SKETCH

AN­DREW DURNO’S DIRTSCULPTING MAS­TER­PIECE

Bike (USA) - - Contents - BY MIKE FERRENTINO PHO­TOS: CALEB SMITH

There is a heft to the tool that im­plies pur­pose­ful bru­tal­ity. A lopped tri­an­gle cut from 6-mil­lime­ter-thick CORTEN steel, weigh­ing 7.75 pounds with han­dle, a sharp axe at one end, a sharp shovel face at the other, broad sharp­ened flat edge on one side, rake teeth along the op­pos­ing side, the tool is built to cut, move and shape dirt. Con­cep­tu­ally, it’s a com­bi­na­tion of the trail­builder’s stal­warts; part McCleod, part Pu­laski, but built with more heft. It’s called the War­lord Bat­tle Axe, first ap­pear­ing last year on In­sta­gram of all places, and now be­ing swung into dirt around the world.

An­drew Durno is the man who brought this im­pos­ing piece of metal to life. Known to the In­sta­gram world as @tall­beast (at 6-foot-6, it’s a fit­ting han­dle), he de­scribes him­self with typ­i­cal Kiwi un­der­state­ment as “a tall chap who lives in Wellington, New Zealand, with his girl. Likes his cats, tat­toos, bass gui­tars, he­li­copters, sin­gle-malts, great mu­sic and Malaysian curry lak­sas.” Dig­ging a lit­tle deeper, his per­sonal life re­sumé reads like some­thing torn from the Gen­eral Dude Fan­tasy Bucket List: bike mes­sen­ger in New Zealand, moun­tain bike guide in the French Alps, he­li­copter pi­lot, a con­cur­rent 20-ish year stint with raunchy rock band Head Like a Hole (HLAH) and for the past decade he’s been sec­ond in charge of the work­shop at Weta Studios (as in, “Lord of the Rings,” really big spe­cial ef­fects).

So, with a life­time of rid­ing un­der his belt, as well as ac­cess to the nec­es­sary ma­chin­ery and the skillset to use them, and with a sense that he needed to con­trib­ute some­thing to the trail­build­ing cul­ture, Durno be­gan to tinker with the pro­to­type for the War­lord Bat­tle Axe. He re­calls, “I started rid­ing around ’94 ... been com­pletely ob­sessed ever since. I love it all: rid­ing with mates, rid­ing by my­self, tin­ker­ing in the garage, buy­ing, sell­ing, fixing, breaking, road trips, health, san­ity. I’ve al­ways seen rid­ing as a form of med­i­ta­tion—it clears the mind of the world’s de­tri­tus.” When it came to the in­spi­ra­tion for his thug­gish trail tool, Durno states sim­ply: “It was a form of trail karma. I don’t have time to dig trails, and a lot of my friends are out there put­ting in the hard yards. But I do have the tools at my dis­posal to make some­thing that makes their job eas­ier.

“I saw a cou­ple of tools on In­sta­gram and thought, ‘I have the equip­ment to do some­thing, not nec­es­sar­ily bet­ter, but some­thing that might work well for my trail­build­ing mates.’ I ba­si­cally took a bit of in­spi­ra­tion from a lot of other tools—dig­ging/ cut­ting/rak­ing/stomp­ing/ scrap­ing/chop­ping/lev­er­ing/ stump-re­mov­ing and just banged one out.”

The pro­to­type tool was handed over to his friend and trail­build­ing fiend, Rod Bard­s­ley, who had no idea what he was up to. “I just got a call to say some­thing was in the pipe­line. A few days later I met him on the hill and he handed over the Bat­tle Axe MKI. I’d love to say it wasn’t very good and I made it what it is to­day, but it was very sim­i­lar to our MKII. I hate hard work, so I wanted a grunty

tool that would do it all for me as long as I could get it over my shoul­der. So we made it a lit­tle big­ger, thicker plate steel, re­duced the comb size of the rake tines and widened the pointy end blade so it was more of an axe than a pick, and the wide blade was pri­mar­ily an earth­mover.”

