Friday, October 7, 2011

Council Tool Classic Jersey Full Size Axe Review

This is an axe that I have been trying to review for a while. I’ve received a lot of questions about it, but something always got in the way of me reviewing it. Finally I managed to do it. To be specific, this is the Council Tool 3.5 lb Jersey pattern Classic axe with a 36 inch handle. Council Tool sells several variations of the Jersey pattern axe.


Council Tool
Axe Head Weights: 3.5 lb
Axe Length: 35 inches
Axe Head Material: Carbon steel, HRC 48-55 on the Rockwell scale
Handle Material: Hickory
Cost: $65.00


The price of this axe is more than reasonable. $65.00 for a full size axe is a bargain if the axe is able to show any level of quality. These days it is hard to find even a quality small camp axe for this kind of money, let alone a full size axe. Of course it is all money wasted if the axe can not perform.

For purposes of this review, I will be comparing the Council Tool Jersey axe to the Gransfors Bruks American Felling axe.



In terms of size an weight the who axes are virtually identical. The Council Tool Jersey axe has more pronounced curvature of the handle. This is an issue of personal preference, but I find the Council Tool handles to be very comfortable, more so than the corresponding Gransfors Bruks handles. The grain orientation of the one I got was not perfect, but was not bad either. The handle did contain a small amount of heart wood near the eye and the foot, but again, I have not had any issues with that.


The axe head design of the Council Tool axe is very similar to that of the Gransfors Bruks. In terms of profile and bit geometry, they are a close match. The Council Tool axe does have the phantom bevels, or cutouts on each side of the head, unlike the Granfors Bruks. It is my opinion that these phantom bevels (generally, not just on this axe) are more decorative than functional. I don’t believe they have been a functional part of axe design for many decades. The bit on the Council Tool axe was nowhere near sharp enough, although it was not at all thick. In fact it was close to the thickness of the Gransfors Bruks. Twenty minutes with the file and a sharpening stone gave me a shaving sharp axe with bit geometry identical to that of the Gransfors Bruks American Felling axe. All tests here were conducted with the sharpened axe.


The Council Tool has a slightly shorter bit and a longer cutting edge than the Gransfors Bruks. This is a feature that I like a lot because it should offer an advantage when cutting soft wood, as it would allow for a larger cutting area. The axe head is attached to the handle using an aluminum wedge.


The Council Tool Jersey axe has very good balance. The bit is just slightly heavier than the poll, but the axe is very well balanced overall.


When it came to performance, the sharpened Council Tool Jersey axe performed identically to the Gransfors Bruks American Felling axe. In terms of feel and ease of use they were the same. Here you can see the result after 60 swings with each axe. The wood used here is an oak tree, about two feet in diameter. In theory, if the wood was softer, the Council Tool axe should have performed better because of the longer cutting edge, but this is just theory.



The axe comes with no sheath.

So what is the conclusion? In all honesty, I find it very hard to review the Council Tool axes. The reason for that is that whether you think they are great axes or poorly made axes depends on what you expect from an axe. When you first look at a Council Tool axe, it looks like your average hardware store axe. When you then take a closer look at the axe, it still looks like an average hardware store axe. They all have imperfections. The grinding is not smooth, they don’t come sharp out of the box, the grain is rarely perfect, etc. From that point of view, if you are looking for a showpiece axe, which will serve as an example of craftsmanship, the standard Council Tool axes fall way short.

On the other hand however, if you are looking for affordable performance, it is hard to do any better. In my opinion, Council Tool understands axe design very well. This can be seen not only from their standard axes, but also from their premium (Velvicut) line of axes. When designing their premium axes, they didn’t simply copy the Gransfors Bruks axes, which every other aspiring axe manufacturer seems to do, but rather brought about respected and well tested designs from the golden axe of American axe manufacturing.

If you have the ability to sharpen an axe, then the Council Tool axes in my opinion are the best performance you can get for the money. For a third of the price, you get an axe that will perform as well as the Gransfors Bruks axes. Of course all the money goes into pure performance, leaving little for the fit and finish of the product. There is nothing wrong with wanting any of those things from your axe, you just have to decide what you want.

I personally don’t care much about how my axes look, and know that I will put them through some serious use, which will ultimately get rid of any aesthetic appeal that an axe may have. As a result I care more about the performance, and more specifically, performance from an axe about which I do not have to worry when in the woods. To that end, I am a big fan of the Council Tool axes, and the full size Jersey is no exception.

It is not a pretty axe; it is by no means a perfect axe; but if you need to chop some wood, it is a great axe. 

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