On the cutting edge of something new
Victor Sultana encourages passing down goods, limiting throw-away culture by building axes in spare time.
Victor Sultana was quick to buy an Apple Watch when it was released, but the technology no longer finds a place on his wrist.
As he wore it, he realized the watch replaced one of the last tools consumers still buy and can keep for years and possibly pass down to children. To Sultana, the increasing trend to buy cheap and throw out once a product is unusable or technologically obsolete is not something he wants to see continue.
“It replaced one of the last tools we wear, and that was sad to me because you can buy a watch you never have to replace,” Sultana said. “The more I think about, the more aggravated I get. It’s not that I’m against technology, I know that phases out, but we don’t have to apply the mindset to everything we buy.”
He does like technology. His job as a learning specialist at Herman Miller wouldn’t be possible without technology, Sultana admitted. There should, however, be a happy medium between throw-away culture and goods to be kept for generations, an idea he’s trying to promote with his venture Victor Axe & Tool.
Sultana moved into a house with his wife in 2011, finally giving him a space to tinker, a place he lacked in college following a childhood of working on projects with his father. His first Fourth of July in the house, his wife, a nurse, was working. Instead of partying with friends or watching the fireworks, he spent the weekend refurbishing an axe head at the suggestion of a friend and putting it on a newly carved handle.
He spent time researching axes and found a community of enthusiasts and a deep history of brands built to last. As he delved deeper, Sultana began refurbishing axes and hatchets for friends and acquaintances.
A friend would come to Sultana with an old axe, and he’d clean it, sharpen the cutting edge and put it on a new handle. Often, there was a story to accompany the old tool.
“As they told these stories about, maybe their grandfather, I started to learn the quality of the older tools,” he said. “Each was a small passion project, first for them but also me.”
His passion for tools was something he backed into, and his realization consumer habits were changing, in his mind negatively, grew organically. His hobby of refurbishing axes grew beyond a hobby, as people learned of his products and wanted more.
No longer able to keep up with demand for his product by refurbishing, Sultana buys pre-forged heads from Pennsylvania’s Barco Industries, North Carolina’s Council and Germany’s Helko. The axes and handles are finished in Grand Rapids, where he employs a handful of part-time employees and has no plans of making it his full-time job.
“I would probably love to, and probably could, but I see value in employing people,” he said. “That’s what business is for, to employ people. If I can provide a lifestyle and do that for others before myself, I still like the change of pace between my two careers.”
Sultana said the trio of suppliers are some of the oldest axe manufacturers and were selected for their quality. While he wanted to source as much as he could from American companies, he also wants to show quality comes from outside the country.
“We think American made is important, but the idea of a global economy is important,” he said. “For every type of tool, we’re not always going to be the best.”
Victor Axe & Tool is expanding its product line to also include soft goods, such as a tool duffel, waxed canvas log totes and tool rolls, designed by Grand Rapids-based Harbinger Leather Design and made in Grand Rapids. For both axes and the soft goods, Sultana tries to impart a design and marketing aspect to help maintain a simple and classic aesthetic to the products to go along with the quality.
“The lens I’m looking through is when I’m gone, as morbid as it sounds, will my son or daughter want to keep it and will it be made with a quality that could last,” he said.
The suppliers also sell their products to consumers, but Sultana said those customers already know what a quality tool means. His tools range from $100-$215, a price he considers mid-range for an axe. More seasoned or regular axe users might spend more than $500 on an axe, so Sultana said he’s targeting consumers who appreciate quality and want a story and product to last beyond a few years.
“We’re a gateway brand,” he said. “We do the heavy lifting of marketing and storytelling.”
Victor Axe & Tool has an e-commerce portion of its website, but the products also are sold, albeit in small quantities, at retailers across the country and in Australia and Canada. The end of the year often sees an uptick in activity, as Sultana said his products are often given as gifts and its largest customer base is female.
“Especially if you’re not chopping wood regularly, it’s not something you feel comfortable buying yourself,” he said. “It provides a nice opportunity as a gift to create a neat conversation of why they’re getting it and what they’ll use it for, hopefully for years to come.”
Phasing in technology is a part of modern life, but if a cheap tool breaks following two uses, a story can never develop behind it, and in the long run, a user probably ends up spending more, Sultana said.
“I really want people to realize it’s worthwhile to spend this type of money on quality,” he said. “If you buy something that’s cheaper, you don’t know how much quality you’re sacrificing, and it continues to go down. We’re in a throw-away culture; if it’s $5 and it breaks, we’ll just buy a new one.
“When you spend more on something, you want to take care of it and keep it longer.”