HB Interviews: Graeme Cameron of Base Camp X
We’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Graeme Cameron, founder of Base Camp X, over the past couple of months. Headquartered about two hours northeast of Toronto, Graeme and his team at BCX have created the finest axe operation on the planet. But don’t take our word for it. National Geographic recently named BCX “The Axe” in their 2011 Gear Guide.
Normally when brainstorming interview questions, we’ll throw on some classical music and pour a glass of red wine. Not this time. Drawing from Graeme’s routine, we went whiskey (okay, on the rocks) and Iron Maiden. Accordingly, we started off the interview with a toe count…
My grandpa told me never to trust a man with 2 first names or a man who was missing more than 3 toes. I never fully subscribed to the first, but since you’re an axe man, I have to ask – how many toes are we working with?
Well I have all my toes still… but two first names….
Ok, good. The interview goes on.
Please talk to us a little bit about your inspiration for starting BCX and how you became an axe man.
When I was a very little dude my Dad followed his dream and moved us out of Toronto and into a small rural farming community. He literally dove in head first, rebuilt the farmhouse back to its original state, learned to farm and raise cattle…it was so balls. He had always been a hardcore canoe tripper and a true lover of wild places. Dad taught me pretty much everything I needed to know in order to venture out on my own into those wild places – he built my foundation of knowledge and taught me to love the camaraderie and solitude that can be found in the forest. There were always axes around the farm and our cottage up north so it was normal to just have access whenever I wanted, albeit he had ground rules about safety and what was fair game for the woodpile… I did my best to stay inline. By not watching me like a hawk when I was cruising around with a chopper I learned by doing as opposed to by simply watching. This was such an amazing way to expose me to the way… he just let me do it.
Axes were a part of my childhood, teenage years at camp (I don’t care what anyone says – they do not hand out axes at Summer Camp and as a camper it is extremely rare that a staff member would ever let you touch the axe). Teenage years had me working as a Canoe trip guide in Algonquin Park and Temagami… the axe went everywhere and it was not only essential as a tool, it was highly respected as a symbol of skill and power. After a few years working with the Canadian Armed Forces as a Platoon Commander in the Infantry I had honed my bush craft skills to a new level – you don’t learn these kind of skills at camp. The family property was calling my name again after an absence of about 5 years… I was dying to get back up north to the lake and the truly amazing property that would eventually become mine.
The biggest and most demanding physical project was looming on the horizon at this point and it would change my life for all time.
The cabin… with my cherished Double Bit axe, a ladder, some rope and a set of chisels I set to work. Each tree was felled on the property and dragged or carried to the worksite… no length smaller than 22’. I managed to blow out 2 discs in my back and found myself under the surgeons scalpel. This led to a delay of 6 months, but I came back and finished. The physical toil was absolutely crazy but it had to be done – I don’t quit things. So it’s kind of simple for me, the inspiration for BCX came from the level of comfort achieved in the bush at a young age, the skills passed on by my old man (he is still passing it on) and the cabin. The log cabin that I built a serious love hate relationship with…It still amazes me that I was able to do it.
For the guy/gal who has never handled one of your axes, how would you describe the sensation of swinging a Cruiser or Pioneer (editors’ note: let’s try and keep this answer PG-13)?
Well – these are two extremely different axes. The Cruiser is a “Felling Axe” – it has a more narrow tapered face and eye that helps keep it from getting wedged in the trunk. The Pioneer can be used for felling but it is really an all around Utility axe…a do everything. The Cruiser is an old school double bit that requires a more advanced know how and skill set to avoid injury. The Pioneer is a good axe to begin with, but it should be a mainstay in any collection. An Axe is not an Axe… each pattern has a purpose.
The Cruiser is a 36” straight handle that is designed to be swung with maximum force – the straight handle is simply awesome for loading up the power. The Pioneer utilizes a “Doe Foot” style of handle, it is ergonomic and beautiful to look at, yet many would argue that because of the shape it is not as powerful as straight handled axes… I would agree.
It is important to note that power is not even remotely as important as consistency in impact. If you don’t hit the mark every single time you are wasting energy, wood and really just making a mess. Swinging an axe to split some pre-cut wood is one thing, swinging and axe to fell a tree… that is where a person can be measured as far as skill, knowhow and ultimately control.
Can you walk us through the construction of one of your axes?
Let’s talk about the handles here: I will only fit American Hickory handles from Tennessee – it’s the best.
