“I can do this,” Paul Flannigan thought to himself when he saw a meticulously restored ax a few years ago.
Today, Flannigan’s Whitefish-based Stumptown Axes, with their vintage heads and well-crafted handles, can sell for hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of dollars.
What started as a way to keep oneself busy while looking for work has evolved into what Flannigan calls a “professional hobby” as he turns worn and rusted ax heads into beautiful, functional works of art.
“This is something I started doing to really help my sanity, and I started building passion out of the chaos in my head. It was a great creative outlet, but it turned out to be something I really enjoy doing,” Flannigan explained of the origins of the effort. Whatever people do with my axes, it’s up to them. I enjoy making them.”
The story of what would become the Stumptown axes begins three years ago in Seattle. After running a bike shop in Virginia for 11 years, Flannigan found himself looking for work after he and his wife moved to Emerald City as part of her job.
When what Flannigan thought would be an easy job search turned into a months-long ordeal, she found herself struggling with frustration and a bout of depression.
Flannigan decided to find a hobby where she could use her hands to do things as a way to keep her sanity during this difficult time.
It didn’t turn out exactly as he expected.
“It would be fair to say that Stumptown Axes started with a sewing machine,” Flannigan said. “I wanted to be able to do things physically and at the same time prove that I understood marketing concepts. While struggling with that project, I noticed an expensive ax that someone had restored. I decided I wanted to make one for myself and it went right out of there.
Flannigan started with a rusty old ax head and a walnut board from a local lumber yard.
Satisfied with his first try, Flannigan began improving his process. Soon his friends noticed.
“I looked at the finished handle of the first ax and thought, ‘Wow, that doesn’t look terrible,'” he laughed. “I’m looking at it now and I realize it’s not as great as I thought, but I used it for a while and finally gave it to a friend.”
It took a month to restore the first axe. The second took two weeks. In the third, Flannigan was quite proud of the way they had appeared. Friends started asking to do some projects for them. They soon became friends of friends who wanted an ax. It didn’t take long for orders to start pouring in.
When Flannigan and his wife decided to move to Whitefish, a cursory glance at the history of the area provided the perfect name for his burgeoning company, Stumptown Axes.
“There are many people in the country and around the world who do this type of work, and most of them have very similar names. I wanted to make sure the name I came up with was unique and provided an excellent insight into the history of the area,” he said.
Flannigan started her venture with a website, social media accounts, and around 30 followers. More than 50,000 followers are following their latest creations these days.
Flannigan has been researching the area for old ax heads for his projects for the past two years. From finds in antique shops to auctions, yard sales, barns, and even those that are mined from the fields, he’s always on the hunt for his next project.
Transformed from garage to workshop, Flannigan continues to hone her skills while enjoying the freedom of working from home.
“I’ve forever had a showcase with my bike shop and I never want to do that again. It’s not because I don’t like customers, but doing it this way gives me more freedom to work the way I want. That way, I don’t just have people peeking through,” he said. , it’s because someone wants me to do it for them.”
For those who want to learn more about Flannigan’s latest projects, the Stumptown Axes, or possibly unload a pile of rusted old ax heads, visit his website at Stumptownaxes.com or find him on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
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