Friday, January 28, 2011

Barco Kelly Perfect Axe Review

For my next axe review, I want to take a look at a full size axe about which I have been getting quite a few requests. I generally don’t use full size axes, as most of my trips require extensive backpacking, but this one was worth a look if for no other reason, because of its name. I will be looking at the Barco Kelly Perfect Dayton pattern single bit axe.

Manufacturer: Barco Industries
Axe Head Weight: 3.5 lb
Axe Length: 36 inches
Axe Head Material: Unknown carbon steel
Handle Material: Hickory
Cost: $84.00

First, for a bit of history. Production of axes under the Kelly name started in 1874. Around the end of the 19th century, the brand Kelly Perfect had come on the market. The brand quickly became famous, and contributed to the company becoming the largest axe manufacturer in the world. As a result of the Great Depression however, in 1930 the American Fork & Hoe Co. bought out Kelly, and in 1949 was purchased by the True Temper Corporation, resulting in the True Temper Kelly axes with which we are most familia today. Throughout this whole time the Kelly Perfect axes remained in production. In 1987, Barco Industries of Pennsylvania purchased the Kelly name from True Temper along with the patents and dies. They continue to make the Kelly Perfect and Kelly Woodslasher axes, although I hear they may be discontinuing the lines in the near future. The only patterns of the Kelly Perfect axe that are still in production are the full size Dayton and Michigan single bit ones.

I don’t have any good full size axe to which I can compare the Barco Kelly Perfect, but I will make some minor comparisons to the Kelly axes of the past. For those of you who are curious, you can buy the axes directly from Barco here.

The axe arrived in excellent condition. The overall fit and finish was great. I have become accustomed at looking at axes with production defects, but there did not appear to be any here. Everything was measured and shaped exactly right.

The handle is 36 inches in length, and has nearly perfect grain. It has been a long time since I have seen a full size handle that is such high quality.

The head weighs 3.5 lb, and is attached to the handle only with a wooden wedge. The shape of the head is as close to my ideal as I have been able to get from a production axe. The lines are smooth and continuous, with the bevels providing for reduced binding for the rare occasion you go that deep into the wood. There were no imperfections with respect to the head that I could notice.

When compared to a True Temper 3.5 lb Kelly Perfect head, there are some minor differences. The shape is sightly different, although the Perfect pattern was used on many different style heads. The balance of the Barco head is a bit better, resulting from a larger poll. The most noticeable difference is that the True Temper head has cheeks that thin out towards the top and bottom of the head, making it appear much thinner than the Barco head. In reality, the center of the two heads is the same thickness.

The balance of the axe is very good. The poll is a few ounces short of perfect, but it is hard to complain about this balance.

So, is this the perfect axe? Well, no. There are two things which keep me from telling everyone to buy it right now.

The first problem is that the axe I bought had a slightly loose head. That makes me very unhappy, especially considering how well finished the rest of the axe was. I tried removing the handle, but I only managed to slide the head up about a quarter of an inch, before it got stuck. Clearly the eye is tapered to prevent the head from slipping off. I solved the problem by just putting in a metal cross wedge. After that the head held securely during the testing.

The second, and what I consider a larger problem is that the bit of the axe is not finished. I have said with respect to many axes, that the bit has been left too thick for my liking. With this one however, it is just unfinished, and clearly intentionally so. Most axes will have a shiny portion of about half to one inch from the bit. That results from the axe being put to a grind stone to create the edge. The Barco Kelly Perfect axe however, has not been ground at all, and as such there is no edge. This is probably done because industrial customers will be happy to put the type of edge they want to see on the axes they buy. For the average user however, putting a good edge on the axe will require a good amount of work with the file.

It took me about an hour and a half of filing to put the type of edge I like. The pictures that you see in the review, except for the one immediately above, are of the sharpened axe. The metal was not the hardest I have ever worked with, but it was not the softest either. I don’t know if the unfinished edge is a traditional characteristic of the Kelly axes. The True Temper Kelly Perfect head that I used for the above comparison had also bees seriously worked. The edge shows filing marks going back almost an inch from the bit.

