interestingly the invoice suggested the axe was a little cheaper and one extra handle made up the advertised price. I think this is a good idea to include a spare handle in the transaction.

Before I even used it I thought a good test would be to see how it bothers paper, very successfully as you can see. I am used to a fawn's  or goat's foot axe handle so a straight one will be interesting to handle and use. I'm not a person who uses axes for prolonged heavy duty work and it will be unusual not having a knob at the end. When I can get someone to take some 'out and about' pictures of this puppy in action I'll upload them to this page.

And now to the Q and A...

How did Ben Fogle's team find out about you?

 They found me through a random google search. the article about me living in a tipi showed up and they found my Facebook page and sent me a message

How many hours of footage did you shoot to make an hour show?

 If I remember correctly they shot close to 24-30 hours of footage.

When we saw you in Escape To The Wild you were very much living a solitary life but you now seem to be developing a sturdy business, is that about right?

 That is correct. In the show I said that it takes money to live and I was going to make money the way I wanted to. I have grown my skills and business since the show was filmed. I am very happy to be able to blacksmith for a living but it takes lots of equipment and is very expensive.  

Your tomahawks seem to be very popular, is it what people know you for best?

 Tomahawks are my main product. I worked very hard to develop a usable hawk like no other on the market.

Aside from the hawks, what knife would you say is your favorite to make?

 I like making knives once in  awhile but I don't have a favorite style to make. I just like to make interesting blades when the mental spark comes around.

Can you call a tomahawk an axe or is it always referred to as a tomahawk?

A tomahawk is an axe but an axe is not a tomahawk if that makes sense. Like a truck and a car are both vehicles but a car is not a truck.

On your website it states that you don't do commissions but on your Facebook page you recently featured a bespoke hawk, do you do occasional ones?

 I don't take orders on anything that I don't do often. Sometimes I make a special project and offer it for sale. Taking orders on projects that I am not versed in is bad business for both parties.

The said bespoke hawk featured some pewter work, do you do much whitesmithing?

 I pour pewter on my fancy hawks if desired. It is a lot of extra work and I don't do it often.

Your website features a metal Impala, what was the story behind this piece of work? Great work by the way.

 Thank you! I have to step away from tomahawks once in a while and practice other areas of the trade. I really enjoy faces so it was fun to forge a realistic animal face and to see how close to life I could get it. It is what keeps my spirits up from time to time.

Have you ever been on, or considered going on the History channel blacksmithing program called  'Forged in Fire'?

 I have considered it for sure.

Are there any forged or non-forged items you’d like to make for sale at some stage or are you about where you want to be?

 My goal is to create  a line of tools that are the best around. Its the direction I am headed and I don't stray far from that path very far. I used to do leather work full time but felt the passion drift away so I stick to what I am interested in and that's tool making.

What's the furthest you've  sent an order?

 I have mailed tomahawks all over the world! Australia, Canada, New Zealand and all across Europe.

Does it ever cause you issues that there's a recording artist by the same name?

 Hahaha you are the first person to mention that! I was not aware.

I've already mentioned that you are on Facebook in the blog, what other social media channels etc do you have in case folk want to follow your work?

I just got on Instagram and am trying to figure it out. @traditional_craftsmanother than that Facebook is my main social media.

Suggested further viewing.

Justin Burke tomahawk Youtube video here 

Radio Times Ben Fogle programme review here

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