Sheffield: Toolmaker is breathing new life into the city’s lost craft industry

Image source, Simon Take

Image caption, Robin Wood was awarded the MBE in 2016 for services to heritage crafts and skills

  • Author, Simon Take
  • Role, BBC Sheffield

A toolmaker who spent five years perfecting the design of a ‘Sheffield axe’ believes the city has the skills to revive heritage crafts.

Robin Wood MBE, 59, and his daughter JoJo, 30, founded Wood Tools Ltd ten years ago with the aim of producing tools using locally sourced materials.

Mr Wood taught spoon making but had to import axes from Sweden because Sheffield craftsmen and women could not make them.

He decided to make his own axes and was also chairman of Heritage Crafts, a charity that supports traditional crafts.

Mr Wood, who was awarded the MBE in 2016, said that despite his background in woodworking, he never intended to become a toolmaker.

He said: “I have been learning spoon carving for twenty years with simple axes and knives. I wanted to use local tools, but they were not made here and I had to use blacksmiths abroad. I realized I had to make them myself.”

Image source, Simon Take

Image caption, Zak Wolstenholme, 28, trained alongside Sheffield’s latest handyman, Brian Alcock

Woods’ ax from Sheffield is now ready for sale.

Many of their tools were hand-sharpened by Brian Alcock BEM, the city’s last ‘jobbing’ grinder. Following the master craftsman’s death in 2023, Mr Wood’s 28-year-old apprentice, Zak Wolstenholme, took over Mr Alcock’s old workshop at Beehive Works and now operates the historic grinding tool.

Mr Wolstenholme said: “It is an honor to continue this tradition and keep Brian’s memory alive.”

Image caption, Jo-Jo Wood, 30, works with her father to create the ‘Sheffield axe’

Despite the decline of Sheffield’s tool industry over the past 40 years, the Woods believe there is a demand for better quality items that will “last for generations”.

Mr Wood added: “The industry has changed. We no longer have the scissor and saw machines we were used to. The ones that are still here have reinvented themselves as heritage brands.”

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