might want to say that Charles Weiss had an axe to grind back in 1927
when he turned a broken and abandoned hatchet into a new kind of tool,
one that changed the life of that fabled denizen of the Texas
Hill Country known as the cedar chopper.
Cedar choppers proliferated in the Hill
Country because there was - and is - a lot of cedar to chop. (Actually,
we're talking about the Ashe juniper here, but the tree is called
and probably will always be called "cedar" by the locals; we don't
hear anybody complaining about "ashe juniper fever.") The chopping
of said cedar was done, of course, with an axe. But not just any axe.
The Kerrville axe was the axe of choice in that forbidding land because
it was, quite literally, made for the Hill
To understand why this particular axe made such a difference to people
who chopped cedar we have to take a look at the more traditional axes,
and by traditional we mean that the axe is one of the earliest tools
used by humans. As useful for cutting down an enemy as a tree, axes
are among the relics of the Stone, Bronze and Iron ages. Most of the
axes used in early-day America were heavy and crude and fashioned
by local blacksmiths. They were heavy, weighing as much as seven pounds.
The Kerrville axe weighs in at about two-and-a-half pounds, as we
might expect from something inspired by a hatchet.
Henry Weiss, manager of the hardware department at the Charles Schreiner
Company in Kerrville,
the heart of cedar country, found a broken hatchet, sans handle, in
1927. He picked it up and took it home with him. Later, he took it
to a blacksmith named Frank Krueger and asked him to fix it by turning
it into a small axe.
Krueger said he didn't think a repair of the hatchet would last but
he fixed the broken edge, attached a 30-inch handle, charged Weiss
a dollar and sent him on his way. As Krueger predicted, the hatchet's
days of utility were a thing of the past but the little axe lasted
just long enough for Weiss to discover how handy it was for chopping
those pesky cedar trees. Traditional axe handles were too long and
the blade was too short for cedar chopping, which involves a lot of
close-in work and overhead strokes. A miss can be disastrous.
Weiss really liked his little axe and he asked Krueger to make him
another one, just like the other one. Krueger actually made a better
one, tapering the inner edge to give the chopper a better chance of
hitting the mark. Weiss was proud of his axe and he didn't mind showing
it off to people. One of the people he showed it to was Lee Judd,
a factory representative for the Hartwell Brothers of Memphis, Tennessee.
Judd wanted to take the axe back to Memphis with him as a prototype
but Weiss would not part with his axe, not even for a little while.
Instead, he drew pictures of the design and gave them to Judd but
the axe that came from the drawings wasn't quite right.
Weiss again went to Krueger and asked him to make another one, just
like the other ones. Krueger was less than enthused. Weiss appealed
to the blacksmith's sense of civic pride by telling him the axe would
be called the Kerrville Cedar Axe if the company agreed to produce
it. Fame and fortune would come to town by way of the axe, if only
he would make another one.
"Well," Krueger said, "since you are my friend, I will do it, but
I want you to know that you are the only person in the world for whom
I would spend so much time and hard work making another axe of this
The Warren Axe and Tool Company of Pennsylvania ended up making the
axes. Judd's company, Hartwell Brothers, produced the handles. The
axe was an instant hit in the market place. Hunters and campers loved
the new axe as much as the cedar choppers. Soon these axes could be
found wherever fine axes were sold but they were sold as the Grey
Gorge axe, not the Kerrville Cedar Axe as Weiss had been promised.
Today, the little axe that could goes by many names, but if you axe
us, it will always be the Kerrville Axe.