We Test 4 Small Choppers Priced $32-$450

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r small, packable “hack-its” are convenient and can defy their size in terms of performance. Clock- wise from top: Camillus/Western Black- river Long Hatchet, Winkler Hunter Axe LT, Boker Plus Escape Hawk and A.G. Russell Pocket Safety Axe.
 

SMALL HATCHETS, HAWKS AND AXES ARE LIGHTWEIGHT AND VERSATILE

Four small, packable “hack-its” are convenient and can defy their size in terms of performance. Clockwise from top: Camillus/Western Blackriver Long Hatchet, Winkler Hunter Axe LT, Boker Plus Escape Hawk and A.G. Russell Pocket Safety Axe.

By Pat Covert

They’re small choppers that go by the names of hatchets, hawks and axes, so for simplicity’s sake let’s lump them into a group and call them hack-its, because that’s what they do for the most part. They hack.

The small choppers separate themselves from their bigger siblings largely because they are much more portable. Let’s take a look at four of the pint-size hack-its—all under a foot long—and explore their usefulness.

I tested each one on a variety of woods both hard and so, including the dreaded 6-inch privet log I use to gauge a chopper’s ability to bite into tough, seasoned materials. I also used the hack-its to cut 3/8-inch synthetic rope because if they will chop it, they’ll also cut the skin of meat and vegetables.

The weight of the chopper’s head and its placement on the handle makes a difference in its “bite-ability.” A big reason the Russell Pocket Safety Axe (left) bit into the privet log so well is because the hack-it simply has more weight at the point of attack.

A.G. Russell Pocket Safety Axe

With much of its overall weight in the head, this is a very top-heavy hatchet—which can work to its advantage. Photo from agrussell.com

The A.G. Russell Pocket Safety Axe is a Marble’s design from circa the early 20th century. Marble took a small hatchet, 10.6 inches overall, and designed a fold-out metal shield in the handle to cover the bit in lieu of a sheath. Simply ingenious.  The A.G. Russell version has a 4.5-inch 1070 spring steel head with a 2.4- inch cutting edge, and a typical old-school hammering base at the rear.  The head has a distinctive three-slot mounting system Marble deemed superior to the standard oval style.  The 8.8 inch handle is hickory and the whole kit and caboodle weighs 1 pound. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $79.95.

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The fold-out blade shield of the Russell Pocket Safety Axe is pure wizardry, especially considering the design is well over 100 years old. You won’t be caught saying “Where did I put the sheath?” with this one.

With much of its overall weight in the head, this is a very top-heavy hatchet—which can work to its advantage. In the bite test on the privet log, the Pocket Safety Axe finished first simply because the business end has a lot more weight (see the side-by-side comparison image on head thicknesses). Consequently, it chopped each test material well.

The bite of the A.G. Russell Pocket Safety Axe proved to be exceptional. The traditional, top-heavy hack-it took to the dreaded 6-inch privet log with gusto, sinking its teeth into the seasoned hardwood surprisingly well.

The fold-out bit shield has pluses and minuses. On the upside, it’s very convenient and there’s no sheath to keep up with. On the other hand, you have to pack it since there’s no belt-sheath option. Also, you’ll want to wear gloves for extended use, as the hinge mechanism in the handle can dig into the inner  fingers. All in all, though, the Pocket Safety Axe is a stellar performer.

SPEC CHECK: A.G. RUSSELL POCKET SAFETY AXE
CUTTING EDGE:
2.4”
BLADE MATERIAL: 1070 spring steel
HEAD WIDTH: 4.5”
HEAD THICKNESS: .7” at the thickest
BLADE COATING: None
HANDLE MATERIAL: Hickory
SPECIAL FEATURES: Metal blade cover in handle
CARRY: Pocket or pack
WEIGHT: 16 ozs.
OVERALL LENGTH: 10.6”
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Taiwan
MSRP: $79.95

Boker Plus Escape Hawk

The Boker Escape Hawk is a hawk that thinks it’s a hatchet. Photo from knifecenter.com

Designed by Australian knifemaker/ designer Peter Fegan, the Boker Plus Escape Hawk is tactical in design. Hawks are primarily used for breaching and combat but can full other chores as well. Only 9 inches overall, the Escape Hawk has a 4.75-inch head of quarter inch-thick SK5 tool steel and a 2.56- inch cutting edge.  The head has enough beard to be used for carving, and the curved 7-inch handle is adorned with nicely sculpted, diagonally grooved FRN ( berglass-reinforced nylon) scales.  The butt can be used for hammering.  The steel is protected throughout with a powder coat. A dual-strap Kydex sheath covers the head. MSRP: $189.95.


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The Boker Plus Escape Hawk is a hatchet in disguise. The small hack-it’s 2.56-inch SK5 tool steel bit chopped rope in nice, clean lops, and hacked off nice-sized cedar tinder chips with ease.

Due to its small size, you won’t be doing much breaching with the Boker Escape Hawk, but the pint-sized hack proved its worth. The SK5 steel had plenty of hack, chopping rope in nice, clean cuts, and knocking out chunks of seasoned cedar for tinder. Though the bearded bit can be used for carving, the inward slant of the handle mounting to the head impedes its effectiveness for the purpose a tad. The handle has full-length scales—a bonus for freedom of grip—and the diagonal grooves afforded it the best purchase of the bunch. The Boker Escape Hawk is a hawk that thinks it’s a hatchet.

