Wood Tools Ltd: Steel city has axes to grind for you again after 30 years

After a 30-year break, axes are being forged in Sheffield again.

Sheffield is known for making the best-quality tools and woodworker turned toolmaker Robin Wood believes the time is right for Sheffield to start making axes again.

“We’ve been working on this project for five years to make the very best axes in Sheffield. We couldn’t be more happy with the finished axes: they are better than ever and will last several lifetimes," he said.

Robin has been forging his own woodworking tools for 30 years and a decade ago set up Wood Tools Ltd with his daughter, JoJo.

Robin Wood, MBE, a local woodworker who set up Wood Tools, photographed by Tony Johnson for The Yorkshire Post in the grinding shop in Beehive Works,  Sheffield. 
After a 30 year hiatus,  axe heads are being forged and made in Sheffield again.  12th June 2024Robin Wood, MBE, a local woodworker who set up Wood Tools, photographed by Tony Johnson for The Yorkshire Post in the grinding shop in Beehive Works,  Sheffield. 
After a 30 year hiatus,  axe heads are being forged and made in Sheffield again.  12th June 2024
Robin Wood, MBE, a local woodworker who set up Wood Tools, photographed by Tony Johnson for The Yorkshire Post in the grinding shop in Beehive Works, Sheffield. After a 30 year hiatus, axe heads are being forged and made in Sheffield again. 12th June 2024

Together their aim is to make the best-quality tools they can, sourcing everything as locally as possible.

Toolmaking has declined drastically in the city over the last 40 years but the father and daughter team believe people have had enough of cheap, poor-quality tools and are now prepared to pay extra for something made with care that will last for generations.

For ten years Brian Alcock, BEM, Sheffield’s last jobbing grinder, ground many of their tools for them.

Zak Wolstenholme, Wood Tools’ 28-year old grinder, worked alongside Brian for four years, learning the skills to hand grind axes perfectly. The blades are sharpened to a razor edge that you could literally shave with.

Grinder  Zak Wolstenholme sharpening the axe heads s  in  Beehive Works,  Sheffield for Robin Wood, MBE, a local woodworker who set up Wood Tools, photographed by Tony Johnson for The Yorkshire Post
After a 30 year hiatus,  axe heads are being forged and made in Sheffield again.  12th June 2024Grinder  Zak Wolstenholme sharpening the axe heads s  in  Beehive Works,  Sheffield for Robin Wood, MBE, a local woodworker who set up Wood Tools, photographed by Tony Johnson for The Yorkshire Post
After a 30 year hiatus,  axe heads are being forged and made in Sheffield again.  12th June 2024
Grinder Zak Wolstenholme sharpening the axe heads s in Beehive Works, Sheffield for Robin Wood, MBE, a local woodworker who set up Wood Tools, photographed by Tony Johnson for The Yorkshire Post After a 30 year hiatus, axe heads are being forged and made in Sheffield again. 12th June 2024

When Brian died last year, Zak took on Brian’s workshop and historic grinding gear at Beehive Works, ensuring the skills and knowledge are safe for another generation.

“It’s an honour to be carrying on this tradition and keeping Brian’s memory alive”, said Zak.

The axe heads are high-quality ball-bearing steel forged at Footprint in Hillsborough, a company that traces its history back to the 1760s.

Leeds firm G Gibson & Co machine the eyes, while Richard Carter Ltd, in Honley, Holmfirth, a company with a history of over 275 years, assemble the product.

Robin Wood, MBE, a local woodworker who set up Wood Tools, photographed by Tony Johnson for The Yorkshire Post in the grinding shop in Beehive Works,  Sheffield. 
After a 30 year hiatus,  axe heads are being forged and made in Sheffield again.  12th June 2024Robin Wood, MBE, a local woodworker who set up Wood Tools, photographed by Tony Johnson for The Yorkshire Post in the grinding shop in Beehive Works,  Sheffield. 
After a 30 year hiatus,  axe heads are being forged and made in Sheffield again.  12th June 2024
Robin Wood, MBE, a local woodworker who set up Wood Tools, photographed by Tony Johnson for The Yorkshire Post in the grinding shop in Beehive Works, Sheffield. After a 30 year hiatus, axe heads are being forged and made in Sheffield again. 12th June 2024

The sharp axe heads are protected inside a sheath made either from leather from Clayton’s tannery at Chesterfield – now sadly closed – or a vegan option from recycled firehose.

Steelmaking never left Sheffield – it just specialised in high-value applications such as aerospace, oil and nuclear.

The question is are people once again prepared to pay the extra for a quality tool made in Sheffield?

So far so good, says Robin, who was founding chair of Heritage Crafts, the charity that supports and promotes traditional craft skills, and was awarded the MBE in 2016 for his work.

The axes, whose handles are made from made from locally sourced ash, are designed for fine sculptural work like carving wooden spoons. But they can be used for anything from hewing boat timbers to splitting kindling for a wood-fired pizza. Or they can just be hung on a wall to admire.