The Tiny Pocket Hatchet - And How To Get One

The first questions that people will be wanting to ask is "How tiny is tiny, and are they good for anything?". Best to let an old hand, Horace Kephart, tell us what his was and how he used it. As luck would have it someone emailed me the quote today!

I read the following passage in Kephart's Woodcraft (p.32):

"Among my most valued possessions is a tiny Colclesser tomahawk, of 8-ounce head and 2-1/2 inch bit, which, with hickory handle and home-made sheath, weighs only three-quarters of a pound. I seldom go anywhere in the woods (unless in marching order with a heavier axe) without this little trick. It is all that is needed to put up a satisfactory shelter wherever there is hemlock or balsam, or bark that will peel, while for other services I use it oftener that I do my jackknife"

I've actually had a lot of email over the years asking where to get a Colclesser tomahawk. The truth is that they were an old company when Kephart was around, and anything that comes up now is likely a fake - because you'd be talking well over $1000 for a poor specimen. Instead a lot of people have rushed out and grabbed a Gransfors Mini hatchet. It's a good choice too!

Once you are done admiring Glen's awesome photographic skills - and also admiring his care of his tool handles, you'll be noticing that the Mini really is mini compared to the Gransfors Wildlife above. It sure is pretty, though, with much better grain orientation than mine. Here's another pic, to see if you think that the mini is worth close to $80 US - and prices soon to rise dramatically according to GB.

I'll guarantee you, that when you open the box and remove the mini, two things will come to mind. One is how pretty it is - but the other is how tiny it is. The horrible question will come rushing up about whether it'll actually prove useful.

I'll gradually be adding a lot of information and more pictures on the Mini, since I love mine and use it all the time. I consider it - like Kephart - a tool that's with me when other tools aren't, and yes I trust my life to it. I also know how to use it, and live in conifer country where splitting lower dead branches is the main trick in starting fires.

Where things get tough is with people emailing me to ask if the mini works and is worth the money. It's only tough because whether it works for a person depends on that person's skills and temperament. Lots of people love them - but others have little faith in them as bottom line tools. The problem is that you have to get such a hatchet and try it to see if it suits - and you need a decent one. I had tried a trapper's hatchet of the same weight, but found it to be too thick bladed for real utility on wood. I used it to chop down some trees - but basically I knew it wasn't the thing that I was looking for:

And so the problem remained as to how to get a decent tiny hatchet to see if the concepts work - cheaply. After that it's up to the user to figure if they want to go to the expense of getting a Gransfors. It seemed to be a pretty impossible task to find a decent $20 hatchet in this category.

The Vaughan Sub-Zero Half Pound Head Hatchet Enters The Race! - A $20 Tiny Hatchet.

The Vaughan website is here:

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I haven't been able to obtain one at any of their resellers in Canada, but they can be obtained for about $20 from:

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In Europe from Axminster Power Tool Co in England - or just do a search on Vaughan sub zero hatchet.

The first time I heard from someone who actually had one of these hatchets and had used it was from Reid - Sharpshooter on the forums. Here's his pictures and commentary:

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MAN! This thing goes thru wood like a chain saw. Now for some "fuzzys"...

and just so the Little Shaver doesn't feel left out...

Now I do have to get into leather working... the shoulder rig with pouch to hold this pair would be double neat.

Does anyone have any knowledge of such a carrier/pouch being made of canvas? I'm wondering if there is a historical period where such a thing would have been done.

Can I come out of the corner now?


A quick look at the thin blade and the wood on that hatchet and I was impressed! Unfortunately, I was unable to get one of the hatchets in Canada despite a lot of trying - and so put things on the backburner. Reid's also been extremely busy with other knife tests which you can read about here:

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Well I did until I exchanged email with Steve Acker! He not only followed through with searching out the supplier and links, but actually got one of the hatchets for some real life testing! Up until that point, we only had some experience with one sample which Reid had picked up at a hardware store - it being the only one in stock. On the forums people were asking about Vaughan hatchets on ebay - at $40+. For that price I'd naturally thrown in my two cents and told them to forget it! The GB mini is almost double that - but it is a known quantity.

Where Steve's information is invaluable is that I was able to follow through the process of what people think when they first get one of these tiny hatchets. I'd left things too long and now I have a whole new idea of what tiny hatchets are about, because I have tried them in different conditions.

Jim, Got the hatchet, it looks good. Very light, total weight 11-12 ounces. Comes with a nice sheath. Good grain orientation in handle, handle appears to be attached well. Vaughan lists a replacement handle for this axe. So far I have filed the sharp edges off of the top, bottom, and back of the head, reground the cutting edge to a better bevel, and cut the bottom of the handle to better fit my hand. The taper toward the cutting edge is pretty thin, one quarter inch thick at a point one and a half inches back from the cutting edge, should cut well. The finish on the head is sort of a belt-sanded finish, not bad looking. It could be polished to a mirror finish relatively easy, I will probably not go to the trouble. The temper appears good, it holds a good edged based on cutting paper with the edge, then cutting through a pine 2x4, still cuts paper. I tried it like a knife, choking up on the handle, works well. I used a light touch when chopping, trying to let the weight of the axe head do the work and not strain the handle. I like what I see, I will take it out in the woods and see how it does. Should be good for fire building, clearing small brush, etc. I am concerned that it is too light to cut well, but it went through the 2x4 pretty easily. I am going to make a cover for the edge out of Kydex and glue it into the sheath so I can transport it safely. The advantage seems to be that you would tend to have this with you when you are out, rather than a bigger axe back in camp. I am not sure if I would rather have this axe or a slightly heavier camp knife. I think this axe will cut more efficiently than a similar weight knife, but obviously a heavier axe or knife would have more cutting power. I would like to see you get one and evaluate it. I can see this axe in my hunting backpack. Later, Steve

And now some pics of the hatchet:

You might have to scroll around a bit as I left the pics as big as possible to give some detail. You'll notice that the wood is very acceptable - as good as on most GB hatchets, and that the head is really decent. And so back to Steve!

I have attached photos of my new axe after reworking it. Mainly I reworked the end of the handle by removing wood to create a little bulge on the end. I do this to all my axes, it helps me keep my hand consistently positioned on the axe. The cutting edge was ground on a belt grinder. The angle used was 22 1/2 degrees to the centerline of the axe head on each side. I use this on all my axes, it seems to cut wood well, hold up well, and will slice paper.

I went through a 2/4 quickly and the axe would still slice paper. From the pictures of the GB Mini it looks like the GB may have a larger and therefore stronger hole in the head for the handle. Just looking at the pictures it seems that the GB might be able to take more abuse, but I have no way to confirm that.

Let me know if this helps. If you would like use my previous comments and these photos in your article comparing the GB and the Vaughan please feel free and keep me posted. Thanks, Steve

Here are some more pictures. I cut through the 2x4 in 2 1/2 minutes using 234 strokes. This was an old dry 2x4 and I cut it through from one side only, a tougher test than cutting half way through from each side. I used a fairly light and rapid cutting action, trying to let the axe do the work. After cutting various kinds of green and dry wood with this axe I think forceful swings would work against you. The light head did not allow deep cuts directly into the wood but sliced off relatively long sections from the sides fairly easily. This is visi