Colorado Axe Test 2

Here is a little followup for you to the first Colorado Axe Tests I did last year. I just got back from vacation, again spending a week in Colorado in a wilderness area hiking and fishing with old buddies at the same campsite as last year. The area we use in Colorado is primitive and up at 10,000 feet. Temperature ranged from 34 F to 92 F. I used some of this time again for more axe testing and a little knife testing.

I like using axes as a traditional and useful skill that connects us with the ages and warms you twice. On a side note axes don’t foul spark plugs or run out of gas. As a long time axe user I know some of this report may be obvious to other axe users, but I learned a few things.

This axe testing business all started when I found out about tiny hatchets from you, bought the Vaughn mini and the Gransfors mini axes, and started comparing axes. I came to the conclusion that the Gransfors beat out the Vaughn by a small margin.

All of these axes were tested on this trip by cutting the abundant dry deadfall, felling standing dead aspen, cutting kindling and fire building chores, and making fuzz sticks for fire building. I also used the small general purpose knife to test against for small work.

I carried four axes this time, a full size 3 pound head Firestone axe, a 2 1/4 pound Collins Legitimus ¾ (or Hudson Bay type) axe, a Wetterling 20H Hunters Axe, and my Gransfors mini axe. The only axe new to me was the Wetterling. Left to right in the two pictures below are the Firestone, the Collins, the Wetterling, and the Gransfors.

The Collins axe and the Gransfors axe were covered in some detail in my last effort, Colorado Axe Tests (1).

The campsite was surrounded by aspen trees, many of which were dead but still standing. There was also a lot of deadfall. Since a lot of deadfall would be cut the testing is somewhat skewed by the material being cut but is still valuable. The deadfall is a much tougher test of cutting ability and edge holding but is not representative of cutting green or sappy wood.

The 3 pound Firestone full size axe had a new handle since the last trip, where the handle split in two along its length and cut short my testing. The axe head is marked "Firestone", but looks very similar to a 3 pound Plumb that I have. It is my using axe and shows it. For some reason the 3 pound head full size axe cuts and handles slightly better for me than heavier axes. I feel that the longer handle is also safer in some regards. The orange paint is an attempt to make the axe more visible in the woods and is done to many of my axes. The actual weight of the entire axe is 73 ounces or roughly 4 ½ pounds.

Here I am with my favorite axe:

The Collins Legitimus head was purchased on Ebay for a song. It has been cleaned up, reground, and a new handle installed. It is of the Hudson Bay or Tomahawk style. Axes of this size and weight have long been popular with canoe users who go into the wilderness. Actual weight of the Collins axe is 45 ounces or just over 2 ¾ pounds.

Here is a comparison of the profiles of the Firestone and Collins axe heads:

The Wetterling 20H Hunters Axe was purchased new to test and use. It is around 20 inches overall. It can be used with one hand as a big hatchet or with two hands as an axe. I bought one because of the many favorable comments on this axe. The total weight of the Wetterling axe is 33 ounces or just over two pounds.

The Gransfors mini was bought new. I polished and resharpened it but not reprofile it. The Gransfors has been use a lot since I bought it and works well for its size. I find that I carry it often. The total weight of the Gransfors mini is 11 ounces or just under ¾ pound.

Here are some subjective observations axe by axe:

The Firestone axe did the bulk of the cutting this trip. It did not dull noticeably during a week of cutting firewood for the camp. It was the fastest and least fatiguing axe to use for cutting firewood. There is a reason that this size of axe has been so popular for so long in many parts of the world. It appears to be the safest axe to use if normal safety precautions are observed.

The Collins axe was used extensively on the last trip due to the handle failure of the Firestone axe. It held up well and excels as an excellent usable axe that is significantly smaller and lighter than the normal full size axe. It does many things well but requires more effort to cut a volume of wood than the full size axe. It can be used as a hatchet by choking up on the handle. It would be my first choice for backpacking if I knew I would be clearing or improving trails as I went. This size axe is commonly called a boy’s axe, and is an excellent size for a youngster.

The Wetterling axe is best as a hatchet for an experienced user. It was used for building and maintaining small fires and cut smaller diameter wood quickly. A six inch diameter standing dead aspen was cut down fairly quickly with this axe. Its added weight lets it cut better than the Gransfors. The quality is excellent and the price is right.

However, I found this Wetterling axe to be neither fish nor fowl. It is too heavy for a backpacking or carry axe that you will always have with you and not versatile enough as an all around using axe. It is somewhat clumsy as a two handed axe and does not cut as well as either of the larger axes. I found it fatiguing to use for any length of time. The weight advantage over the Collins axe (12 ounces) is not as important to me as the very superior cutting ability of the Collins. It is much heavier than the Gransfors. Please bear in mind that a lot of people use this axe or others like it and my criticisms are how I personally see it. It is probably fair to say that due to my experiences I favor the larger axes.

The Gransfors axe is a good light axe and is best as a small axe that you will always have with you. The Gransfors did all small jobs well and can be used to cut larger trees if needed. The handle is stout enough to depend on. It is very good for firebuilding and clearing small brush at a campsite. Here is the Gransfors cutting kindling.

Edges on all the axes held up well. There was a slight rolling of the edge on the Collins axe after extensive use, easily removed with a stone.

On the way out of the campsite two downed green aspens had blown over and blocked the primitive road in different places. These trees were removed from the road in a matter of minutes with the largest axe. The difference in cutting in green wood and old deadfall is amazing. Just for drill the Collins axe was used on a section of the fallen tree, slower than the big axe but entirely adequate for the task.

In summary, I believe that there are two main scenarios for those that choose to carry an axe. The first scenario is the axe user that knows what tasks the axe will perform and chooses the axe based on the tasks and the travel method. Usage and the travel method (backpacking, packing in with horses, canoeing, motor vehicle travel, etc.) tend to point to a relationship between the weight of the axe and the foreseen use. This will vary by individual and trip by trip.

The second scenario is the user that may have need for an axe due to some kind of unforeseen emergency. The Gransfors is the obvious choice here due to its diminutive size and weight, but those going for an extended foray into the wilderness might include a larger axe such as the Collins as a backup to chainsaws or handsaws.

I have included pictures of the knife that I made and tested for the trip. It was designed based on years of hunting and camping and several prototypes. The 3 ½ inch blade is 1/8th inch thick O-1 tool steel differentially hardened at Rockwell 58, flat ground with a convex edge. A stick tang runs through the 5 inch shaped Osage Orange handle. The handle is large to give a secure and comfortable working grip. This design proved to be a strong and light knife useful for many camp and cooking chores, but simply cannot do the chopping work even a mini axe can do.

And I actually got in some trout fishing.

I hope this subjective testing helps those looking for axe information.




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