In the southern Appalachian Mountains where I live, autumn primo means mountain biking conditions and car camping without the mosquitos. It is the beginning of the bouldering season and arguably the best time for a hike in the forest. Most of all, though, is fire pit, which means I spend a significant amount of my time chopping, splitting, and shaving wood so I can have fuel for regular flames. I spent my summer testing axes and hatchets of various sizes and purposes in order to find the best tools for the lumberjack before winter comes. Here are my favorites.
Gerber Freescape Power 36-inch ax ($ 64)
(Photo: Courtesy Gerber)
Best for: split wood
I use a sledgehammer and mandrel to split stumps, but once the wood is in manageable pieces I break out the Freescape which has everything you’d expect from a splitting ax: it’s heavy (almost 5.5 pounds), long and sharp. The forged steel head cuts through tree trunks like it’s butter, but I like this tool because it’s not valuable. With a composite handle that still shows no signs of wear and tear after months of abuse, it is suitable for beating. I have ruined many splitting axes in the past due to failure and ended up breaking my head. I believe the Freescape will last forever, and it’s the cheapest ax on this list.
CRKT Jenny Wren compact hatchet ($ 135)
(Photo: Courtesy CRKT)
Best for: The backcountry and camp kitchens
CRKT calls the one-pound Jenny Wren a tomahawk, but I think it’s a multitool. At ten inches in length, it’s small enough to carry into the hinterland. You can toss it short distances for fun in the campsite, but it has three sharp edges that make it handy for slicing anything from kindling to sausage. I found the spiked head useful for digging up stubborn tent stakes. Thanks to the MOLLE compatible case, it is easy to attach the outside of a backpack or your belt. It won’t cut through large logs, but it does a hell of a job carving lighters or cutting into a branch to find dry wood.
Barebones Pulaski Ax ($ 122)
(Photo: Courtesy of Barebones)
Best for: Jobs that need to be dug
The Pulaski is a fire extinguishing tool with a sharp hoe on one end and an ax head on the other. It is designed to be chopping and digging in a hurry. (Hopefully I’ll stop digging fire breaks soon.) Still, I’ve found the Pulaski handy whether I’m chopping my way through roots in my backyard pump or chopping wood at camp. It has a steel core that runs through the beech wood handle and is topped with a carbon steel head. At 24 inches, it’s not long, but the sturdy head makes it a viable splitting tool. The hoe does wonders for building catholes on the edge of camp or trying to divert water away from your tent. As practical as the Barebones Pulaski is, this particular version is also an aesthetic beauty that you will want to hang over your fireplace.
Hults Bruk Akka Ax ($ 179)
(Photo: Courtesy Hults Bruk)
Best for: Clear fallen branches, cut through the brush
Hults Bruk has been making beautiful tools from the same Swedish factory since the late 17th century. So you know the hand forged carbon steel is no joke. The Akka is a forester’s ax, a niche tool for removing limbs and overgrowth. It has the perfect weight to length ratio (2.2 pounds and 24 inches) to make it incredibly versatile – long enough to split small logs but light enough to work with one hand. I started packing it in my 4Runner on car camping trips, and I usually use it more like a machete to remove shabby limbs from campsites and pesky brushes from my yard. The handle is a matter of ergonomic exquisiteness with two natural curves: one sits low on the handle for chopping and the other is higher for one-handed work. My only complaint is that it’s almost too pretty to use.
Fiskars Norden N10 17-inch hatchet ($ 95)
(Photo: Courtesy of Fiskars)
Best for: One-handed tasks, lighting
Made in Finland, the Norden is a one-handed chopping tool that can be used to split small logs and carve wood to create a kindle. I like the built-in rollover protection plate on top of the handle as well as the overall balance which is heavy for its 17-inch length. This dense head gives you enough strength to actually chop through larger branches. Keep it low for a full swing or high, just below the striking plate, for finer work. Fiskars makes a smaller 14-inch version, but I like the weight of the N10.
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