Keen Kutter Axes - Info and Post Em Up - UPDATED

Discussion in 'Axe, Tomahawk, & Hatchet Forum' started by Operator1975, Oct 16, 2012.

  1. Operator1975

    Operator1975

    Sep 24, 2010
    So Keen Kutter is a very popular brand in the world of knives, tools, signage, and axes today. The Keen Kutter logo is one of the more recognizable logos around in the vintage tool world. This is a favorite company of mine, not in the aspect of the number of pieces I own of theirs, but how they went about their business "back in the day". Simply, it was all about name recognition, reputation, and satisfaction. The Keen Kutter name thrived in a time of heavy competition, advertising, and lore. This is why I like this brand so much.

    So, first, let's get something clear - Keen Kutter is a brand, not a distributor, manufacturer, etc. I have heard, read, and seen this being inaccurately portrayed many times. That being said, its time to hop on the Operator Express, and jump back in time (you guys love it :) )

    So, in ~ 1847 Shapleigh Day and Co forms as a hardware co, and is soon a force to be reckoned with. ~ 1870 ~1872, EC Simmons plays a major role, and the Keen Kutter "brand" name is born via Shapleigh and Simmons. 1874 EC Simmons name now takes over the major role of overall products. Timeline rolls on, and in 1940 Shapleigh is now in control. (more to come) (As it seems with all companies, timelines, names, dates, is confusing. One of the great things about USA and capitalism I guess)

    So that is a brief once over of the name/timeline Keen Kutter. That is not all inclusive, and might have some errors in it. I would suggest researching it more, if you so desire. The timeline and info above should be pretty damn close to the real deal though.

    The name Keen Kutter. That is what we are talking about here. The brand. Keen Kutter quickly became one of the most recognizable, trusted, preferred, etc names in the marketplace, and not only for knives, axes, tools, but for a huge number of products, all based off of name. This was a name that was known all over the US, not just around St Louis where they were based. At the height of the operation, they had distribution facilities in major cities across the USA. Quite an operation in their heyday.

    If you ever get your hands on an old EC Simmons Keen Kutter catalog, it is simply amazing. The amount of availability on a huge variety of products with the Keen Kutter name on them is staggering. Of course, I happen to have such a catalog. Watch your eyes, as its beauty will surely astound you -

    [​IMG]

    So thats it - a 1930 original catalog.(you can hopefully see the cities represented) Now, this is a SMALL catalog compared to some EC Simmons offerings that were at times 8-10 INCHES THICK. Yes, thats right, as thick as some double bit axes are long. I find that amazing. The dedication in the catalog is undeniable. Hence, like all good companies, we go right into the motto - on the second page of the catalog - one of the best mottos of all time -

    [​IMG]

    "The recollection of quality remains long after the price is forgotten" - AWESOME. Who has a motto like that now? No one. Most have "mission statements" or guides, etc. I find this pretty darn cool.

    This is what helped to build the aura, the brand, the mystique of Keen Kutter. They built with word of mouth, and more importantly, with quality.

    Seeing this is an axe thread, I will try to not get off on a tangent, but if you look thru any of their catalogs (many can be found online, pdf format) the attention to detail was never left out, on any item. Quality of each item is what helped to build the business and the name. No shortcuts. Only the best. That is what people come to expect. Knives were made in USA or Germany. Cutlery sets the same. I have seen at flea markets just about anything with a Keen Kutter name on it - meat grinders, signage, saws(in fact I bought one and sold it on the auction site and I KICK myself every time I think about it), wrenches, levels, cutlery, planes, drills, tape measures, pliers, sharpening stones, files, anvils,clocks, etc.

    So not only was it about the product with the name on it, as I said, it was about the name, and what it stood for. Not only in relation to the product, but in relation to competition. EC Simmons not only sold the products themselves, they sold the advertising/signage etc to push your business up over the top. Brilliant.

