Council Tool Business Development Manager Walt Gray, left, and Vice President of Administration Cameron Council are pictured in the Lake Waccamaw manufacturing facility holding the company’s Flying Fox hatchets, the model used by 2020 World Axe Throwing League Champion Ryan Smit.
By: Thomas Sherrill, The News Reporter The last two champions of the World Axe Throwing League’s hatchet division have had something in common. Both 2019 champion Sam Carter of Clemmons and 2020 champion Ryan Smit of Virginia Beach, Virginia, were throwing hatchets made in Columbus County. That hatchet, known as the Flying Fox, has become an immense source of pride for Council Tool, a five-generation Lake Waccamaw-based company that specializes in non-power, heavy-duty, American-made hand tools. These tools serve a variety of purposes, from forestry to firefighting to military. “It’s incredible and for it to be two years in a row and for it to have been thrown by two different throwers in those two years shows how great of a throwing axe it is. I mean, it’s incredible for sure,” said Cameron T. Council, vice president of administration, secretary of the Council Tool board and the fifth generation of Councils in the company. “The exposure it’s brought us has been great so far. It’s one of those things where you almost don’t believe it. You almost laugh at it, but then you realize, ‘Wow, this is real.’” Developing a throwing axe is just one of the ways Council Tool has diversified recently. “We’ve transformed over the years, I’ll put it that way. Being an old company, you can’t stick to what you’ve done 135 years ago and expect to still remain in business,” Council said. The brainchild of Rooster Developing an axe-throwing tool certainly wasn’t on the radar a decade ago, but the sport has become more popular in recent years. “About three to four years ago, we started hearing about axe throwing and how popular it’s getting. We just heard rumors about it here or there,” Council said. A full-time remote employee named Craig Roost, also known as “Rooster,” who lives and works out of Missouri, designed what became the Flying Fox, with a 1.6-pound head and a 16-inch handle. “It’s basically a perfect head weight and handle weight,” Council said. “It’s not too heavy; it’s not too light. And it was intentionally designed by our employee Craig Roost to be more aerodynamic than what you would typically have in an axe.”
Edward Williamson of Council Tool poses with a box of Flying Fox hatchet heads at the company’s Lake Waccamaw manufacturing plant.
From its creation, the word about the Flying Fox started to spread in axe-throwing circles. “We started selling this thing, I want to say, two and a half years ago,” Council said. “And it is, by far, one of our most popular hatchets we’ve made in a long time, within the last 10 years.” Council said word spread about the Flying Fox through Facebook groups dedicated to axe throwing, as well as Council Tool’s dealers promoting it through social media, catalogues and newsletters. “It’s not expensive; the retail price on it is below $50,” Council said. “I think these guys probably bought it after reading about it and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to give this a go’ and started throwing it and said, ‘Hey, this is great.’” Council said that the Flying Fox is still a functioning hatchet that can be used as a tool. The poll-end is heat-treated and can be used to drive in tent stakes or wedges for a camping purpose while the axe end can cut kindling for small fires. In the world of competitive axe throwing, there are two major leagues. One is the National Axe Throwing Federation, and the other, bigger one is the World Axe Throwing League. “If you go to any axe-throwing venue, whether it be Wilmington, or Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, wherever you go, they’re going to either be a WATL or NATF member,” Council said. The big break for the Flying Fox came when Carter used it to win the 2019 World Axe Throwing League Championship in November 2019. “It’s been really neat because it’s got a lot of international recognition,” Council said, explaining that axe throwing is a “worldwide community, but it’s a small following.” Council said that the company “sold a bunch” of Flying Fox hatchets in the first half of 2020. Smit’s win aired on ESPN Dec. 4-6, so Council is expecting another boost going into 2021. “I’m sure we’ll pick up some orders for it soon, but it’ll probably be another month or two out,” Council said in early December, two weeks after Smit’s win. “It’s kind of how our business works; it doesn’t happen overnight.” Building on a family legacy That boom to business is a source of pride for Council Tool, which is proud of being 100% made in the USA, with all of its raw materials sourced domestically. “Our only location in the world is right here in Lake Waccamaw,” Council said. “And we’re a family business. I’m the fifth generation; my father is here, and he’s fourth generation. I have a brother who’s also here. We’ve kept everything in the family. We’re still 100% made in the USA. We support American businesses, and we don’t plan on changing any of that.” Currently, Cameron Council’s father, John Council, is the president of the company that was founded in 1886 by Cameron Council’s great-great grandfather John Pickett Council. “We started making turpentine tools in the 1880s and up until the early 1900s. Then we got into what we call wholesale hardware distribution business. That was our business for a long time. We would sell as a manufacturer to a wholesaler, who would then sell the tools to the hardware store,” Council said. Council Tool is the starting point in a tool’s journey from creation to purchase by a customer. “We forge tools. We buy raw steel, and we’re heating it mostly in induction units which is largely electrical heating to a high temperature, and we’re physically beating it, forging it on a drop hammer in an open die setting and making an axe out of it, or a hammer, or like a bar you would use for a forcible entry tool for a military application or a fireman or a SWAT team or any application such as that,” Council said. Council Tool produces fire tools, whether for wildfire or municipal firefighting, including creating tools used by the U.S. Forest Service. The company is also still in the hardware business with retailers such as Ace Hardware. Council Tool also does private labeling, as well as having a separate company across the street that specializes in wooden handles. “We also do finishing work; we’re featuring, painting, lacquering, wedging a hammer into something, branding, sharpening, packaging, etc.,” Council said. Going forward, as Council knows, business evolves and the possibility of developing a second hatchet dedicated to axe throwing is possible, but it won’t be for a while. What is likely happening soon is making the Flying Fox bigger to compete in WATL’s Big Axe Division, which Council said would mean a heavier head and longer handle — more change for a company that’s been evolving for more than a century.