So, do I recommend this axe? Well, I only recommend it if you are willing to put an edge on it yourself. If you know what you like, and have the ability to do it, then I would strongly recommend this axe. The fit and finish is better than any I have seen on a production axe in a long time. If however, you are not willing to rework the edge, this is not the axe for you. Out of the box, it will be of absolutely no use. The performance of the axe will depend entirely on the type of edge you put on it.

As far as I know, the manufacturer produces additional bushcraft appropriate axes: The Michigan Pattern Single Bit Axe (3.5lb head; 36 inches in length); The Kelly Woodslasher Dayton Sigle Bit Axe (3.5lb head; 36 inches in length); The Kelly Woodslasher Dayton Sigle Bit Axe (4lb head; 36 inches in length); The Kelly Woodslasher Michigan Single Bit Axe (3.5lb head; 36 inches in length); The Kelly Woodslasher Michigan Double Bit Axe (3.5lb head; 36 inches in length); The Kelly Woodslasher Michigan Double Bit Cruiser Axe (2.5lb head; 36 inches in length); Kelly Woodslasher Wester Double Bit Axe (3.5lb head; 36 inches in length); The Boy's Axe (2.25lb head; 28 inches in length); The Hunter's Axe/Hatchet (1.25lb head; 14 inches in length).

Nomadic Kyrgyz Family on the Golodnaya Steppe, 1911

This is an image of a nomadic Kyrgyz family on the Golodnaya steppe in present-day Uzbekistan. It was taken in 1911 by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii during his efforts to document the people of the Russian Empire.

The image is available from the Library of Congress.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Woodsmanship, by Bernard S. Mason

This is a book published in the mid 1900s. It is heavily illustrated, and covers numerous subjects with respect to axes, saw, and their proper use. It is well worth the read.

To the best of my knowledge, this book is in the public domain, and a copy can be obtained here (PDF), here, and several other places online.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Marttiini M571 Review

Here is another puukko style knife from a widely respected manufacturer. It can often be seen in the hands of woodsmen, but is not reviewed nearly as often as the Mora knives. I decided to do a short comparison.

Knife Length:
7 3/4 inches (197 mm)
Blade Length: 3 1/4 inches (83 mm)
Blade Thickness: 3/32 inches (2.4 mm)
Blade Width: 3/4 inches (19 mm)
Blade Material: Unknown carbon steel
Blade Hardness: Unknown
Type of Tang: Partial concealed
Blade Grind: Scandinavian/single bevel
Handle Material: Plastic
Sheath Material: Plastic
Cost: $15.00

The knife is a low cost one, and is generally intended to be used as a utility knife. The blade is shorter than that of the Mora 1, being closer to three inches rather than the imaginary “ideal” of four inches. The blade is the same thickness as that of the Mora 1, but it is a bit wider. It is a single bevel grind, and has a grind profile nearly identical to that of the Mora 1. The non sharpened portion of the blade has a patina on it, but it came off on one of the sides after some mild use. The handle is longer than that of the Mora 1, but it is a bit narrower. The blade is securely attached to the handle, much more so that it was with the Mora Clipper. At no point did I feel that the blade might come loose, or hear any cracking, like I did with the Clipper.

The knife was very comfortable, although I wish the handle was thicker. The blade was too short for my liking, but performs very well. It throws sparks very well from a ferrocerium rod. It holds a great edge, and came shaving sharp.

I took it out for some testing. It is important to note that the temperature was in the single digits, and I was working with hickory, which I only realized from the smell once I started cutting it.

Since the blade is so short, its batoning ability is quite limited. Here I used a 2-inch piece of wood (half of a log). The Marttiini M571 went through it without the problem. I did not feel any significant pressure on the connection between the blade and handle.

However, the batoning damaged the blade. This is not that uncommon when it comes to Scandinavian grind knives. The edge is so thin, that it can be easily damaged. The fact that it was so cold, certainly also added to the blade being brittle. I tried to warm it in my hand, but by that point my hand was close to frozen as well. You can see the small chip in the picture. I was not able to repair the damage with a sharpening stone. That is another problem with Scandinavian grind blades; to remove metal from the tip of the blade, you have to remove metal along the whole grind. Here, removing enough metal to repair the damage would have significantly changed the blade. I might end up convexing it at some point.