    This example shows that if you just use the Keen Kutter name, your hardware store is the best hardware store -

    [​IMG]

    Other examples talk directly about advertising strategy(pictures, etc), and beating your competitors -

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    I find this amazing, but yet I guess it is simple business. I can see why the name was so popular. To a degree, how could you run away from it?

    Ok Ok I get it - Operator this is an axe forum, not a historical advertising forum. I just think it is very important to tie the tool, to the time, and to the trend. This gives a greater picture of the axe, maker/distributor, and timeframe. This is my true enjoyment of the axe.

    Ok so you are all frothing at the mouth for some true axe pics, so lets get to it -

    First though - the EC Simmons/Keen Kutter approach to axes -


    [​IMG]

    Pretty self explanatory - Quality over Price.

    That being said - lets see some axes/hatchets -

    [​IMG]

    So there is what I have that I can find in the Keen Kutter brand. Jersey, double bit, boys axe, hatchet, etc. Let's take a closer look.

    Here are some Shapleigh examples - this one is NOS -

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Then a hatchet with Shapleigh handle as well -

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    And single bit axe i got for $5 -

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Hatchets -

    [​IMG]

    Small boys size Connecticut -

    [​IMG]

    The old hewer

    [​IMG]

    So thats them. Different patterns, and if you look, the stampings are somewhat different - as in the jersey says "black jack" on it - one of the older Simmons names incorporated into the keen kutter name probably for brand recognition I would assume. Again, all about marketing/advertising.

    That being said, EC Simmons offered many different axes, including Oak Leaf(secondary line) -

    [​IMG]

    Howard - a third line (though not 100% confirmed)

    [​IMG]

    And then their own line -

    [​IMG]

    Now hopefully that being said someone reading this will hopefully say - boy those look just like the old Kelly Perfects......

    Thats because for the majority of the timeline Kelly is who manufactured their axes. There is proof out there though that Mann Edge tool did also, but this was later on. Kelly appears to be (subject to change as we know) the major manufacturer for Keen Kutter axes/hatchets/etc. This explains the similarities, and also if you have ever seen any Keen Kutter catalogs, the only other manufacturer I have ever seen listed is Kelly. No one else. Again, if we talk similarities, this would be at the same timeframe when Kelly was the largest axe maker in the world, and Keen Kutter one of the largest hardware lines in the world as well. Makes sense.

    One word of caution is that if you are buying Keen Kutter items, please ensure they are legit. Due to the overall success and popularity of the brand, and the amount of Keen Kutter collectors out there, you will find repos. So please exercise good judgement to the best of your ability. Easier said than done most of the time though.

    Here are a couple example of different logos/imprints -

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Ultimately, time caught up with EC Simmons and Keen Kutter. Unfortunately, post war, as cheaper imports became available, that sliced into profits, which meant advertising had to be cut, payroll, quality, etc. This was their ultimate demise, as was similar to most major hardware companies of the time. Shame really, hard to find that quality today. I understand that some rogue company still owns the rights to the Keen Kutter name, and I am unsure of how this plays a role with modern spin offs, newer items(if there are any, etc).

    Hopefully if you weren't too familiar with Keen Kutter, you are a little bit better informed now. This is not an all inclusive thread on Keen Kutter, that could take a year to compose. This is more about the brand, what made them successful, and some axes and hatchets. We didn't even touch on the Winchester connection, Mann Edge connection, etc. Perhaps one day. I like this brand because of the history of how they built themselves, via hard work, advertising, and quality.

    [​IMG]

    Even though they might be gone, hopefully some will take away the simple fact that -

    The recollection of quality remains long after the price is forgotten. Too bad this isn't seen too much in todays workplace.

    Hope you guys enjoyed. Sorry for the length. Lets see some of your pics!

    Thanks!

    Mike
     
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2013
  2. cooperhill

    cooperhill

    Nov 14, 2011
    Yankee Josh likes this.
  3. Square_peg

    Square_peg Basic Member Basic Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    Just a word of caution. Keen Kutter replica broad axes are being made out of cast iron and are being sold on the 'bay. Don't be fooled!
     
