Leveraging a true innovation: The story of Leveraxe
It seems like a tall order to reinvent one of mankind’s oldest tools. Yet that’s exactly what Heikki Kärnä did – instead of settling for Status Quo concerning the axe, he decided to see if he could do it better. This train of thought was the starting point for a Finnish design sensation – the Leveraxe. Now Leveraxe is a worldwide phenomenon and wins the affections of users all over due to its ease of use.
It started at Heikki’s home in Sipoo, near the turn of the millennium. He had a large quantity of wood that needed chopping, and it seemed like a huge task. His old axe strained his hands and arms and it was tough work getting through the twisting pieces of wood with the axe – anyone who’s chopped wood can relate.
Luckily, the retired air traffic controller had an open mind and a knack for coming up with new ways to solve problems. After a few iterations (since we are in Finland, one early version included two hockey pucks screwed on the blade, to bounce it back from the wood!), the first early model of the Leveraxe was born.
The leveraxe features an ingenious asymmetrical design – it features a clever winglet on the side of the blade. The Leveraxe uses the momentum of the axe to pry apart the two halves of the piece of wood being chopped. It requires less force, is safer and strains the hands less because of the unique twisting motion. It is a prime piece of functional design – every feature from the blade (designed to split with a lever) to the handle (designed to be as safe as possible) has a functional angle, and the result is a beautiful piece of design.
After Heikki saw how efficient his design was, he knew he had something big at hand (physically, too, as the leveraxe is 90 centimeters in length, which makes it safer than regular axes).
From kindling to full flame
In 2000, Heikki and his wife and business partner, Marjatta, were ready to start production and to offer the Leveraxe to a wider audience. Initially, there was little marketing to speak of – the word spread through internet forums. “I learned to use the computer at 65, and took to the forums that featured discussion around woodcutting”. When speaking of his new axe in the forums, Heikki encountered a lot of criticism. After all, he had the nerve to claim that he had improved on one of the oldest designs known to man: The axe. And, of course, this is the internet, so trolls are bound to show up.
There were dissidents, but he gained supporters, too. And with the discussion, media attention followed. In 2005, media started covering the Leveraxe and Heikki and Marjatta started a company to further the product in earnest. Some American magazines featured it – Men’s Journal did a story on the axe in 2013, which brought 50 000 visitors to their website. “Overall, things were steady for quite a few years from 2005: We sold around 500–600 Leveraxes per year – the turning point was Easter 2014. That’s when the big bang happened, and our web server crashed because of the visitors”, says Marjatta.
From there, Leveraxe has gained global media attention and is currently sold around the world: in Japan, Australia, the US and Canada, to name a few.
An inventor’s life
Had Heikki thought of the amount of bureaucracy, the hours spent fulfilling orders, or the financial aspect of being an inventor, he probably wouldn’t have gone forward with trying to invent a better axe. But he was driven by something that’s very typical for Finns: A stubborn decidedness to make a change. “At one point, I had dreams about axe types, and the ways I could change the design. I knew it could be done, and I couldn’t stop before finding the right way”, says Heikki.
Once they saw the Leveraxe gain attention, they felt they had no choice but to ensure the axe saw its way to as many hands as possible. This changed the lives of Marjatta and Heikki too: “We were supposed to retire!”, exclaims Heikki.
According to Marjatta, the surprising momentum in 2014 was a result of the media attention: “The effect of the coverage we had can’t be overestimated. We went from a small-time producer to a worldwide thing in a very short span of time. It was a very taxing time, but we also managed to enjoy the ride.”
Now, they’ve found good Finnish partners and Leveraxe continues to grow as a company. “Finding the right partners is extremely important”, says Heikki. “The amount of work developing a new product is immense, and we’re happy to be able to actually focus on retirement, now that we’ve managed to grow wings for the Leveraxe.”
In addition to enjoying being retired, Heikki is focusing on acting as a spokesperson for inventors in Finland: “Every man-made thing has, at one point, been invented. Inventing things is rewarding and extremely important, and I want to play a part in making it easier in Finland. And yes, I do have some new inventions cooking.” We expected no less.