Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Search for the Perfect Hatchet

I was reading Woodcraft by Nesmuk the other night, and I was amused to read that he had spent 12 years in search of the right hatchet to carry while hiking in the wilds.  He is a fast learner.  I’ve been looking for the right hand axe for 50 years, and I’m not sure that I’ve found it yet.  I’ve always been looking for an axe that’s light and convenient to carry; but it needs to be rugged, well balanced, and heavy enough to do camp chores.  The following is a brief, illustrated history of my quest.

I all started when this was sitting on the mantle for my 8th Christmas. 

It was a Boy Scout hand axe, and man was I excited.  It was a good axe and I carried it on many hikes and camps.  I still have it, obviously; and I keep it for sentimental reasons; but I no longer carry it.  It’s a little on the heavy side, and I don’t really care for the balance, but it’s a pretty good axe.

I tried a light-weight, back-packers hatchet; but it was just too light. 

It was not much better than a sheath knife for cutting or splitting wood, and the poll (the hammer end) was so narrow that it was useless for things like driving tent stakes, mashing up coffee beans, or cracking hickory nuts. 

Handy for dressing a deer, but as an all around camp axe, it just wasn’t the one.

I carried a tomahawk for a while, but I it was pretty heavy and I didn’t like the balance. 

The fact that it didn’t have a flat poll to hammer with was pretty inconvenient also.  You could use the front to hammer, but it was about as likely as not to glance off what you were hitting.  I kept the tomahawk, but now I only use it for a throwing axe at mountain man events.

I bought a Fort Meggs axe, but I was splitting some light wood and broke the handle the first time I put any side-ways torque on the axe.  It was just too light. I don't have it anymore so I can't include a picture, but it is really small.  The handle is thin all over, and inside the head it is really thin, only about 3/8 inch.  So, not really up to the job.

I thought maybe I could kill two birds with one stone by carrying a knife that was big enough to serve as both knife and hatchet.  I picked up a Pakistan Bowie knife and carried it a few times. 

I’ve heard that these things are made out of what ever is laying around, and some are good steel, and some are bad.  I got lucky on this one, as it seems well tempered and will take and hold a good edge.  But it missed the mark on several fronts.  It was too big to be a good camp knife, and not heavy enough to be a good axe.  Also, it didn’t fill-the-bill as a hammer. 

I tried a machete for a while.  I figured that East Texas is kind of a jungle so maybe a machete would be appropriate.  

It was nice that it had a saw on the back, but you can't really hammer with it, and I hated the way it was always banging on my leg when I walked.  So, I only pull this one out when I'm specifically going to be hacking brush and vines.

Currently I am carrying a hatchet that may be a winner. 

I have been using it for about five years and it has held up well.  It is light, but it feels good in the hand.  It will cut down small trees (3 or 4 inches in diameter) and it will split light wood.  It has a nice big head on the front and serves well to hammer in tent stakes, mash up berries, crack nuts, and etc.  It may be the one….. or then again, it may not.

I round out my woods tools with a Russel knife that a friend gave me, and a pocket-size Leatherman multi-tool.  I find that with these three implements I can do just about anything that needs doing in the woods.

1 comment:

Steve Scully said...

It would be nice to have the hatchet cover with an exposed area for the poll. That way it can be used as a hammer with the cover on - which is both safer and reduces loss of the cover since its not taken off.
Might be overly cautious to worry the safety aspect - but if medical access goes way down perhaps safety should go way up.