Every Man Needs a Basecamp
30 Minutes With: Graeme Cameron
Few things are more primal than an axe. It’s the minimum amount of tool that can come between man and the act of felling a tree. But simple doesn’t mean crude — the perfect axe is a transcendent thing. To find out what that looks like, we sat down with Graeme Cameron, formerly of Best Made Co, and now the man behind Basecamp X. Basically, the consummate outdoorsman.
Read the interview after the jump.
Gear Patrol: Let’s start with some numbers. Describe yourself in three words.
Graeme Cameron: Curious. Loyal. Determined.
GP: When and how did you originally become interested in making outdoor gear?
GC: It wasn’t until we started Best Made Co. really. The drive to create a brand was more of a calling than I had expected. The amount of gear out there is crazy so it made more sense for me to focus on something that I know, use and respect. The axes are a starting and staying point for BCX – we will venture into related products all the while doing our utmost to follow the original brand message. Purchase high quality product that has a story and can be passed on for generations to come. Legacy will be a component in all of our hard goods.
GP: How did Base Camp X begin?
GC: Leaving Best Made Co. I had a basic plan for what I wanted to accomplish. Build a Canadian based brand and do it with action and story. Engage the customer with more than a product, greet them with some grit and provide a superior level of craftsmanship.
With that, I set about working on my property for the summer 2010. My forest has many hardwood tree compartments that are in need of thinning so it was a great opportunity to put product to the test. Only working on Hardwoods like Maple, Oak and Birch meant the axes and Khukri got a supreme torturing.
The axes are very symbolic of hard work, self-reliance, ruggedness…
The brand, website and copy came to life in a very special leather Journal that I would keep in my pack at all times. Writing, photography, shot lists and the creation of the designs all took form in that journal up at BCX. The departure from Best Made left me without a partner and it was very liberating to stake the claim that I had been looking for all on my own. Ideas would form while working and I would just stop everything and get it all down before it got lost. It actually took way more discipline than I expected.
The axes are very symbolic of hard work, self-reliance, ruggedness… [there are] so many ways to describe the visual. It is, however, the function and rawness that fits best with what we are working to accomplish. My design work on the handles is heavily influenced by the elements. I look to the Forest, sky, lakes and campfire to pull the colours together. They are at the base of each design.
GP: What would be your ideal vacation?
GC: The ideal vacation for me would involve a reclining deck chair located close to the water and a cooler of beer. So pretty much doing zero without feeling the need to get back to work… if that’s possible
GP: What are the most strenuous and beautiful hikes you’ve ever done.
GC: The most strenuous hike I have ever done would have to be back in the early 90’s when I served in the Canadian Armed Forces. We where young Platoon commanders (Lieutenants) on course at the Infinitry school, Base Gagetown New Brunswick. The hike — (laughs) — was what you call a forced march and we had a 12km route before us. 60 lb rucksacks, full weapons load and NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) gear… it was late July… Pre-dawn hikes in the Australian outback = the most incredible sunrises ever!
GP: One of BCX’s strongest tenets is providing the means for anyone to find their own personal “Base Camp X.” How did that guiding principle come about? How is it expressed in your gear?
GC: It came from hanging out around campfires when I was a teenager, stuff like that. It’s a group thing as much as it is a personal thing – just internalizing, no talk… staring at the fire. I am a big fan of being able to do things on my own. I get great satisfaction out of deep thought with focus. Going for a day without talking, because you don’t have to.
The time spent on each axe is very much one on one time and reflects this.
GP: When was the first time you spent a night alone in the woods.
GC: I was always in a group or with someone in the bush when I was a kid so I think my first actual solo overnight 100% alone in the woods was once again during my time in the army – we where doing night navigation exercises and it was a solo run…no sleep.
Axes Guided by Design
GP: Another important part of Base Camp X is handmade, consciously designed products. Tell me about the idea that something strictly utilitarian – a tool for example –- should be guided by design.
GC: It’s simple — I can’t really think of anything that can’t be guided by design. It truly depends on how the idea is put into motion and played out — how good is the story and is it true?
The [BCX] axes are defined by their performance yet recognized more often for the shaping and finishing of the handles. It’s more than a product, it’s the action and interaction that really gives it life. By adding a certain finish to an axe it could influence the user to take greater care and show a deeper respect for the outcome of the action… compassion.
GP: How is the production and construction different from other tools on the market?
GC: The level of finishing done on each axe is what defines it the most when comparing directly to other tools. There is a great deal of time put into shaping, scraping, sanding, staining, painting and coating each piece.
GP: Take us on a tour of your studio and your design process.