 

SPEC CHECK: BOKER PLUS ESCAPE HAWK
CUTTING EDGE:
2.56”
BLADE MATERIAL: SK5 tool steel
HEAD WIDTH: 4.75”
HEAD THICKNESS: .25”
BLADE FINISH: Powder coating
HANDLE MATERIAL: FRN
SPECIAL FEATURES: Full-length sculpted scales
CARRY: Kydex sheath
WEIGHT: 13.1 ozs.
OVERALL LENGTH: 9”
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: China
MSRP: $189.95

Camillus Western Blackriver Long Hatchet

The Blackriver will handle many chores around the camp, and the bonus firesteel and pouch on the sheath add value. Photo from Camillus.com

At 11.5 inches, the Western Blackriver Long Hatchet from Camillus is, indeed, the longest of the test hack-its. It sports a 4.5-inch-wide head with a 2.5-inch chopping edge. On the back side of the head is a gimped flat edge for hammering and a sharpened diagonal slot for cutting cord. The 9.5-inch handle has 5.25-inch black checkered rubber scales, and there is a shaving slot midway between the handle and the head. A ballistic nylon sheath with a firesteel pouch—with firesteel—is included. MSRP: $31.98.

The Western Blackriver Long Hatchet from Camillus is the batonner of the bunch. The thin bit cleaved into the tight hardwood grain like a thief in the night. Once the head was in, the final splitting was done by batonning the upper handle.

The Blackriver has the lightest head of the test group so it didn’t win the chopping wars, but its length and handle design give it a leg up on the others in some functions. The thin head is ideal for batonning, enhanced by the 4 inches of exposed steel below the bit, which can be used as a striking surface. The grip is very comfortable, the rubber scales aiding in impact absorption. The Blackriver will handle many chores around the camp, and the bonus firesteel and pouch on the sheath add value. It’s also by far the most affordable of the group.

The Camillus/Western Blackriver Long Hatchet has a pouch on its ballistic nylon sheath containing a firesteel. This is a nice added extra on a hack-it that is already able and affordable.

SPEC CHECK: CAMILLUS/WESTERN BLACKRIVER LONG HATCHET
CUTTING EDGE:
2.5”
BLADE STEEL: 420 stainless
HEAD WIDTH: 4.5”
HEAD THICKNESS: .2”
BLADE COATING: Titanium bonded
HANDLE MATERIAL: Rubber
SPECIAL FEATURES: Firesteel included
CARRY: Ballistic nylon belt sheath
WEIGHT: 17 ozs.
OVERALL LENGTH: 11.5”
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: China
MSRP: $31.98

Winkler Hunter Axe LT

The price is high but the Winkler is as close to a custom as you’ll get—plus, the sheath is a marvel in itself. Photo from WinklerKnives.com. 

At only 9 inches long, the Winkler Hunter Axe LT is a small hack-it, but packs a full 19 ounces of weight—and that’s with a skeletonized handle tang. The Hunter Axe LT has a 3.5-inch-wide, bearded 80CrV2 carbon steel head with 2 inches of cutting edge, and there’s a hammering base out back. The steel thickness is a healthy .25 inch and is coated head to toe in Caswell black oxide. The scales are full-length, highly attractive curly maple. A padded Kydex sheath with nylon belt loops covers the head, and employs a shock-cord retention system for a quick draw. MSRP: $450.

The Winkler Hunter Axe LT turned out to be the best carver of the bunch due in no small part to the handle’s position in relation to the head and beard. The hand- some curly maple handle is comfortable to boot.

The Hunter Axe LT may be short but at 19 ounces is the heaviest of the test hack-its—a full 2 ounces more than its nearest rival. The LT almost won the bite contest but didn’t due in part to its weight being more equally distributed than the top-heavy Russell Pocket Safety Axe. The 80CrV2 steel chops extremely well and the Caswell finish is very tough. Though not a carving axe per se, the LT was our best candidate for the chore and would have performed even better with a lower grind angle on the lead edge. The price is high but the Winkler is as close to a custom as you’ll get—plus, the sheath is a marvel in itself.

SPEC CHECK: WINKLER HUNTER AXE LT 
CUTTING EDGE:
2”
BLADE MATERIAL: 80CrV2 carbon steel
HEAD WIDTH: 3.5”
HEAD THICKNESS: .28”
BLADE COATING: Caswell black oxide
HANDLE MATERIAL: Curly maple
SPECIAL FEATURES: Skeletonized handle
CARRY: Kydex belt sheath w/tension release
WEIGHT: 19 ozs.
OVERALL LENGTH: 9”
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
MSRP: $450

The Winkler Hunter Axe LT’s Kydex sheath has a bungee-style tension cord for quickly releasing the axe from its housing. The sheath as a whole is very well made—a Daniel Winkler trademark.

HAPPY HACKING!

Packable hack-its are limited only by their size. They are capable of building small shelters, chopping and splitting small- sized firewood, cutting rope to size, and a myriad of other small chores around the camp. When buying a small, packable chopper like one of these, first define your intended use for it. As you can see by the test bunch, each has its strong suits, and MSRPs vary widely. Choose wisely and happy hacking!

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