WATERBORO — Mike Fraser has always had an axe for cutting firewood and working in the woods. As a full-time firefighter, using an axe to help open a roof or some other firefighting task comes as second nature.

So a few years ago, he saw an old axe at a yard sale.

And then he saw another, and another. And he bought them. Now, he’s a full-fledged collector — and he isn’t the only one.

“I like Maine axes,” Fraser said Saturday, at the Maine Axe & Saw Meet Up on the grounds of the Taylor Frey Leavitt House museum grounds in Waterboro. He likes Swedish axes too. “They have a nice flow and design and they’re lighter,” said Fraser.

It was the third annual Maine Axe & Saw Meet Up in the state. The first two were in Unity. Participants bring a selection from their collections, set up a table and sell or trade, to each other or to customers who stop by, or just chat about the latest treasure they’ve found or the axe they’re seeking.

Sal Dimincelli came from Akron, Ohio, to attend the meet up, driving here with antique tool restorer Mike Sullivan of First American Axe & Forge, in Schererville, Indiana.

“When you use them, see how they work, you get addicted,” said Dimincelli. “You see all different shapes and sizes, designed for different trees in certain parts of the country.”

An axe used to cut cedar, for example, may look different and feel different in the hand than one primarily designed for pine or some other wood. An axe used in the Maine woods may look and feel differently than one used in Ohio.

Logging had a lot to do with the proliferation of the hand tool — especially until the chainsaw came along.

“Until 1940, everybody had an axe,” said Dimincelli.

Axe collecting is on the upswing. There are social media groups devoted to axe collecting — like Axe Junkies — which has 31,000 members, or Axe and Woodworking Appreciation, which has more than 8,500 members.

Like any collector’s item, the sales price depends on the maker, the condition and the rarity.

A quick look at ebay, the online auction and sale site for zillions of new and used items, shows axe heads on sale for a few dollars to $150 or more.

“Old tools are becoming popular again because of people homesteading, living off the grid,” said Fraser.

According to Howard Hardy, an axe historian, there were 18 axe factories in Oakland, near Waterville, from 1830 to 1967, attracted there at least initially by the water power that could generated by the Emerson Stream.

One axe Hardy brought to the meet was embossed West Waterville, which dates the piece to before 1883, when the town’s named changed to Oakland.

He’s been an axe collector for 20 years, becoming fascinated, he said, when he saw a piece that said “made in Oakland.”

Hardy displayed a hunting axe — with a knife in the handle — designed and made in Oakland for President Theodore Roosevelt when he came to town in 1902, and later marketed as “the President’s Axe.”

“Oakland was the axe capital of the world,” he said.

One fine axe that Fraser has acquired is embossed CCC-S. The initials stand for Civilian Conservation Corps, the federal program begun by U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933 to provide work during the Great Depression. In Maine, according to historical records, more than 16,000 young men served in the CCC from 1933 to 1942. Through his research, Fraser learned that the embossed S stands for state — which meant whomever swung that particular axe was working on a state project for the CCC.

While collecting antique or vintage axes is popular, one Maine company is manufacturing new ones — the only company to do so in a state where there were once many manufacturers. Brant & Cochran of South Portland is transforming steel into axe heads, each stamped with an outline of the Maine map, attaching handles crafted from ash from western Maine and adding leather sheaths, also crafted in the state.

Fraser on Sunday said the Maine axe group hopes to hold its annual meet up in Waterboro again next year.

In the meantime, there’s an upcoming meet in Pennsylvania in the spring — the Eastern Pennsylvania Axetravaganza debuts in Kutztown in April.

Tammy Wells — 282-1535, ext. 327

[email protected]

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