LAKE WACCAMAW — A small rural community within the confines of Columbus County is swiftly making a name for itself among fans of recreational axe throwing. Council Tool Company, located in Lake Waccamaw, N.C. recently found out that its Flying Fox Woodsman Hatchet has, for the second year in a row, been used to win the World Axe Throwing League’s (WATL) Championship. Earlier this fall, WATL winner Ryan Smit used the Flying Fox to secure a $25,000 prize.
With a 2020 population of just 1,405 people, Lake Waccamaw is is the 297th largest city in North Carolina and the 8,966th largest city in the United States. The town sits on Lake Waccamaw, one of the largest freshwater lakes on the eastern seaboard and is strongly influenced by the lake’s outdoor activities. Residents say it is not only steeped in history but is also a great place to visit, live, and work.
Council Tool Co. was founded in 1886 by Mr. John Pickett Council. Pickett was a farmer, tool inventor and avid outdoorsman. It is thought that he moved his growing manufacturing business from Bladen County to Columbus County in southeastern N.C. so that he and his family could enjoy beautiful Lake Waccamaw where hunting and fishing continue to remain strong attractions.
Today Council Tool employs 50 people and manufactures non-powered striking tools. Popular product lines include military, firefighting and rescue tools, premium axes, sledgehammers, and gardening tools. The process of making axes is somewhat complex, says Craig Roost (aka “Rooster”), product representative and tool developer at Council Tool. “Our axes are forged with the use of the time-tested machine called a drop-hammer, with closed dies. A billet of steel is heated in an induction forge to yellow-hot, then is held with a set of tongs by the blacksmith, as the drop-hammer machine smashes the hot steel, making it flow into the dies that form the rough shape of the axe head. The extra steel is trimmed and the eye of the axe is punched, all within a 20 second cycle per piece. The head is then ground to its final shape, heat-treated, sharpened, and secured to a hickory handle.”
The modern sport of axe throwing involves a competitor throwing an axe at a target, attempting to hit the bullseye, similar to darts. Axe throwing has historically been an event in lumberjack competitions. Urban Axe throwing started in backyards in Canada and parts of the U.S. “Leagues formed, and governing bodies/organizations were established to create unified rules and regulations for competitive throwing,” says Roost.
These days there are two main organizations with thousands of throwers that throw in seasonal leagues. They include the World Axe Throwing League (WATL), with over 334 worldwide affiliates and the International Axe Throwing Federation (IATF), which includes 58 member organizations in six countries and 125 cities. There are commercial axe throwing locations in Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Poland, as well as opportunities at festivals and theme parks. Throwers determine which axes they use. Due to the weight and design of the Flying Fox hatchet, Council Tool’s business development manager, Walt Gray, says it has become very popular in throwing competitions. “We hope more people decide to use the Flying Fox, but that will be their choice.”
“We hope more people decide to use the Flying Fox, but that will be their choice.” — Walt Gray, Council Tool Company
Gray says the sport of axe throwing has become more popular in the last few years with the start of two international, competitive leagues. Gray, who recently joined the company, previously lived and worked in Raleigh at the North Carolina Industrial Commission and the North Carolina Department of Transportation during the McCrory administration. He is a fifth-generation descendant of the company’s founder and the cousin of its current President, John M. Council.
“About two years ago, we designed a new hatchet, primarily for the axe throwing community. This axe has a hardened poll for driving in tent stakes or serving as a small hammer yet due to the weight and dimensions, it is built to perform well in axe throwing competitions too,” Gray says.
The Flying Fox retails for around $45. The overall design takes elements found in vintage hatchets from the mid-20th century and puts modern touches to those hatchets from yesteryear. “This hatchet is unique in this market, because it can be used to drive nails, spikes, and other fasteners, as well as aid in the process of construction, demolition, and some mechanical applications where a slight adjustment is needed, explains Roost. Roost says the Flying Fox is a great option for campers, backpackers, day-trippers, bush crafters, preppers, homesteaders, hunters, trappers, tradesmen, ranchers, everyday axe enthusiasts, and competitive throwers.
Council Tool serves customers around the globe. Gray says many of their wildland fire fighting tools are used throughout Europe and remain very popular in Australia. “We make tools used by the U.S. Military and U.S. Forestry Service. There is also a growing community of premium axe and bushcraft enthusiasts that purchase our axes.”
Gray says that although the sporting aspect is undoubtedly increasing hatchet popularity, COVID has presented a unique set of challenges for their supply chain. “The lead time for receiving some materials has nearly doubled, so it requires much more production planning than we’ve experienced in the past,” he says. “The pandemic has forced us to reorganize some of our workstations to accommodate social distancing, but that is not unique to Council Tool. Many companies are facing the same challenges.”
Eager to get a piece of the axe throwing action? There are numerous axe houses around the state that host the indoor sport, and most of them also do walk-ins for the public, as well as private/corporate parties. Locations include but are not limited to BATL in Winston-Salem and Charlotte; The Flip’n Axe which has veteran-owned and operated axe throwing venues across NC; Ironclad Axe Throwing in Kinston; Beary The Hatchet Axe Throwing Co. in New Bern; Tap That Axe Throwing in Clemmons; Family Fun Crystal Coast Axe Throwing in Morehead City; and Greensboro’s Bad Axe Throwing, which also owns venues based in Canada and the UK.