We spend a great deal of time shaping the rough handles by hand and taking them down to a baby bottom level of smooth… so much sanding. I will not allow a rotary sander near my axes… other people do that and I think it takes away from the quality, and in all honesty it leaves marks all over the handles, just compare sometime and you will see it. We dry sand each axe by hand and then take it through two rounds of wet sanding. Once I am happy with the raw handles I mix the stains that will be used for the particular design. The stains are powders that get mixed with water… nothing from a can here. The only water that I will allow to mix with the powders is from the lake at BCX. I keep a big jug of it in the studio here in Toronto. If I am using the studio up North I will just take it directly from the lake… I love it.
At this stage we fire heat the BCX branding iron and sear the logo into the Hickory – I love that part.
Once the design is nailed down it will dry overnight and then 2 topcoats of finish are applied. The topcoats will cure and then I can apply any banding – this is key because the stains bleed like crazy and a straight, even edge is impossible. The traditional banding for me is a deep bronze that looks almost black, there are flecks of metal in the paint itself (represents the night sky) and when the sunlight hits it – the thing dances. A few more topcoats with light sanding and buffing in-between – then the piece is done. It does take a while and quite a bit of labour to get the pieces done…
It’s 12 at night, you’re in your studio shaping some axes for Huckberry, a whiskey on the work bench, kerosene lamps burning…what tunes are you listening to?
Music plays a huge role in the studio, I can’t work without it. Neil Young is pretty obvious but he gets the top play. “Live at Massey Hall 1971” gets the most rotation…Do yourself a favour and buy this album. The Rheostatics are one my all time favourite bands and I like to keep “Whale Music” and “Melliville” on hand… alas I am also a bit of a rocker. RUSH and Iron Maiden get a ton of air time as well as AC/DC… Old skool for sure but I am very current with my music too. I am just loyal to what works for me when working it in the shop.
We love the social campfire component of your site on Ning, not to mention the great music you have streaming. Both Richard and I are members of The Tribe. Can you tell Huckberry readers the idea behind the site?
The “Campfire” is our gathering place for the Tribe – it is where we blog, post video, announce product release, share experience. You create your own profile page, which is in essence like a digital Base Camp. You can participate as much or as little as you like… no pressure.
Tribe members get the opportunity to win Axes, Khukri’s… lots of badass stuff. This is where we will announce the release of new product, offer discounts to members… it goes on and on really. I know that my brand is only as good as the people supporting it. I will put the products out there but a true brand is about the people that believe in it and give it life… it’s a Lifestyle brand. I always encourage Tribe members to spread the word, this word of mouth is very powerful stuff if you can harness it and I believe we have. I interact all the time with members and they are free to ask me whatever they want, yet it is the interaction with each other that adds the strength – It’s great to see.
We have a very diverse group in the Tribe: Axe men, Business Professionals Firefighters, Artists, Magazine Editors, Motion Picture Directors, Moms, Academy Award winners, Ironmen Triathletes, Soldiers, Teachers, Camp Directors and some of the biggest names in Adventure Photography… so I guess you could say that in a small collective we have a very concentrated group of people that achieve… the doers. I am extremely proud of this.
Have you branded any members of The Tribe with the BCX logo?
I almost branded the palm of my hand the other day with a red hot iron… but no, I have not branded anyone with the logo… I do have a few people in mind though.
Where do you go for inspiration for your color combos and finishes?
Fire, Forest, Water and the Night Sky – It all relates back to these and what I have at BCX. It is Elemental really.
Can you give us a sneak peek at what is on tap for BCX?
Currently I am sitting on multiple product releases and projects. This Spring will see a line of Double Bit throwing axes, a new Khukri design and the most amazing Tomahawks you will ever see.. Some surprises are in store for sure so I will keep those products under wraps. We will be going well beyond axes, they are the foundation… in essence the perch for launching the BCX brand. I have a few collaborations in the works and one them is based in LA… I am actually beyond excited for this one. Two tribe members have made a BCX movie about chopping wood – they just happen to be 2 of the best Adventure photographers in the US. This film has been shot on location in Utah already but will be in the editing stage for a while. Another film about Base Camp X will start production in June and It will be a Canadian film done by Hard Citizen and directed by Gemini award winning director Adrian Carter in Toronto.
Base Camp X in 3 words is…
Cornucopia of Awesomeness