Posts Tagged ‘Council Tool’

Council Tool Velvicut Hudson Bay Axe Review

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

 

 

 

Spending much of my youth and early professional life as a backpacker and teaching backpacking, I not only rejected carrying an axe or hatchet, I used to snicker at the idea of anyone outdoors thinking they needed one outside of a hunting camp.  I considered the old Boy Scout manuals, with pages devoted ink to the tools as woefully outdated.  As a Leave No Trace instructor, I preached against carrying axes or hatchets, believing them to be not only useless in the modern outdoors but the source of some of the most egregious environmental damage found in popular campsites.

My opinion regarding axes and hatchets has changed over the years.  The evolution occurred after I started down the path of traditional camping.  And believe me; once you start down that path, you quickly realize just how important a wilderness tool the axe can be.  To begin with, I realized that it is not the axe that is to blame for environmental damage but rather, how it is wielded.  Folks who routinely show disregard for the environment will do so in most everything they do in camp.  Removing the axe or hatchet from their kit may lessen their impact but only by a little.  Sadly, there will always be duffers and chumps to spoil things.  Second, I’ve realized that for most camping, having an axe or hatchet can be quite useful.  In fact, given what I now know, I would say the axe or hatchet is the single most important edged tool you can carry in wilderness, particularly if you are camping in the old style.  But even if you are backpacking using modern gear, the hand axe (hatchet) can come in quite handy.  With an axe, you can quickly process the wood required to build a fire and shelter if you have to spend an unexpected night out.  Splitting your fuel wood to get to the dry center will often be the only way to successfully start a warming fire after the woods have been soaked with rain.  Sure, you could probably to these tasks with a knife but with MUCH more time and effort than with an axe or hatchet.

Soon after my traditional camping interest was sparked, I began searching for the one axe that would meet any task encountered on a wilderness trip, on foot or canoe.  Would it be possible to find a model that would work in all situations if I were limited to just one axe?  It would have to be light and compact but one that could meet the challenge of any of the numerous tasks of wilderness camping.  In my quest, I accumulated a LOT of axes and discovered that I really like them.  Over the years I’ve collected vintage and modern American axes, hand-crafted, custom-made American axes and a number of Swedish boutique axes in all sizes, weights and patterns.  Some were astonishingly inexpensive and some cost more than I ever thought I would spend on an axe or hatchet.  Some have proven to be very good axes and some have been a disappointment.  I considered some to be the perfect axe for a bit, only to later change my mind.  Some proved to be too light for certain tasks and others, too large and unwieldy.  Many of the axes I’ve collected have been good at chopping but none were outstanding splitting axes.  Oh, they could split kindling better than a knife, and certainly, some were better splitters than others, but none were good enough at both tasks for me to consider them the perfect camp axe.

One of my acquisitions a few years ago was the Council Tool Hudson Bay axe with 28-inch handle (Council Tool #175HB28).   If you are not familiar with the company, you should be.  Council Tool has been making striking tools since 1886 in their factory in Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina.  Remarkably, the company is still owned and operated by the Council family.  Council Tool is one of the last remaining manufacturers of American-made axes and other striking tools.  Their products are supplied to the National Forest Service and the military and as such, are made to be “users” rather than boutique axes.   I found the Hudson Bay axe to be well made and to have good temper but like nearly all modern production axes, the finishing and craftsmanship was below that of the Swedish boutique axes.  Yet, I found that the ax to be far better than the finishing led me to believe.

I soon corresponded with the folks at Council Tool, urging them to produce a line of premium axes to compete with the Swedish brands that have come to dominate the market.  I included my ideas on the features I’d like to see in the axes and a list of what patterns and sizes they should offer.  No doubt others were making the same request because their response was that Council Tool had already been considering such a move.  The company decided to enter the boutique axe market in the spring of 2011 with the introduction of their Velvicut Premium Felling Axe, followed by the model I’m reviewing here.

The Council Tool Velvicut Premium Hudson Bay Axe ~

In late September of 2011, two Council Tool Velvicut Premium Hudson Bay Axes (Model #JP20HB24C) arrived at my door.  One was graciously provided by Council Tool for my review and analysis.  The other I’d purchased in order to compare a hand-picked example with one that had been randomly selected to fill an order.  Unfortunately, just days after the axes arrived, my blog went down and I could not post a review until now, so this review is quite late and should have been done long ago.

 

TWO Velvicut Hudson Bay Axes!
The sheath on the bottom has been photographed from the opposite side to show the “D” ring used to lash the axe to something.

 

Initial Impressions ~ 

The axe provided by Council Tool was fitted with a clear, “white” hickory sapwood handle.  The axe I ordered was mounted on a warm, rich, red-brown hickory heartwood handle.   Note: most of the old-timers insisted that only second-growth, clear hickory sapwood be selected for axe handles. I have seen this admonishment in nearly all of the old books that discussed axe selection.  However, according to numerous tests conducted by the United States Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory, no discernible differences between the two types of hickory could be found with regard to strength or shock absorption properties, which are the most important properties of wood selected for handle stock.  In fact. I’ve seen a number of the Swedish boutique axes hung with heartwood handles.

The axes have the appearance of a finely crafted heirloom tool (which they are).  The Velvicut models come with a high quality, thick leather sheath that fully encloses the head. The sheath is modeled somewhat after a Maine guide sheath, with a “D” ring riveted to the back side in order to lash the ax inside a canoe so that it cannot be lost.  There are differing opinions as to what kind of sheath is best – one that encloses the head or one that simply covers the bit.  I personally prefer the type delivered with the Velvicut axes.  In terms of quality, this is the nicest sheath I have ever seen on a production axe, bar none.  In the tradition of the Swedish boutique axes, the Premium Hudson Bay is delivered with a beautifully designed, sturdy “booklet” attached to the handle by a length of jute (natural) twine.  The booklet provides a lot of information to the owner about the company, their products, the Velvicut line and how to care for the axe.  All in all, the presentation is very impressive.