I also pound the blade into a piece of wood as one would when truncating. The knife did fine.

Other than the damage to the blade, the edge retention was good, and I was able to make some fuzzies even with a frozen piece of hickory.

The knife comes with a plastic sheath, but the knife fits into it much better than the Mora 1. It is held inside quite securely. I have no complaints with respect to the sheath.

The Marttiini M571 has a partial concealed tang. You can see it in the cutaway below. The picture was not taken by me. Even though it is a small tang, I was very impressed by how secure the connection to the handle felt.

Overall, this is a very good little knife. If at any point you feel like a 4-inch Mora is too much blade for you, this would be my low cost go-to choice. The blade performs very well, even though it is so short. It is very secure, and the sheath is better than that of the Mora 1. Obviously this is not a knife I would recommend as your only tool in the woods, but combined with a good axe, it may be all that you need.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Snowy Weekend and Some Winter Camping Tips

Most of you already know all of this, but I thought I would mention a few things for those who are new to winter camping, and also share some pictures with you from this past weekend. After all, don't forget to actually enjoy nature while practicing your skills.

1. Not all winter camping conditions are the same. Just because there is snow on the ground, does not mean that you have the same type of winter camping conditions. Temperatures that are much below freezing, will create different challenges from temperatures that are just below freezing.

2. The colder it gets, the more brittle metal becomes. Knives, saws and axes loose a lot of flexibility, making the braking and chipping of blades much more likely. Warm the blade in your hand before use. Avoid using the fire to warm the blade because if your hands are also cold, it would be hard to judge the amount of heat and you may damage the blade by overheating it. I also got a tip from a friend who camps at much lower temperatures than I do (-20F), and he suggests that you warm your tools by putting them inside your jacket. That way your hands don't freeze along with the tool. It sounds like a very good idea.

3. When you have temperatures that are much below freezing (in the teens, single digits, or below) water freezes immediately. Remove any moisture from your tools. If you leave it there for a few seconds, it will turn into ice and will be hard to take off.

4. Protect your water bottle. If exposed to the elements, it will freeze. Make sure it is not full all the way to the top. That way if ice forms (and expands), it will not crack the bottle. Keep it in your sleeping bag at night.

5. If the temperature is just below freezing, you will have to deal with a lot more moisture. Try to avoid the slush and snow. Treat is as you would a very wet, rainy day. If the temperature is much below zero, the environment will be surprisingly dry. Since water will immediately freeze, you will be rather dry, even if waist deep in snow. In such conditions however, be careful when transitioning between temperatures, such as getting close to your fire. Make sure you remove all snow from you before warming up.

6. In very low temperatures, even if you are warm, you can still loose sensitivity in your hands, if the skin is exposed. Keep that in mind when handling tools and objects. You may be causing damage that you cant feel at the moments.

7. As I’ve mentioned before, when melting snow in a pot over a fire, place some water on the bottom of the pot before putting in the snow. When using thin backpacking pots, the heat from the fire may be enough to sublimate the ice instead of melting it, causing you to scorch your pot.

8. When the sun sets, temperatures drop much faster in the woods than they do in the city. That is because there are no supplemental sources of heat (cars, lights, etc), and cities are paved in one form or another of stone, which absorbs a lot of heat during the day, making the nights warmer.

Clearly none of this is brain surgery. I was just reminded of some of these things this past weekend, because the temperatures dropped to the single digits, and created conditions that were a bit of a contrast to the last few weekends.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Further Details of the Temagami Knife

On Tuesday I did a post about the new Temagami knife, designed by Les Stroud. Yesterday, I was contacted by a representative of Canadian Outdoor Equipment to inform me that they have released some additional details about the knife.

The dimensions are as follows:
Blade length: 4 inches (100 mm)
Handle length: 4.25 inches (110 mm)
Overall length: 8.25 inches (210 mm)

The handle is made out of curly birch, soaked in linseed oil and coated in bee’s wax. The sheath is made of full grain leather.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Truper 1.25lb Camp Axe (Wood Handle) Review

This is yet another low cost axe that I have been waiting to review for a while. It seems to be available at every Home Depot that I’ve seen, so I thought people might want to see something about it. This hatchet exemplifies what people mean when they say “hardware store axe”.

