Friday, April 04, 2008

Axe Quest

I've had a bit of a change of heart recently, and I've decided to have a look at getting a proper, traditional, camp axe.
I started off by looking around at various recommendations and all is not rosy. Gransfors seem to be pretty much the king of axe companies when it comes to cutting only and on soft wood. I would ideally like a good general purpose axe that could split a bit too. It remains to be seen how possible this is though.
Next I thought about mini axes, the Gransfors axes are silly money, the Wetterlings have varying quality control according to the experts so aren't a good thing to be buying unseen. The little Vaughan hatchets that Old Jimbo and Bark River had such success with are now a thing of the past as the company has changed the dies and heat treat making them a lot less useful.
So I perused a few old axe manuals, and Mors' bushcraft, coming upon the idea that a camp axe would be the tool for me. From this point I was looking for a head between 1 and 1.5 kg (2.2-3lbs) and a haft of roughly 24 inches. It would be big enough for axe jobs, handy enough for carving and light enough for carrying. Even the mighty Dan Beard recommended a similar axe.
There didn't seem to be a lot of options. I found a Polish company, Ku┼╝nia, but their heads were only hardened to Rockwell 40 (HrC) which is on the soft side (the top Scandinavian axes being in the region of 55). I then looked up my local Bahco dealer, but drew a blank there as they seem to no longer be stocking their products.
The local hardware store had only the Fiskars (ugly and not nicely balanced, not really what I wanted) and a few Chinese junk hatchets for peanuts. I then started looking through E-bay for old axes. I was pretty sad to lose out on a beautiful, full size Hudson Bay pattern axe from Norlund. It ended at 5am though so I couldn't get in any last minute bids- heartbreaking when you've been in the lead for 4 days!
I found a German seller for Hults Bruks axes but they too were towards the top of my price range - I wanted something to learn with and perhaps re-fit and personalise.
I then proceeded with the E-bay search looking for such old time axe makers as Collins, Norlund, Kelly, Marbles (old ones), Mann, True Temper and Plumb. I didn't find much to my liking as many sellers have rather narrow attitudes - either charging prohibitive postage or refusing to ship outside the US. Eventually though I came upon an old logging axe head, hopefully not too much the worse for wear, made by Marshall Wells Northern King of Duluth. Not the biggest of name but I await the head's arrival with the anticipation that greets all new toys. It should be pretty unique regardless, i just hope I can put it into working order.
The next step was looking through some Polish outdoor good dealers - I found a stockist who has both the Gransfors bruks axes, and more to the liking of my pocket, Iltis Ox-Head axes.I'd like to explain, I've nothing against Gransfors but, firstly every bushcrafter seems to use them, and secondly I want something I can play with and put some of myself into - I'd be afraid of doing this with such an expensive axe. I've e-mailed them about the Iltis axes as I've head good things, but I've not heard back yet.
As far as the axe quest goes - I'm not there yet. You'll just have to watch this space.


Mark said...

Hey man don't worry about staying up till 5am for an axe. Use a sniper service like or similar and yes bid high. I would think you could have a nice Norlund for under $50US. The Marshall Wells was most likey made by Kelly seeing Wells was a hardware.
Happy Chopping.

Mary Beth said...


I have been lucky enough to have been passed the oral knowledge of axes in nortwest US. I hace recentlystarted adding to my 40 year old collection of double bitted axes. Nessmuts axes were for recreation. The nothwest US double bitted axe cut the great trees in our area and pioneered the western US. Forget the weight of our logging axes. This is a real bush tool. A proffesional dangerous, balanced tool of great beauty.

The 2.5 # cruiser head is a popular bush tool. It is no longer in production. Plumb, Collins, and Kelly produced them. Some would regard these as the ultimate bush axe. I do not know for sure but I feel this head came into production aroud 1940. I feel an even heavier double bitted axe is the ultimate bush too as proven by american history and my own experience.