GC: The studio is located in the King West Hood, Toronto. A 1200 square foot workshop complete with spray-booth, pneumatics, dust collectors and pretty much every wood-working tool we would ever need. We have a big fat English steel vice that is mounted on a chunky wooden work bench that Andrew made. This bench is where I spend the majority of my time in the shop. The axe handles go through a rigorous sanding process. After the roughest sections have been scraped with a hand-held flexible steel scraping blade, sanding is applied until all chatter marks and rough areas are gone. The next round is more sanding with various grits. Once the wood is smoothed out and the grain is showing clean we start wet sanding…. then wet it again and take it to the next level. When I am happy with the feel, not just the smoothness it’s ready for color or oil. I handle every single axe that leaves the studio… I like to think of the handles as being…handled.
The stains that I use are in powder form and need to be mixed with water. The water that I use for blending is collected from the lake at BCX — it just adds a little bit more to each stained piece. Andrew Reesor works with me and is a very accomplished furniture designer. His skills with top-coating truly set our product apart. You will literally feel the difference and that difference is what sets us apart.
Each of our axes is also available in an oil, so no colour. After our meticulous sanding ritual a thin coat of Linseed Oil and Beeswax is applied — this will be repeated for 4-5 days. There is something very unique about our oiled line, the axes are selected for striking grain pattern and character.
GP: Where do you start with a new design? Frustration when wood chopping?
GC: The designs are generally all elemental so it comes through observing my natural surroundings. Campfires, the lake, the trees, the night sky… I don’t tend to think about design at all when swinging an axe… I really zone and focus on the tree – you have to watch the tree… good things come from the tree.
GP:Does BCX have an overarching aesthetic, or does specific function make it pretty fluid?
GC: BCX will always be about function, I don’t see the point in getting into design for the sake of design… that’s just how I see it. If I can’t take a product to task and come back feeling satisfied not to mention confident in the workmanship and performance…it won’t make the cut.
GP: Are there certain places or people or things that you go to for inspiration?
GC: Music and great photography are pretty obvious so I am going to focus on friends. I have a strong circle of close hombres and they are there because they inspire me. One of my closest friends, Brett, is probably the most inspirational person that I know. Self made and a total trailblazer when it comes to applying himself and getting it done. When I need advice or even a slap in the head… I go there. We all need a friend like that in our lives.
GP:An axe is just about as ancient as anything, and you advertise that “this axe is your grandson’s.” Obviously there is a lot of tradition and stability in what you do, but where do you see the company heading in the future?
GC: We will keep solidifying the brand with new product that is unique, functional, superbly made and finished in a manner that sets it above the rest. There are so many trails to follow but I think that doing our best to focus on creating new ones is really what is at the heart of BCX… Being a Pathfinder.
Building the Tribe, our community, is another focus for the future. Establishing connections for people, giving a means to voice an opinion or observation through forums, chat groups and blog entry.
GP: Do you have any funny or interesting stories about becoming and being among the most premier axe makers?
GC: I find that there are quite a few people loving the memories of using an axe, whether at camp, with their dad at the cottage etc… This is most often splitting wood at the wood pile – sizing things down for the fireplace. Not too many people can claim that they are experienced “Felling” trees with an axe… most often that’s chainsaw work. I always enjoy taking people who claim to use axes all the time, away from the woodpile. Putting someone in front of a tree and seeing them look at it sideways always gets me…. Felling is an art and it is also extremely dangerous. There is so much to observe before even thinking about picking up the axe… it can also be extremely humbling if you don’t do a solid job…
Last summer I was out working on some videos with my new SLR camera and had positioned fairly tight to the impact line in the fall zone. It was about 95 degrees, humid as hell and the air was heaving with blackflies – so conditions sucked. I was working on a large Maple, approx 20” diameter with a Titanis and my focus started to slip a tad. Shirt was bloodied from the swarm, sweat in the eyes… I was getting really agitated. As I finished the back cut and the Maple started its forward momentum I realized that the lay of the tree was more to the right than I had planned. I screamed very creatively as the Maple monster crashed to earth… mere inches from my brand new camera and tripod. Then I realized through my rushed effort that I may have just captured some really badass footage! It’s a good idea to hit the record button…. Sh#*!
GP: What are five things you can’t live without?
GC: 1. Mac and Ren
2. My personal outdoor space – BCX
3. Canadian Music (Rheostatics, Neil Young, RUSH and the Tragicaly Hip)
4. Rare steak seared over hardwood coals
5. My personal Khukri
The Cabin, Built By Hand
In the late 90’s Graeme built a log cabin using only hand tools, relying most on his Double Bit axe. Every tree (Cedar) was sourced from the surrounding property and carried entirely by hand and shoulder. Keeping it all in the family, Cameron looked to his father who built all the windows and doors. The result? 2 herniated discs, a stunning scar, and a lifetime of stories.
Look for our own review of the Basecamp X Axe in the coming weeks.
Photos by Graeme Cameron