By Steve Wright, 12/27/2012

Competitive Disadvantage

Eash is axe specialist – for most everyone on the series

Mike Eash has put himself in a conflict of interests on the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS® Series Presented by Ram Trucks. Instead of doing anything possible to gain a competitive edge, Eash is doing everything imaginable to help his fellow competitors in the chopping events.

Eash has become the go-to guy for putting the optimum edge on an axe head. If he were keeping those axe-grinding abilities to himself, Eash would have an advantage over others.

He wouldn't need much. In the 2012 STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Mid-Atlantic Qualifier, Eash won the stock saw, finished second in the standing block and took third in single buck and springboard while finishing in a three-way tie for second behind Arden Cogar Jr.

But Eash prefers to share his expertise.

"I take more pride in seeing someone do well with my (axe) grind than I do in beating them on my own abilities," said the 41-year-old resident of Coatesville, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb. "I do this for a lot of the guys."

Don't get the idea that Eash is doing this for free. He charges a fee for his axe work. But it's not a full-time job. For the past 15 years, Eash has been in the jewelry business. He recently changed careers and is now working for a computer software business.

"I started as a jeweler and became a vice president of the company," said Eash, who is married and has a nine-year-old daughter. "But it was a good time for a change."

His jeweler's eye for detailed work continues to be applied in grinding axes. At first glance, that might appear unnecessary in a simple instrument like an axe. But that would be ignoring the edge required for successfully competing on the Series, where every competitor seeks to shave seconds off his times in the single buck, springboard and underhand chopping events.

There's a high degree of craftsmanship in putting the final touches on an axe blade: a sharp edge, so it goes easily into the wood, and some art behind that edge, so it won't be sticky coming out of the wood.

"I don't hold a patent on putting a good edge on an axe blade," Eash said. "But the guys are keeping me real busy doing it. Everybody is looking for an axe that goes in easy and stays free.

"I've found it very interesting. It's just fun to do something with your hands and see how it works, then be able to create it over and over again.

"But it is kind of a competitive disadvantage to compete and do this. It seems the more grinding work I do, the worse I do chopping. It's tremendously hard on your body to stand for hours over a seven-inch grinder."

The obvious part of Eash's work is that fine edge. But he also removes some of the tempered steel a certain distance behind that edge. That's where the art is applied.

"There are so many variables," he said. "It's hard to perceive them with your eyes. I measure everything I possibly can. But I keep that strictly in my head. I changed my design about two years ago. An axe head is more art than science."

While Eash doesn't work on axe handles, he notes there are many variables there too. But that's more about the personal choice of each competitor. A new axe handle is thick, then each man sands it down to fit his tastes, much like a Major League Baseball player does with his bats.

Although his father competed on the Colby College (Maine) woodmen's team in the early 1960s and on the pro circuit for several years after, Eash wasn't planning to follow that route when he enrolled at Colby College as a freshman in 1989.

"I went with a friend when he signed up for the woodsmen's team, then I started doing it," he said.

That serendipitous start has led Eash to become a fixture on the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Series in an unlikely dual role – both as a competitor and now a facilitator of his fellow competitors.

The hard work starts with each New Year, after Eash has taken a two-month break from competing and working on axe heads. That's made for a good transition period into his new job at the computer software company this year.

"When January comes, I'll start chopping and grinding again," he said.

More so for Eash than anyone else, the series is a grind, and he's happy doing it.