I just returned from vacation spending a week in Colorado in a wilderness area hiking and fishing with old buddies. I used this time partly to test axes and alternate fire building skills. I carried a full size 3 pound head axe, a 2 1/4 pound Collins Legitimus ¾ (or Hudson Bay type) axe, and my new Gransfors mini axe. I carried all three to Colorado in a hard side rifle case. This worked out well.
The 3 pound axe had a new handle and was sharp but had not been reground. It is my using axe and probably shows it. For some reason the 3 pound head full size axe cuts and handles better for me than heavier axes. I feel that it is also safer in some regards. The axe head is marked "Firestone" but looks very similar to a 3 pound Plumb that I have. The Collins Legitimus head was purchased on Ebay and had been reground and a new handle installed. It is of the Hudson Bay or Tomahawk style. The Gransfors mini had been polished and resharpened but not reprofiled. I had already concluded from earlier testing that the Gransfors mini was better than a large camp knife for firebuilding and small brush clearing, so the camp knife was not used in the testing.
The area we camped in Colorado was primitive and up at 10,000 feet. Temperature ranged from 32 F to 90 F. The campsite was surrounded by aspen trees, many of which were dead but still standing. There was also a lot of deadfall. I intended the large axe to get the most use and to just test the other two. However on the first dead tree I felled the handle of the large axe split in two along the length of the handle, something I had not seen before. I noticed the sound and feel changed as I was cutting. The split started at the axe head and worked its way down the handle. The big guy was out of action for the duration.
For the rest of the trip firewood chores were handled by the Collins axe. I had not used a ¾ axe this extensively before. Only standing dead aspens were cut down. A few deadfall aspens were cut up and burned. By the way, dry or dead aspen burns very well and leaves only ash with no appreciable coals. By the end of the week the head had moved up the handle about 1/32 of an inch. I will push it back in place, tap the wedge further in, and add a small steel wedge.
The Gransfors was used to cut smaller tree limbs and prepare wood used to build several small fires. Wood came from dead limbs still attached to pine trees and standing dead aspen. Some of this wood was split into pencil sized pieces for fire building. Small diameter pieces were cut into usable lengths. Building the test fires took only about five minutes each start to finish, needing only more wood added to the established fire. The Gransfors was also used to cut a variety of fuzz sticks.
One dead aspen six or seven inches in diameter was cut down solely with the Gransfors by cutting an ever deepening "V" ring around it until it fell of its own weight. This was time consuming but not difficult. I found that I tended to use muscle power to improve the cutting efficiency of the Gransfors. It is too light to use only the weight of the head to cut with, or I am too impatient to let it. In any event it did well under the increased force with no loosening of the handle or other ill effects.
I learned a lot from all this. One thing is that had I brought only one axe it would have been difficult to keep a supply of firewood stockpiled. I am used to the big axe and prefer it for firewood work. When it was taken out of action the ¾ axe was able to do well, although noticeably slower. The Gransfors mini is perfect for starting and building a fire and was used daily for that purpose.
Had I taken only the Gransfors mini I could have built a fire quickly and kept it going indefinitely with two to three inch branches. This would have required more attention to the fire than when using larger firewood. Cutting up large trees for wood would have not been worth the effort except possibly as a backing reflector.
So my earlier thoughts and conjectures have more or less come full circle. The full size axe is the best when you need to cut (or split) a lot of wood. The ¾ axe is a very viable tool for cutting lots of wood, significantly better than a hatchet or small axe but not completely on par with the large axe. And the Gransfors Mini will get you by in the real woods, although more effort is required. Of the three the Gransfors is the one I am most likely to have with me on a day hike or when backpacking. If I ever pack in with horses again I would take the large axe and the Gransfors. If bulk or weight was an issue I would take the Collins or a similar size axe and also try to take the Gransfors.
I hope this little test offers some useful information. I have included a few pictures that I took, including one unrelated wildlife photo that I like.
If you have questions, criticisms, or things to add - email me please.