Two weeks ago, during the International Woodworking Fair
in Atlanta, Steel City Tool Works's booth was packed full of machinery -- both with its signature granite-topped offerings and otherwise. That alone was a welcomed sight: in recent years, stationary tool manufacturers for the home-shop and light-industrial market have become increasingly scarce at the national trade shows. For instance, at this year's IWF, there were no booths for JET/Powermatic, Craftsman, RIKON, Delta or Grizzly. Manufacturers have various reasons for discontinuing the trade show circuit, but nevertheless, it's a lost opportunity to showcase offerings to attendees and press alike.
But, in addition to an impressively appointed Steel City booth, change was in the air. Standing next to Steel City's machinery, and sharing the same show floor footprint, was Axiom Precision -- a brand name new to me and probably to many others as well. Axiom had numerous iterations of CNC machinery on display. CNC machines affiliated with Steel City stationary? This was news!
A press event, held one evening during the show, clarified things: Steel City and Axiom Precision have now formed a new partnership called Axiom Tool Group. And, according to managing partner Todd Damon, it promises to shake things up in years to come for the consumer woodworking machinery industry at large.
"Each member of the Axiom Tool Group perceives a technology void within our industry," Damon says. "Our shared passion for filling that void will ensure that we remain focused on developing 'new-school' innovation, while we perfect our 'old-school' products."
Citing flatness in technological innovation in our industry may seem like a bold statement to some, but Damon's credentials make him qualified to offer it. For 25 years, he's co-owned and operated Wood Werks Supply, Inc., in Columbus, Ohio, with his father Ron. Offering an extensive selection of machinery, tools, woodworking supplies and lumber, Todd says the two Damons and their staff have grown Wood Werks into one of the nation's largest independent woodworking retailers.
Partnering with Damon in the Axiom venture are two other long-time veterans of the woodworking machinery community. Lucas Chang, who is president of Steel City Tool Works and its majority partner, has been involved in machinery and power tool development and manufacturing in Asia since the 1980s. Chang's factories in Taiwan and mainland China have produced both brand-name and OEM private label goods to the woodworking industry, and he once was responsible for all of Delta Machinery's Asia manufacturing operations. He's currently heading up manufacturing and operations in China and Taiwan for both Steel City and Axiom Precision products.
Axiom Tool Group's third partner, David Campagna, is vice president of Steel City and oversees its Bolingbrook, Illinois, headquarters and warehouse. Campagna joined Steel City when it formed in 2006. Prior to that tenure, he worked in sales for Pentair Tool Group (Delta / Porter-Cable) from 1999 and through its merger with Black & Decker in 2003 as national accounts manager. "That gives me a solid 15 years of power tool and machinery experience on the manufacturers side of the fence," Campagna says. He will manage U.S. operations and oversee sales and marketing for both Steel City and Axiom Precision products.
While Damon plans to continue his role as vice president of Wood Werks, he also will bear product management and development responsibilities for Axiom Tool Group.
Damon shared that the impetus for joining forces with his two partners actually started out as a search for better CNC options for Wood Werks. Wood Werks has been a long-time distributor of Steel City tools, and "I had struggled for years to find a high quality, yet cost-effective small-shop CNC solution," Damon recalls. "In February of this year, somewhat by accident, David and I began discussing the prospect of enlisting Lucas Chang's help in filling that void. Just two weeks later, we were in Taiwan engineering our new Axiom Precision line. From that grew the new Axiom Tool Group."
Damon and Campagna had been considering a venture of this sort in 2009, but the lagging economy brought about by the U.S. recession prevented a launch. "The timing simply wasn't right," Damon says.
While the newly minted Axiom Tool Group might suggest an all-new machinery brand, going forward, it actually will be a partnership operating in the background. End users probably won't be aware of the Axiom Tool Group affiliation with either Steel City Tool Works or Axiom Precision CNC machines. The brands will remain separate and independently operated, yet both are now subsumed under the umbrella of Axiom Tool Group. But what we woodworkers should begin to see in the coming years is significant innovation to Steel City's machinery line-up, plus many new products offered by Axiom Precision. Damon says there are almost a dozen new products in the works for Axiom's CNC. Several are in planning stages, while others are already in engineering. All will be designed in the USA and manufactured in Chang's Taichung factory, under his direction.
On the Steel City Tool Works side, Damon assures that Axiom Tool Group will infuse new creative energy into the company's machinery offerings. "You'll see Axiom technology used widely to update the current Steel City line. Each new product promises to be more accurate, easier to operate, and a whole lot more fun to use."
Product for both Steel City Tool Works and Axiom Precision will be housed and distributed from Steel City's warehouse in Illinois.
The three partners look forward to shaking up what they perceive to be a staid marketplace for consumer woodworking machines and tools. Their varied backgrounds, they feel, provide tremendous industry knowledge with very little overlap and, now combined in the new partnership, "create an immensely effective team," Damon says. "Our strength comes from our ability to operate as one ... allowing us to implement changes very rapidly regardless of whether they are necessary in the plants in Taiwan and China, or on a distributor showroom floor. "
We eZine readers will have to wait and see what develops from this partnered effort, but Damon is certain of one thing: products inspired by Axiom Tool Group will offer real and practical innovation. Simply adding a new On/Off switch or decal and calling a product "new" or "deluxe" will be unacceptable. That approach has been tried by some others, but it's a marketing angle that has done little for moving product development forward in recent years.
"You won't find any 'me too' product from this group, that's for sure," Damon says. "Axiom Precision will revolutionize our technologically stagnant industry with a flood of CNC cutting tools and precision measuring products that will change the way we work in our shops. Soon, this innovation will find its way into the classical Steel City machines that we've all grown to love. 'Old school' meets 'new school' here at Axiom Tool Group."