THREE FACTORY AXES TAKE THE CHOP, LIMB, TRIM, SHAVE AND STRIP TEST
BY JAMES MORGAN AYRES
We got snowed in one New Year’s in a rented cabin in the mountains. When I expressed concern about relying on electric heat in a remote cabin, the rental agent assured me that the electricity never went out. In any event, she said, “There was plenty of firewood for the fireplace and an axe. You’re an experienced outdoorsman. I’m sure you can cope.”
Of course, the electricity went out. I found about a cord of unsplit logs, each log 6-to-8 inches in diameter and 3 feet long. No split wood. No kindling. No axe. I batonned my ever-present Randall Model 1 around the edges of the logs to make kindling, and split enough wood to keep the fire going until the electricity came back on. Three days. I coped but every time I went to the wood pile, I wished I had an axe. Any of the axes in this field review would have been welcome.
Almost anything will chop softwood such as pine. For a proper challenge, we spent a day clearing madrone and oak at a friend’s property. Oak is a hardwood. Madrone is more fibrous and even tougher. We also split seasoned oak logs for our friend’s fireplace.
HIKING HACKER: The Fox Trekking Axe
The Fox Trekking Axe is a terrific chopper for the backpacker, hunter or woods wanderer. Reminiscent of a medieval design, it’s light enough to keep in a rucksack and very well made.
The thin blade came sharp enough to cut paper and kept its edge during a day’s work. Its good edge geometry and balance, comfortable and ergonomic handle—well, really, its overall efficient configuration, which I suspect was inspired by an old, well-proven design—enabled painless hours of chopping, limbing and trimming. The long edge worked well for stripping and shaving bark to make bare poles. I have no doubt that the Trekking Axe would serve to quickly erect a shelter against an incoming mountain snowstorm, or dress out and break down an elk carcass. With its long, almost knife-like edge, it could also skin out the elk.
The thin blade, so efficient at taking down saplings and other work, tended to bind when chopped into the center of the seasoned oak logs. That’s a matter of geometry—the blade is not wedge shaped and won’t serve as a splitting maul, which is outside of its design envelope. A change in method overcame that limitation. By working around the edges and splitting off sections an inch or 3 thick, we were able to reduce logs to kindling.
Overall it’s a well-designed, well-made tool that I wouldn’t hesitate to take to the deep woods.
SPECS: FOX TREKKING AXE
CUTTING EDGE: 5.625”
BLADE STEEL: 12C27 Swedish stainless
HEAD WIDTH: 4.7”
HEAD THICKNESS: .22”
HEAD FINISH: Satin
HANDLE MATERIAL: Sassafras (wood)
WEIGHT: 13.8 ozs.
OVERALL LENGTH: 13.8”
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Italy
THAT’S AN AXE: Cold Steel Trail Boss
I hefted the Cold Steel Trail Boss, chopped through a 3-inch madrone sapling with one swing and paraphrased Crocodile Dundee’s line: “That’s an axe.”
About the size of a traditional cruiser axe, the Trail Boss has a smooth, comfortable haft/handle in-between axe and tomahawk length. The long edge came sharp and stayed sharp. The head has good wedge-shaped geometry that made splitting the seasoned oak logs a breeze. Unlike a splitting axe, it was not too thick for general work. One whack to the center of the log and there were two split sections on the ground. It’s not a splitting maul or splitting axe but almost as efficient. While it has enough heft to split oak, it’s also light enough and balanced so that downing saplings could be done with full control and no danger of cutting through and swinging too far.
When limbing, it was easy to control for precise cuts, even when limbing with one hand. The haft is not as long as that of a full-sized axe, nor is the head as heavy. However, the head’s well-designed geometry, the smooth, comfortable handle and overall good balance enabled it to perform almost as well as one.
This is a good, all-around chopping tool—actually, an excellent all-around chopping tool.
SPECS: COLD STEEL TRAIL BOSS
CUTTING EDGE: 4.5”
BLADE MATERIAL: 1055 spring steel
HEAD WIDTH: 6.5”
HANDLE MATERIAL: Hickory
WEIGHT: 2 lbs., 9.5 ozs.
OVERALL LENGTH: 27”
SHEATH: Not Included
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Taiwan
FRANKISHLY SPEAKING: CRKT Cimbri
The CRKT Cimbri is an interesting design that, in my opinion, needs a bit of work to fulfill its potential. Modeled on a classic Frankish axe, with a nicely shaped head and a long handle, it is well balanced.
Unfortunately, the edge wasn’t sharp out of the box and we test all knives, axes, tomahawks, swords, etc., as they come, so there’s a level playing field for all. The lack of a truly sharp edge required more force to chop through the saplings and impeded its penetration when splitting. Also, the thick coating on the carbon steel head caused it to drag in a cut. Even more unfortunate, and for some reason I do not understand, the haft is squared rather than oval or round. The acute edges of the haft/ handle not only were uncomfortable, they dug into our hands, producing blisters—in one instance breaking the skin of one of our testers’ palms.
Tuning up the edge would be a simple job, a matter of 20 or 30 minutes with a good stone. Reprofiling the haft wouldn’t be difficult, but I cannot understand why anyone would put a squared handle on an axe. Historical authenticity, perhaps?
SPECS: CRKT CIMBRI
BLADE LENGTH: 4.09”
BLADE MATERIAL: 1055 spring steel
HEAD THICKNESS: 1.26”
FINISH: Manganese phosphate coating
HANDLE MATERIAL: Tennessee hickory
WEIGHT: 2 lbs., .8 oz.
OVERALL LENGTH: 25.75”
DESIGNER: Elmer Roush
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Taiwan
Which of the three would I choose if I were again snowed in and had only a stack of logs to burn? If I hiked in, the Trekking Axe would be my choice, no question. I’m too old to hump anything heavier in a rucksack filled with camping gear, food and ammunition. If I arrived by car or truck, the Trail Boss would be it. If I had only the Cimbri, I would use my belt knife as a draw knife to take off the corners of the handle and smooth it. That done, 20 minutes with a sharpening stone and I’d head for the wood pile.