Monday, November 8, 2010

Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe Review

Here is the next affordable hatchet that I wanted to review. It is the Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe. For some of the pictures here, I have removed the paint from the head of the hatchet so it can be better seen.

Manufacturer: Northern Tool + Equipment
Axe Head Weight: 1.5 lb
Axe Length: 14 inches
Axe Head Material: Unknown carbon steel
Handle Material: Hickory
Cost: $10.00

This is certainly what I would consider a cheap hatchet. You can get one for less than the cost of a Mora knife. In situations like this one, where you have a very cheap tool, the main problem will always be quality control. That is why I bough this hatchet, just like all the other ones I review, online. That way I get a random selection from the available tools.

Just like with all the other hatchet reviews I do, I will be comparing the Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe to the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet, a well established standard in the bushcraft community.

Here you can see the Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe next to the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet.

The handles of the two hatchets are the same length. The one on the Northern Tool Axe is a bit thicker, and has a good look and feel to it.

The grain of the handle is fair (left). It is not perfect, but rather comes at a bit of an angle. For a hatchet however, this is perfectly serviceable.

My main problem with the handle is that it was not properly aligned with the head of the hatchet. As you can see here, when the head is placed vertically, the axis of the handle is about ten degrees to the right. This created some serious issues for me during testing, as it was constantly throwing off my aim. For me such a misalignment is unforgivable, as the hatchet would have to be re-handled.

The head is heavier than that of the Wildlife Hatchet, coming in at 1.5 lb. This is the same weight as the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe. It is attached to the handle in the same way used by Wetterling, using a wooden wedge and a round metal pin. (For the picture I have removed the paint from the top of the handle so you can see the attachment method.)

The material and exact hardness of the handle is unknown, but judging by how hard it was to remove metal during sharpening, I would say that the metal on the hatchet I got was very hard.

The head of the Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe has more of a wedge shape than the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet, creating less obstructions while splitting, although resulting in the axe getting more easily stuck in the wood. The wedge itself is thinner than that of the Wildlife Hatchet, which is made possible by a narrower eye. The convex of the cutting edge however, is wider (thicker) than on the Wildlife Hatchet.

The thicker cutting edge is most likely an intentional design characteristic, making the hatchet more suitable for hard woods. During testing however (using Oak), the Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe was outperformed by the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet with respect to chopping even with the weight advantage. It appears to me that the thinner edge of the Wildlife Hatchet allowed it to cut deeper into the wood without any noticeable down side.

The hatchet came somewhat sharp. I had to spend 15 minutes getting it sharp for the testing.

The hatchet has no sheath. The edge is protected only by a thin plastic cover, which will not last for more than a few days.

As far as the weight, I personally found it to be too heavy. After 10 minutes of chopping, my arm was very tired. I find that a 1.25 lb hatchet works best for me. This is just a personal opinion, and it will be different for each person.

The head of the axe is not bad by any means. If you have the skill to re-profile the edge to whatever geometry serves you best, the overall quality and design seem to be very good, especially for a $10 tool. The misaligned handle prevents me from recommending this tool. The fact that you have to re-handle the hatchet before you can use it, takes it out of the running for me, because I don’t think this is something your average bushcrafter wishes to do.

If however, you want a project, this might be a good one. I would love to see the head on a 20 inch handle.

As far as I know, this is the only bushcraft appropriate axe produced by the manufacturer under this product name.