Truper Herramientas
Axe Head Weight: 1.25 lb
Axe Length: About 13.5 inches
Axe Head Material: Unknown carbon steel
Handle Material: Hickory
Cost: $12.00

As you might remember, Truper Herramientas is a Mexican company that purchased Collins Axe, and as such is the manufacturer of the Collins Hunter’s Axe which I reviewed earlier. Considering how bad the Collins axe was, this one seems like a great improvement.

Like with my other hatchet reviews, I will be comparing the Truper Camp Axe/Hatchet to the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet. Here you can see the two of them next to each other.

The handle is the same length as the Wildlife Hatchet, bringing it to about 13.5 inches. It is comfortable and well shaped, although it has a bit too much polish on it. The grain of the Truper hatchet was perfect. It is as good as the gain on the Collins axe was bad.

The head of the Truper Camp Axe is heavier than that of the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet by a quarter of a pound. The overall shape is not bad, but the convex of the cutting edge is way too thick. With a lot of time and effort it can be reworked since the cheeks are not too thick, but I am not sure it is worth it.

The head is attached to the handle using a wooden wedge and a circular metal wedge. It held securely during the testing. For the tests I sharpened the hatchet, as it was completely dull when I bough it, but I did not re-profile it in any way.

When it came to performance, the Truper Camp Axe fell far behind the Wildlife Hatchet. The thick cutting edge limited its ability to penetrate the wood, and chopping ability suffered even though the Truper hatchet has a heavier head than the Gransfors Bruks one.

With respect to splitting, the Truper did quite sell. The same characteristics that limited its chopping ability, made for a good splitter. The thick edge and added weight, put it in the lead as a splitter.

Overall, this is what I would consider a “hardware store axe”. It is not good, but it’s also not particularly bad. If you are looking for a hatchet that you can abuse around the backyard, and can double as a hammer in the tool shed, then this is a perfectly good choice. With respect to bushcraft however, it leaves a lot to be desired. Even for this money, there are better options out there. The thick cutting edge, makes this tool hard to use as an all around hatchet. It is not an easy fix either. You would have to remove a good amount of metal before you can get any kind of performance from this axe.

It was interesting to see that the quality of the Truper hatchet was higher than that of the Collins axe I tested earlier. This could be a result of the manufacturer putting more effort into the tools which carry their name, or it could be an issue of low quality control.

As far as I know, the manufacturer produces additional bushcraft appropriate axes: The Michigan Pattern Single Bit Axe (3.5lb head; 36 inches in length), The Boy's Axe (2.25lb head; 28 inches in length), The Michigan Pattern Double Bit Axe (3.5lb head; 34 inches in length), The Jersey Pattern Single Bit Axe (3.5lb head; 36 inches in length), and The Hudson Bay Axe (1.75lb head; 28 inches in length).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wood Hardness-the Janka Test

We often speak of hard wood and soft wood forests. In reality, each type of wood has its own specific hardness. One way to measure that hardness is the Janka test. The test consists of pushing a ball 11.28 millimeters (0.444inches) in diameter half it’s diameter into the wood. The force required to do that is then measured.

The force can be recorded in a number of ways, including pound-force , kilogram-force, or newtons. The results can also either show side hardness, where the ball is pushed perpendicular to the grain (from the side of the tree), or end hardness, where the ball is pushed parallel to the grain (into the stump of the tree).

A good table of different side hardness Janka ratings can be found here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Condor Bushlore Knife Review

Earlier I reviewed the Condor Bushcraft Basic Knife, and while the quality control turned out to be very low, I was happy with the overall design. I decided to give the company another shot, to maybe see if the quality issues with the Bushcraft knife were an isolated incident. As such, I picked up a Condor Bushlore Knife.

Knife Length: 9 3/8 inches (238 mm)
Blade Length: 4 5/16 inches (110 mm); cutting edge 3 5/16 inches (85 mm)
Blade Thickness: 5/32 inches (4 mm)
Blade Width: 1 3/16 inch (30 mm)
Blade Material: 1075 carbon steel
Blade Hardness: HRC 57-59 on the Rockwell Scale (the information is unconfirmed)
Type of Tang: Full
Blade Grind: Single bevel with a convex edge
Handle Material: Wood inlays
Sheath Material: Leather
Cost: $30.00

In terms of price, this is also a mid range knife. It comes in at $30 just like the Bushcraft knife, which makes it reasonably priced, but not cheap.