From there, the seedling idea of help­ing out a few friends took root on so­cial me­dia and ger­mi­nated un­ex­pect­edly. “Rod sug­gested a few changes, and I was off,” said Durno. “He did a write-up for Chainslap which then got picked up by NSMB ... Orig­i­nally I was in­tend­ing to make five of them for my key trail crew but other peo­ple were af­ter them too. So I set up an In­sta­gram page to check in­ter­est and have now made close to 100.” Be­fore he knew it, the Tall­beast had a fledg­ling busi­ness on his hands.

In the dirt, the Bat­tle Axe is for­mi­da­bly ef­fec­tive and can bench vir­gin dirt at speeds that seem al­most laugh­able for a hand tool, so long as the op­er­a­tor has the mus­cle to swing it. This ef­fi­ciency be­lies its al­most comic book, fan­tasy weapon ap­pear­ance.

with its cus­tom laser cut name and an­gu­lar edges, it con­jures up Mid­dle Earthian war tools or maybe Maori com­bat weapons. Durno is quick to dis­miss any over­wrought mus­ings: “I think you might be reading a bit more into it than there really is. It lit­er­ally went from a draw­ing on pa­per with ‘about this size’ guessti­mates on siz­ing and then onto the plasma cut­ter. ‘We’ll need a brace there’ and ‘put a bot­tle opener on it here.’ Add a bit of ‘that an­gle looks bru­tal enough,’ a small dis­cus­sion about fin­ish—‘shall we fin­ish it so it looks snazzy? Nope, leave it look­ing like it’s made for the job of get­ting beat up and swung in anger.” At this point I’d like to point out that the fab­ri­ca­tion is done by my mate Rob­bie—he is a wiz­ard.”

In spite of the over-thetop ap­pear­ance, de­scribed by Bard­s­ley as, “Carry one on your shoul­der and you feel like Co­nan the Barbarian, and you as­sume girls think you’re hot,” ev­ery as­pect of the Bat­tle Axe has a pur­pose. The nar­row end is an ef­fec­tive root and stump cut­ter. The wide end chops dirt, and any­thing that might also be in the way. The broad side is per­fect for smooth­ing cut trail and pulling dirt from high to low. The rake side clears duff and leaves. The very slightly con­vex face of the tool base is good for tamp­ing fresh-cut soil. And the weight helps with all of that ex­cept for rak­ing, right up un­til the op­er­a­tor runs out of arm strength. If there’s any lim­i­ta­tion, it’s in the mixed bless­ing and curse that is the Bat­tle Axe’s weight. It may, in Bard­s­ley’s words, be “one tool to rule them all,” but it weighs about as much as any two other tools. This makes it heavy on the shoul­der car­ry­ing to and from trails, and it be­comes very ob­vi­ous when the per­son swing­ing the han­dle runs out of steam. Nev­er­the­less, noth­ing else this side of some­thing mo­tor­ized can touch it for mov­ing dirt.

De­mand for the Bat­tle Axe sur­prised Durno, who isn’t about to give up his day job, in spite of adding an­other tool to the line in the form of a beefy slab-sided rake named The Gravedig­ger. In or­der to meet the grow­ing de­mand, as well as cir­cum­vent the heinous ship­ping fees as­so­ci­ated with fly­ing heavy plates of steel from New Zealand to the U.S., he’s team­ing up with Aaron Lucy in Colorado to have tools made stateside in a more UPS-friendly cli­mate. They will be priced sim­i­larly to high-end McCleods, and brawny-shoul­dered in­ter­ested par­ties can track a War­lord Bat­tle Axe down via Durno’s new web­site (an­drew-durno. squares­pace.com/about-war­lords/), or via the epony­mous War­lord Bat­tle Axe In­sta­gram ac­count (@war­lord_­bat­tleaxe).

“CARRY ONE ON

YOUR SHOUL­DER AND

YOU FEEL LIKE CO­NAN THE BARBARIAN AND

YOU AS­SUME GIRLS

THINK YOU’RE HOT”

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