Friday, May 6, 2011

A Brief Look at the Cegga Custom Hatchet

I have to give a big thanks to Ches from North Carolina for letting me use his very rare hatchet for this review. I am always amazed when people trust me with such valuable tools and am truly grateful for the opportunity.

Of course, this in not a hatchet that you can just go out and buy. It is a custom creation by Cegga. For those of you who do not know him, he is an employee for Hultafors/Hults Bruk in Sweden. Most of his axes are modified versions of the Hultafors Classical line of axes, and are hard to find. This one was initially made for a member of Bushcraft UK, and then after several trades/sales, made its way to Ches, who, being the cool guy that he is, contacted me and offered me the opportunity to test it.

Manufacturer: Cegga/Hultafors
Axe Head Weights: Overall weight is 1 1/2 lb. Head weight is about 3/4 lb.
Axe Length: 15 1/4 inches
Axe Head Material: Unknown Swedish steel
Handle Material: Hickory
Cost: As negotiated

The first thing that I noticed about the axe is that it has been very well finished. I don’t know exactly what the initial axe looked like, but clearly a lot of work has been put into it. As you can see from the picture, the head has been highly polished. All lines have been made smooth and continuous, and all imperfections have been removed.

Even more impressive is the finishing job on the handle. It almost doesn’t feel like wood. On most other axes, including the high end ones, you can feel the texture of the wood-the grain, the roughness, the pores in the wood, etc. The handle on the Cegga axe appears to have been somehow oiled and waxed so thoroughly that the whole surface has a uniform texture. For some reason, I was very impressed by that fact. The head is attached to the handle using a wooden wedge with a circular metal pin, typical of Hultafors.

The grinding of the head has of course removed a good amount of material from it. My guess is that Cegga started with a Hultafors Trekking Axe (HB FY-0,5 MINI), which has a head weight of 1.1 lb. After the material was removed, the weight of the head probably dropped down to 3/4 lb. I say that because of the comparison to the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet.

The Wildlife Hatchet has an overall weight of 1 1/2 lb. Of that weight, the handle weight half a pound, making the head 1 lb. The two axes seem to have about the same overall weight. The Cegga axe however has a much more robust handle. It is certainly longer by more than an inch, and on top of that, it is thicker. Since the Wildlife Hatchet head weight about a pound, the head of the Cegga axe must be less than that, probably closer to 3/4 lb.

How does that translate into performance? Well, I took the two hatchets out into the woods for some testing. My experience has been that increasing the handle length does not compensate very well for a decrease in weight. For example, my Husqvarna hatchet has a handle that is about an inch shorter than the Wildlife Hatchet, but because the head is a quarter of a pound heavier, it still easily outperforms the Wildlife Hatchet.

The results I got confirmed that. When it comes to axes, weight is important. That being said however, I actually think that the difference in performance was much more a result of the bit profile of the two axes. It is impossible to detect in pictures but the Cegga axe has a slightly thicker bit. The overall thickness of the head is about the same, but the very edge was thicker. Since I mostly work with hard wood, this significantly detracts from the performance. If I was working with soft wood, this probably wouldn’t be a problem at all, but in hickory, the Cegga axe has a hard time penetrating into the wood.

Overall, this is a beautiful tool. Every aspect of it has been touched up. The head is uniformly polished and the lines are smooth and continuous; and the handle is perfectly finished. The decreased head weight, however, also decreases performance, and so does the thicker grind of the bit. For the same overall weight, the Wildlife Hatchet manages to outperform the Cegga axe, at least in hard wood. Also keep in mind (and this is true with all axes where the head is not protected by paint or patina), you have to clean and oil the head. The clean shiny finish is a magnet for rust, and this is something you will have to keep an eye on. I think the conclusion of all this is that Cegga does good work, and that if you are lucky enough to be able get him to make you a custom axe, go for it, but make sure you give him the specifications that work for you.

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