Kaufmann Mercantile

My first encounter with Kaufmann Mercantile was nearly my last. 

A friend sent me a link to a page on their site that featured a slingshot. Cool—except this slingshot was made from the natural fork of a buckthorn tree branch, its air of Tom Sawyer Americana yours for $21.


No one buys a treefork slingshot, I spluttered. A treefork slingshot is something you make yourself when you’re 10 years old, using a cut-up bicycle inner tube as propulsion. I made one, and used it to essentially random effect before discovering the relative deadliness of the Trumark Wrist Rocket*. 

I nearly clicked off the site, but some sort of morbid curiosity induced me to read further. Turns out the buckthorn is an invasive species in Minnesota, and the trees are regularly cut down to stumps by community service groups. A fellow named Bill Pine makes slingshots from the offcuts.

Well . . . okay. I still was of the opinion that red-blooded kids should make their own damn slingshots, but at least the philosophy behind these was commendable. So I forced myself to look beyond the nearby “handmade wooden rope swings” (don’t get me started . . .)—and wound up spending a good half hour browsing through a fascinating hodgepodge of high-quality odds and ends, from sturdy wire crates built in a century-old factory in Texas, to handmade ceramic growlers, to riveted aluminum lunch boxes from Canada, to Sheffield-made cabinet-maker’s screwdrivers (or should I say “turnscrews”). I could have dropped a thousand bucks effortlessly in that time—yet, unlike so many twee boutique online catalogs, the Kaufmann site also had loads of interesting items under $20. Clearly the founder of the company, Sebastian Kaufmann, wasn’t just interested in expensive stuff; he simply liked good stuff, especially if it’s unique.

So . . . sigh . . . now I’m on Kaufmann’s insidious emailing list, and rarely a week goes by without some temptation.

Recently I had them send me a couple of intriguing items: a pair of elkskin work gloves with, unusually, the smooth, outer side of the leather turned in, and a so-called EDC (Every-Day Carry) keychain kit, about which more in a minute.

The gloves are made in Centralia, Washington, by a company called Geier, who’ve been doing it since 1927. Like deerskin, elkskin is soft and somewhat elastic, but considerably thicker and more durable. Most significantly, turning the smooth outer surface of the leather inside creates what is simply the most comfortable work glove I’ve ever used, and I go through a lot of gloves where we live. Ordinary full-grain cow-leather gloves, with the rough surface in, can become work-hardened—especially if they’ve gotten wet during use—and offer less than perfect protection against friction. The Geier/Kaufmann gloves should stay pliable until worn completely through. They can even be washed safely with soap and warm water.

I used them for some Hi-Lift jack demonstration, and also for shoveling and pick work. In both situations the feel of the tool through the glove was excellent—critical for safe operation, particularly on the jack—but I could feel no hot spots whatsoever through the slightly springy leather. The suede exterior surface is grippy enough so I didn’t need to squeeze unduly hard to maintain a safe hold.

I did find one contra-indicated use: The suede is not as resistant as smooth leather to constant friction, for example when respooling winch line (even synthetic). I’d recommend either the smooth-out Geier elkskin glove or one of their cowhide (or bison!) gloves for such use.

Alexis at Kaufmann also suggested I try one of their EDC keychain kits, and what an immediately useful trinket that turned out to be. It comprises a mini pry bar, one standard and one phillips screwdriver, an Uncle Bill’s precision tweezer in a little clip, and a curious little stainless-steel lozenge that looks like it could be a container for medication.

I used the mini pry bar within days for removing paint can lids and those nasty big staples that secure shipping boxes. The screwdrivers take a surprising amount of torque if you use the keychain as a grip and lever—I removed door-hinge screws as an experiment, with no trouble. The tweezer: I live in cactus country, ‘nuff said.

And the lozenge? Unscrew it, and it reveals what I have to say is the cutest lighter I’ve ever seen. It takes standard lighter fuel, has an O-ring to prevent fluid getting out and water getting in, and lights every time. The one caution is, you don’t want to leave it burning for more than about 15 seconds, or the whole thing gets alarmingly hot.

Looking at the lighter, I was reminded of the spark generator in the SOL Origin survival kit (reviewed HERE), with which I was less than impressed. Aside from the fact that it was billed as something that could save your life, it was also described as waterproof—a claim I hadn’t tested. I wondered how the survival tool would stack up against this little trifle of a lighter, so I dunked them both in a glass of water for 15 minutes. Afterwards, the “survival tool” would barely produce a flicker of a spark—I might have been able to ignite a bucket of gasoline, but natural tinder? Forget it. The little lighter, on the other hand, fired right up. Drop me in the middle of the forest and there’s no question which of these I’d rather have with me. As with the other items in the EDC kit, it’s available separately, and I can think of places to keep two or three of them handy. (The pry bar too is especially useful as a keychain accessory—it prevents you from pressing your Swiss Army Knife's screwdriver into tasks for which it was not designed.)

Kaufmann Mercantile is HERE, but I absolve myself of responsibility for the consequences if you go.

*New York state apparently finds them too deadly: wrist-braced slingshots are illegal there. I am not making this up.