  4. M3mphis

    M3mphis

    Jan 13, 2011
    Yes, thank you Pegs and Mike for the warning on those....two days too late!!!!!!!!!!:mad:
     
  5. M3mphis

    M3mphis

    Jan 13, 2011
    Good stuff, Operator!!!! I wonder the Keen Kutter axes these compared price wise to their Kelly counterparts...

    ETA: Damn, I just re-read my post...I'm going to blame it on the cold medicine!!! I meant to say:

    I wonder how the Keen Kutter axes compared price wise to their Kelly counterparts.
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2012
  6. garry3

    garry3

    Sep 11, 2012
    Operator, Thanks that was great!
     
  7. bearhunter

    bearhunter

    Sep 12, 2009
    Good stuff Operator. Thanks!
    I have one Keen Kutter in the 'Kentucky' pattern. Hell, I've had it for a couple of years I guess and still haven't hung it yet. I suppose that I should get on it ;)
     
  8. M3mphis

    M3mphis

    Jan 13, 2011
    I like the sounds of that, bear! You should let me hang it for you. :D I would try to send it back.
     
  9. bearhunter

    bearhunter

    Sep 12, 2009
    TRY... To send it back :)
    I know better than that Memphis :D

    I'll get a couple of pics up on Thursday of it. It's in pretty good shape. For some reason, I just kinda set it aside and forgot about it :confused:

    I've also got a surprise coming up on Thursday too... Stay tuned ;)
     
  10. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    I gave my dad a BEAUTIFUL Keen Kutter half hatchet with a fawn's foot handle and hollows around the nail puller notch. No markings on the head itself--just a faint Keen Kutter logo on the butt end of the handle. Looks like yours (Operator) but with more crisp lines, no logo on the head, and the nice deep hollows. I would have kept it for myself but I needed to get my dad something for his birthday and that happened to fall into my lap just in time.
     
  11. made2cut

    made2cut Gold Member Gold Member

    943
    Dec 4, 2001
    Here are my two KK's. Great write up as usual Operator! Being from St. Louis I am very "keen" on the brand :p.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  12. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    Totally off topic but the handle on that grass hook is gorgeous.
     
  13. made2cut

    made2cut Gold Member Gold Member

    943
    Dec 4, 2001
    Thanks! It's a Kelly Axe & Tool Co. that I scored off the bay. Just rubbed a little linseed oil on it and sharpened her up.
     
  14. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    I thought it looked like it was marked Kelly! Kind of funny that the handle is that nice since the construction style is of the "cheap" type. You normally just see oversized rectangular scales on that type of hook.
     
  15. rwn2000

    rwn2000

    714
    Jan 6, 2003
    I thought I had found the mother lode of Keen Kutter broad axes at a local antique place, about 10 of them on a table but something just didn't look right. They were outside with the door knockers, pot stands, etc so I asked the guy about them. He said "man those are cheap replicas, just wall hangers to look at, not use" And BTW, he was selling them for $10, a LOT less than those on the 'Bay.

    randy
     
  16. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    At least he was honest! :thumbup:
     
  17. Arachnotron

    Arachnotron

    36
    May 17, 2011
    I have an Oak Leaf Adz from my grandfather. Know how old it could be?

    [​IMG]
    The markings are pretty faint.
    It says WM Enders OAK LEAF Walden NY USA similar to this one from a shotgun[​IMG]
     
  18. cooperhill

    cooperhill

    Nov 14, 2011
    Bump. Lots showing up on ebay right now. Caveat emptor / buyer beware
     
  19. bearhunter

    bearhunter

    Sep 12, 2009
    Here's my one and only KK.
    I've had this head for a year and a half and I'm still yet to hang it. I suppose that I should get to it.
    Heck, I've even got a handle for it.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  20. scrteened porch

    scrteened porch Basic Member Basic Member

    Feb 19, 2012
    Thanks for the reminder, Cooperhill; and yes please hang that Kentucky and let us know how it performs, Bearhunter.
     

Share This Page