The knife is even more robust than the Condor Bushcraft Basic Knife. It is made from a very thick piece of metal, and feels like it would be indestructible. The knife appears to have a Scandinavian grind, but in reality, the edge itself has been convexed. The blade is a bit longer than that of the Mora 1, but the actual cutting surface is smaller. The handle is very long. For my hand, it was too much, but I know that many people like a longer handle.

In my opinion, this is a very inefficient knife design. For a knife that is over nine (9) inches long, it has a cutting surface of just over three (3) inches. I just can not explain why there is nearly an inch of unsharpened blade in front of the handle. I understand the concept of choking up on a blade, but why not just make the unsharpened part of the blade part of the handle? It’s not like I can use that part of the blade any way. If I choke up on the blade as it is now, I just get an extra inch of very uncomfortable handle. Also, how much choking up do you need to do on a three inch blade?

On top of that, we have a blade that is almost a quarter of an inch thick. In my opinion, unless the knife is designed to split concrete, there is no reason why a three inch blade needs to be 5/32 of an inch thick.

When it came to quality control, this was another miss for Condor. This knife had the exact same problem as the Bushcraft Basic Knife. The edge was not evenly ground. More metal was removed in some places than others. This is an unacceptable defect, as it requires massive amounts of work to fix. The knife will still cut, but it will always be a damaged blade. I don’t know how Condor does their grinding, but it is a big fail.

To be fair, after my last review, I was contacted by a representative of Condor, telling me that they can get me a replacement. Certain parts of the organization clearly care about their products. It is my hope that eventually the quality control picks up.

The knife has a fairly good sheath. It is made out of leather and fits the knife very well. It does ride high on the belt though, so it would be hard to use with a backpack that has a hip belt.

I did not bother to document any of the testing of this knife. It just seemed pointless. It goes without saying that any blade that is three inches long and a quarter of an inch thick, will have no problem batoning through any log that is less that three inches in diameter. The knife is nearly impossible to damage. You can judge the carving ability of the knife for yourselves. I’m sure some people will be able to do it. For me, having a cutting edge that is separated from the handle by an inch of unsharpened blade, makes the knife very hard to use.

One thing that I thought I would do with the knife is see if I can do something about the unsharpened part of the blade. I have seen a number of people ask about whether you can sharpen that part of the blade with a file. I figured I would give it a try.

This took me about half an hour to do with just a file. If you take your time and are careful, you should be able to do a decent job.

Overall, I can not recommend this knife. The quality control issues continue to exist, and they can not be ignored when it comes to a $30 knife. With the Bushlore, you also have what I consider to be one of the worse knife designs I have ever owned. The three inch cutting edge on a nine inch knife just kills me. It feels more like a small hatchet than a knife, especially combined with the unnecessary thickness of the blade. If you are a fan of Condor, and want to get one of their knifes, I would suggest going with the Bushcraft Basic Knife.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Les Stroud Designs and Releases the Temagami Knife

Les Stroud, known to many as Survivorman, in collaboration with the Norwegian knife company, Helle, is releasing the Temagami knife.

There has been talk about the collaboration for a while, but these are the first pictures that I have seen of the knife, which will be released in limited numbers (500) at the end of February.

It will come in laminated carbon and stainless steel, which will both be available worldwide after February. The cost of the knife that is being thrown around is in the $180.00 range. I am not sure if that is for the limited version, or the general knife.

In terms of design, the knife looks like a traditional Helle. It appears to be very similar to a Helle Eggen. The tang is a bit different. While it is not a full tang knife, it appears to be more prominent than that on a traditional Helle.

To be honest, I have not had the best experiences with Helle knives, so I am skeptical about this one. The design looks good with some minor issues, but we’ll see if it can stand up to actual use as advertised.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

Snow & Nealley Hudson Bay Axe Review

For this review I want to take a look at an axe, manufactured by a company, with a history spanning back to the golden age of axe manufacturing, the Snow & Nealley Hudson Bay Axe.

