Just like every BLUE ICE product, including the Warthog packs and the Choucas harness, the Bluebird ice axes are the product of a long and meticulous manufacturing process.
Skillfully combining tradition with modernity
The ice axe is the ultimate symbol of alpinism’s traditions as well as its modernity, so creating a tool quickly became an obvious goal for Blue Ice. We had our minds set on creating an ice axe that was simple, efficient, and trustworthy: in short, a multi-purpose mountain tool. It would be an indispensable piece of gear that had character and symbolism, but it would also provide top technical performance.
Our desire to offer a blend of simplicity and modernism led us to design an axe that features an aeronautical-quality anodized aluminum shaft and a Swiss-forged head. The different parts of the axe are then assembled at our production center in Chamonix.
The man behind the Ice Axe sharpening : a knife maker
One of the essential steps in this local manufacturing process is carried out by Sylvain Parent, an artisan blacksmith and knife maker. He does the finishing, polishing, and sharpening of all of our picks. He welcomed us to his workshop set on a hillside in the heart of the Mont Blanc region, where he offered us a glimpse of his universe.
Meet one of the key players who make the Bluebird axe what it is: unique.
Sylvain Parent, an artisan blacksmith and knife maker
How were you introduced to Blue Ice?
A friend of mine, who is a fan of artisanal knives like I am, put me in touch with Giovanni, who was looking for someone to do the finishing work for the ice axe picks. I do ironwork and tool reshaping for individuals and small businesses on a regular basis. Giovanni and I hit it off right away. Blue Ice was looking for quality and meticulous workmanship for the final finishing of its picks. We work together very closely, and communicate regularly about our respective needs.
What is the work that you actually do?
I receive the unfinished ice axe heads from the forge. I then shape the angles, correct any imperfections and do the most careful possible sharpening, even if it isn’t for a knife…
How much time does this take?
I go through about ten different steps, and each step takes me about two minutes. But it’s hard to calculate exactly. There are always small flashes on the pieces, and for everything to be aligned properly you have to correct one side and then the other in order to obtain perfect symmetry. I often correct the machining imperfections from before the tempering process.
I grind both sides of the pick, then do a deburring, and then an initial sharpening and grinding of the teeth. This is where you can get tempering imperfections, because the work is done freehand and there isn’t a Template…
What are the different steps?
Even though the forging is done very carefully, there are always imperfections and asymmetries that must be corrected.
I first correct the sides of the head of the tool, and polish them to their final grain.
Then I sharpen the angles: the teeth, the bevel, and the point.
Depending on the piece, I go from a grain of 80 to 120 to 240, trying to avoid scratches. Sometimes I finish this step with sandpaper. The head of the axe needs to be both efficient and aesthetic.
What are the particularities of an ice axe head?
You have to be able to adapt your skills, and have good dexterity. Each machining is different. My knife-making skills are helpful for this.
Everything is done by hand and I have to get just the right angle and symmetry.
Even if an alpinist won't notice imperfections or a slight asymmetry, I work to correct the pick for optimum performance, so it will anchor perfectly in the ice.
The result is worthwhile!
As we discover the tools that fill his two workshops, we quickly understand that the work he does is as much about passion as it is about technique. There are polishing tables, vises, and numerous other tools, all perfectly organized.
Sylvain finally shows us his traditional forging workshop, where he trains enthusiasts from all walks of life, teaching the very basics all the way to the techniques for forging Damascus steel. From the coal-fired forge to the forging hammer and anvil, you can feel that this is the heart of his passion. As he shares his boundless knowledge on the history of iron and steelwork, an art that the Merovingians mastered long before the Japanese, he reveals a couple of his own creations. They are masterpieces that speak volumes for his savoir-faire and our pride in working with him.
Check out the result:
Small mark or irregularity.
 The removal of excess and unnecessary material from the piece.