Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Selecting a Bushcraft Axe

The process of selecting a bushcraft or backpacking axe gets a lot of air time these days, and rightfully so. A good axe can make a big difference in the enjoyment of the outdoors. In this short video I just wanted to throw out a few comments that may aid you in that process.

Axe Manufacturers:

There are several axe manufacturers that I would recommend based on my experience with them. Keep in mind that this are just my opinions based on my limited experience with axes. There are other axe manufacturers out there that I have not recommended because I either believe their designs or the quality of their products to be lacking. For details on specific axes, please look at the reviews in the Axe section of this blog.

Current Axe Manufacturers:

Gransfors Bruks-Any discussion of axes has to begin with Gransfors Bruks simply because of the popularity of their products. While expensive, their axes go through rigorous quality control making sure that when you buy an axe from them, it will be ready to use out of the box, without any significant defects. They offer a good variety of axes. While I don’t find their designs to be the best, they are very good.

S.A. Wetterlings-Wetterlings is another Swedish manufacturer that produces good quality axes. When Gransfors Bruks came out with their current line of axes in the 1990s, Wetterlings copied the designs (with minor variations) and continues to produce them at a lower cost. Correspondingly, the quality control is a bit lower, so do not be surprised if you find some defects. Overall however, Wetterlings axes are a good, lower cost substitute for the Gransfros Bruks axes.

Hultafors/Hults Bruk-Just like Wetterlings, hultafors copied the Gransfors Bruks designs in the 1990s, coming out with their classic line of axes. They do however still produce their Agdor line of axes, which has been around for a long time, before Hultafors purchased Hults Bruk, the actual axe manufacturer. Their axes are of good quality, and depending on the model, can be quite affordable. Unfortunately, Hultafors does not sell their axes in the US, making them very hard to find.

Husqvarna-Husqvarna is a vary large company that contracts with other axe manufacturers to make their axes. Currently, they have contracted with Hultafors. As such, the axes you buy from Husqvarna are a close copy of the Hultafors axes. Husqvarna manages to sell them for fairly low prices, making their axes a very good value.

Council Tool-Council Tool is an American company that continues to make good axes. Until recently they have been a whole seller of axes, and little marketing was done towards the individual end user. They have very good axe designs in different head patterns. Their products do not come well finished, and the quality control is less than perfect. If you buy a Council Tool axes, be ready to sharpen it yourself, and possibly deal with some defects. That being said, the company is great at taking care of any problems with their products. Most of their axes come at fairly low prices. They have recently released a Velvicut line of axes, which has a price tag similar to the Gransfors Bruks axes, and hopefully similar quality control.

Barco-Barco Industries is another American axe manufacturer that makes good quality axes. They own the patents for the Kelly axes, and continue to make several of the models. Their axes are well priced, but just like the old Kelly axes, they comes unfinished. You will have to put a grind on the axe yourself. Unless you know how to work on axes, this may not be a good choice for you.

Vintage Axe Manufacturers:

Plumb-Plumb made a wide range of axes, and I am big fan of all the models that I have seen. They are thinly ground, and make for good bushcraft axes.

Collins-Old Collins axes are of very good quality. While not the most highly collectable ones, their Homestead brand is one of my favorites. Keep in mind that axes are still being produced under the Collins name, but the quality has no comparison.

True Temper-True Temper made a very wide range of axes. I find some of them to be very good, while other much less so. The ones that I have used and like are the Kelly Perfect, Kelly Flint Edge, and Kelly World’s Finest. The Flint Edge axes tend to be a little thicker, although still very workable as a bushcraft axe.

PowrKraft-This is not one fo the most popular brands for collectors, but I find their axes to be very well made and the designs are well suited for bushcraft.

Other-The four names you see above are just some of the ones that I like, or are popular and easy to find on the market. However, when it comes to vintage axes, it is hard to find a manufacturer that would not be considered good. Competition was so high, that none of them could afford to produce a sub par product. On top of that axes were still a widely used tool, so defects were easily noticed. If you find an old axe head, and you like the head geometry, and it does not appear to have been damaged, or the temper destroyed, it is hard to go wrong. 

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