Manufacturer: Snow & Nealley
Axe Head Weight: 1.75 lb
Axe Length: 24 inches
Axe Head Material: Unknown carbon steel
Handle Material: Hickory
Cost: $65.00

The Snow & Nealley Hudson Bay Axe is a mid size axe, at a mid range price. It is large enough to do some serious work, but at the same time is small enough to be easily carried in a backpack. In terms of size, it falls right between the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe and the Scandinavian Forest Axe.

In this review, I will try to compare the Snow & Nealley Hudson Bay Axe to both the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe and the Scandinavian Forest Axe. Below you can see the Snow & Nealley Hudson Bay Axe next to the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe.

Here you can see it next to the Small Forest Axe as well.

The Snow & Nealley Hudson Bay Axe has an excellent handle. It comes in at 24 inches, an inch shorter than the Scandinavian Forest axe, and 4 inches longer than the Small Forest Axe. It has a great shape, and is very comfortable. It is one of the best handle designs I have seen. The grain of the one I got was good, although not perfect, and it did contain some hard wood.

The head of the Snow & Nealley Hudson Bay Axe has positive and negative aspects. In the picture below, you can see it next to the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe. You will notice how smooth the transition is between the bit and the eye. This is exactly what I like to see in an axe head. This axe gets it exactly right. It does not have the abrupt transition and concavity that you see in the Gransfors Bruks. This creates less impediments for the wood, improving splitting performance. On the other hand, the bit itself is much thicker than I like. It is not horrible, and is clearly a design characteristic, bit the thicker bit impedes the chopping performance. (There was paint on the top portion of the head, which I sanded off)

The head is attached to the handle with a metal wedge, and it held securely during testing. The bit is longer than that of the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe.

The balance of the axe is fairly good. The bit is heavier than the poll, so you see it leaning down a bit, but overall, it is not bad. This is important as it increases control of the axe during a swing.

The axe comes with a beautiful leather sheath, although it seems to be a bit too small for the head.

The axe needed some sharpening when it arrived. I sharpened it, but did not change the grind prior to testing.

When it came to chopping, the Snow & Nealley Hudson Bay Axe was significantly outperformed by the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe.

In fact, it was also outperformed by the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe, and axe with a lighter head ans shorter handle. This is clearly a result of the thicker bit.

Like I mentioned before, the Snow & Nealley Hudson Bay Axe shines when it comes to splitting. The thick bit, combined with good head geometry, makes it an excellent splitter.

Performance characteristics aside however, I had some serious issues with this axe. It is one of the most poorly finished axes that I have ever seen. The head of the Snow & Nealley Hudson Bay Axe had a series of defects, which while not significantly impeding to the performance, show a very low (non existent) level of quality control.

To begin with, the eye is not aligned. It is aligned on the top section of the head, but on the bottom, it is closer to one wall than the other. This results in the head being at a slight angle to the handle. This is not an issue with the hanging process, but rather the head has been improperly made.

On top of that, the head looks as if though a tractor has passed over it. It is skewed in every possible direction. It more closely resembles a trapezoid than a rectangle.

Unfortunately, these are defects that can not be fixed with filing or grinding. They are also not something that a reasonable person can miss during the inspection process. Clearly, there is no quality control being utilized here. The axe is still technically usable, and it did not effect the testing in a significant way, but these are issues that should not exist with a $65 axe. I e-mailed Snow & Nealley, but I have not received a response from them.

The truth is that if you grind down the cutting edge and re-profile it, this axe can be an excellent tool. The lack of quality control however worries me a lot, and prevents me from recommending this manufacturer to any one else.

As far as I know, the manufacturer produces additional bushcraft appropriate axes: The Young Camper’s Belt Axe (1.25 lb head; 15 inches in length), The Penobscot Bay Kindling Axe (1.75 lb head; 18 inches in length), The “Our Best” 28" Axe (2.25lb head; 28 inches in length), The “Our Best” 30" Axe (3.5lb head; 30 inches in length) and The “Our Best” Double Bit Axe (3.25 lb head; 36 inches in length).