All-Access Axes

A Good Camp Axe Is Worth Its Weight In Gold. This Quartet Of Axes Ranges From Average To Absolutely Sublime.

Few today use the axe as anything other than a rustic means of making a backyard fire for company, or, in most cases, a way to show their lady friends they have a rugged side and can handle a thing or two if they had to. Reality is an axe is so much more than a splitting implement—it’s a universal tool that can be a hammer or chisel, the source not just of firewood but also the spark to light it. It can also be a dangerous liability if you don’t know how to use it.

The axe’s evolution has resulted in a number of sizes, from tiny hatchets to huge double-bladed Michigan felling varieties. The variety of models has certainly not decreased in recent years, but the focus has become somewhat narrow in terms of end use. Rarely is the axe considered a precision tool, yet in truth it’s simply misunderstood and often made incorrectly as a result of a poor understanding of its abilities.

Four contemporary models are a microcosm of what’s available today. Join me as I put them through the ringer.

Wolf Valley Forge Camp Axe

The Wolf Valley Forge axe ate bundle after bundle of firewood like there was nothing to it.

The Wolf Valley Forge Camp Axe is in a class of its own*. In looking at the review models evenly, I didn’t try to save it for last or go easy on it because it’s pretty. Instead, when it arrived I immediately began putting it to work. 

It came not with just a functional sling and cover, but also a small whetstone and a jar of wax by Axe Wax to help preserve it. Carrying the Camp Axe is comfortable and allows for a free hand while trekking. The handle is perfectly shaped and came with a leather strike guard.

Ike Bullington is the maker and the quality is immediately noticeable the second you unpack it. It is all properly shaped, textured and balanced for real work and has a very pleasing appearance. However, it is not a wall-hanger. The head is of a traditional profile and designed for a lifetime of work. 

The edge arrived razor sharp, easily sharper than most knives I test for BLADE®. Not only that, but the edge is extremely durable and completely dispels the notion that you need a wedge-shaped splitter. 

A sharp axe truly cuts the work in half and this one almost effortlessly passed through wood regardless of grain angle. In taking down bigger trunks it drove in the deepest and was the easiest to free. Chips flew with each chop and it made very short work of even the toughest test materials.

This type of quality doesn’t come cheap. Nonetheless, you get what you pay for in life and this is a tool that should last for generations. While the most expensive of the axes reviewed, it outperformed the others so noticeably I evaluated it in probably a third of the time. In my opinion this is how an axe should be in the sense that it isn’t a tool you fight to get work done.

In addition to cutting wood, I used it to drive tent stakes and make kindling, which it did easily. As a camp axe it is very nice in the batoning role, and yes, you can baton an axe the same as you would a knife—so long as you grip it high up to the head and perform the task in a safe standing position as to not deflect the blade into your knee. Overall, I’d rate this as the best axe I’ve ever used.

MSRP: $375

Browning Outdoorsman Axe

Chips fly as the Outdoorsman makes quick work of medium branches.

The Browning Outdoorsman Axe was the lightest of the test models, and overall the least effective of the bunch at the chores I put it through. While an axe in size, it’s extremely lightweight and head-heavy, giving it the feel of a large hatchet. The cutting geometry suffers from a long heel and curved edge. 

Because it lacks significant mass, on a swing it takes a great deal of force to use it in any real way. The issue here is that swings need to be harder, as there is no assistance from mass and, while the axe is lightweight, the user tires quickly while trying to make progress. The Outdoorsman tended to bounce off wood if struck across the grain. It bit in just fine on green wood and made fast work of saplings.

The Outdoorsman is functional in most uses and accomplished what was asked of it. For the price it’s hard to ask more, though I feel it is a light-duty item for use in a prepared camp or residential backyard. I’d not want to use it as my primary cutting tool if in the woods for extended periods. It simply lacks the weight to make its own weight worth carrying. Another downside is the handle, which is comfortable but far too smooth for bare hands. If you’re wearing gloves things are dandy, but once you start sweating it becomes hard to hold.

MSRP: $83.99

Gerber Bushcraft Axe

The Bushcraft did very nicely as a hammer or sledge, even breaking apart an old brick fire pit.

The Gerber Bushcraft Axe is a modern version of a survival axe that includes a hollow handle containing storage compartments for things like matches, tinder or other fire-starting supplies. Construction is anything but traditional, including an over-molded polymer body over the head. The tang extends down into the handle and is relieved all the way through in a few spots to decrease weight.

In my opinion, this axe tries to do a bit too much. Also, it has some ergonomic issues. I understand wanting to take a modern design approach, but this axe has far too much weight in the head to be swung with accuracy. Moreover, the edge is turned down at a slight angle, making the end knob feel like it is in front of the center of gravity. 

The head profile is also modern in approach but offers no significant advantage in chopping. The head has relieved areas that reduce weight, but, at the same time, don’t aid in depth of the bite or in extracting the head if it fails to split.

I used the axe for some heavy lifting tasks, including driving stakes and even breaking apart an old brick fire pit. It did very nicely as a hammer or sledge, but in terms of its performance as an axe didn’t offer much of an advantage. 

The head shape combined with the wide edge profile kept it from being a good chopper. Weight was also a challenge; the head is very heavy compared to the others and takes a good deal of effort to get it going. It suffered the opposite problem as the Browning—being so heavy and not making easy progress is just as frustrating as the axe being light and having to use repeated, rapid swings to get results. The integrated survival accessories were not a hindrance but didn’t come much into play during use.

MSRP: $90

Fox Sekira

The Sekira was great for one-handed use on medium kindling.

Considering what you get, the Fox Sekira is a great axe and relatively inexpensive. It isn’t quite in the same cutting league as the Wolf Valley Forge axe, but is quite a bit better than the Browning and Gerber. 

It handles like a traditional axe in the swing but has a crescent-profile edge that is shaped much the same as a carpentry axe, though with a longer handle. The head is wide at the cheeks and quite narrow in the blade. It splits very nicely though isn’t particularly deep-biting on each swing. 

The head, while substantial, isn’t overly massive and there is a large concentration of weight in the handle. The weight is distributed across the axe, which could lend to some of the increased effort in getting it to send splinters flying.

As far as general performance, the Sekira is about as good as a traditionally constructed axe gets, and lacks nothing in utility. It stayed sharp and experienced no edge chipping, even after quite a bit of heavy use. The only noticeable downside is that the handle, while comfortable and very nicely finished, is somewhat on the large side and rounded from front-to-back. 

When hands get wet or cold the axe has the tendency to want to rotate, which can be dangerous if you’re not holding on tight. Other than that minor issue, the Sekira is a fantastic axe that should offer years of hard-use service.

MSRP: $150

Editor’s note: Handmade and well over twice the price of the next most expensive axe in the review (the balance of the test pieces are factory made), the Wolf Valley Forge Camp Axe arguably is an apple compared to oranges (or vice versa, depending on your fruit ratings). Nonetheless, it offers an option BLADE believes some readers might want to consider.

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