The sheath and booklet that comes with the axe.

 

SPECIFICATIONS ~

Head Weight:   As stated by manufacturer: 2 pounds. (I asked Council Tool to weigh a completed and polished axe head before mounting on the handle to determine the exact weight of the head – it came to 2 pounds exactly)

Handle Length:   Stated by manufacturer: 24 inches.   Actual length, measured from where the handle enters the head to the bottom of the handle: 22.5 inches (Council Tool handle lengths always describe the length of the handle before hanging)

Axe Head Material:   5160 steel

Temper:   The bit is hardened to RC 50-54

Handle Material:   Hickory sapwood or heartwood or a mix of the two

MSRP:   $129.99

 

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS  

Head Construction ~ 

Here is where we find what could be considered by some to be the most significant difference between this axe and the Swedish boutique axes.  All of the Swedish makers describe their axes as being hand forged while the Velvicut line, like all Council Tool axes, are drop forged.  For some, the fact that the Council Tool axe is not hand forged is a deal breaker.  In truth however, Swedish boutique axes are also forged on a machine.  Some Swedish manufacturers forge their axes on a triphammer (also known as a smith hammer) and others on an open die drop forge (I have heard some are produced by the open die drop forge method but have not been able to confirm this).  Either way, both methods employ machine forging.

Council Tool shapes their axe heads by impression die drop forging.  This is how the overwhelming majority of axe manufacturers have made axes since the 1920’s.  This type of forging employs a die or set of dies, shaped into a mold of the intended finished product.  A steel ingot is heated and placed on the  lower die which is struck repeatedly by a falling hammer to force the steel into every crevice of the mold.  This is exactly the  same method by which nearly all of the great American axes were produced after the turn of the century.  I say nearly all because a few axe makers in Maine were using triphammers into the 1960’s.  Small ax manufacturers used triphammers in the United States long after drop forges were in use, not because the method was  inherently superior but because the small firms that used them could not afford to purchase a drop hammer in what was by then, a declining market.  Why then, do the Swedish manufacturers choose to make axes by triphammer and/or open die drop forging?  The main reason is likely cost.  Impression die drop forging requires the added expense of tooling the die molds for every size and shape of ax offered in the line.  If a maker produces small numbers of axes or wants to change or add models frequently, then triphammer or open die drop forging are the most cost effective ways to do that.  Another, not insignificant reason, is to offer the added allure of a “hand forged” stamp on the head.

The reason for this discussion about forging in what should be an axe review, is because I have seen so many axe enthusiasts look down their noses at a drop forged axe and I believe that is a mistake.  I own several Swedish boutique axes and will readily admit that they are very finely crafted.  However, the idea that the Swedish axes are superior because of the forging method is erroneous.  Shaping the head is just one step in creating an axe.  More important to making a good axe is what is done after the head has been forged (For more on forging, see  here).

One unique aspect of the Velvicut Hudson Bay axe’s head construction cannot be seen because it lies within the eye.  Because Hudson Bay patterns have a short eye length compared to other axe patterns, they do not offer the same degree of surface contact between the head and handle.  The result can be a loosening of the head after only moderate use.  Council Tool solves this problem by piercing the eye with a special punch that creates horizontal and vertical ribs on the inside surface of the eye.  The ribs make more contact area between the head to handle, ensuring a snug fit for years to come. 

The Alloy Steel/Temper ~ 

Nearly all production axe heads are made from 1050 or 1055 grade carbon steel and the Swedish boutique axes are no different.  Swedish axes get their strength and hardness from proper tempering and annealing.  The Velvicut line departs from this by being made with 5160 grade steel, which is most often used to make leaf springs.  5160 steel is a significantly harder steel than the standard grades.  According to Council Tool, 1050 or 1055 grade steels require approximately 6 to 8 blows of a 3500 lb. falling hammer to produce an axe head.  The 5160 alloy requires nearly twice as many strikes to accomplish the same thing.  Council Tool tempers their Velvicut axes to an Rc of 50 to 54.  Swedish axes are tempered to approximately Rc 57.  What does all this mean?

5160 Steel 

  • A very hard steel alloy
  • Natural hardness makes heads very tough.  Tempering hardens the bit for edge holding ability
  • Bits are hard enough to hold an edge without being brittle and are less likely to suffer damage when using in cold weather
  • The edge is easier to sharpen than harder tempered axes

1050 or 1055 Carbon Tool Steel  

  • Steel is roughly half as hard
  • The Swedish makers temper their edges harder than Velvicut axes, offering greater edge holding ability
  • Edges are more brittle due to being tempered so hard and are (slightly) more likely to chip in use
  • The very hard edges are more difficult to sharpen

The Velvicut axes are produced in such a way as to make them very tough but resilient.  They may need to be sharpened a bit more often, but I would gladly trade the slightly softer temper for greater edge durability (resistance to chipping) and ease of sharpening.  Because of how they are made, I believe the Velvicut axes would be a better choice for using in very cold conditions as they would be less likely to chip in use.

Another attribute of the Velvicut line is the depth of the edge hardening, which is markedly greater than other brands.  In some instances, the Velvicut edge hardening has been measured to be twice that of the competition.  Because the hardened edge extends deep into the head, the life of the bit will be longer than other brands.  I tested the hardness of both Hudson Bay axes by running a file over the edge and they proved to be very hard.  Note: To their credit, once they developed the die for the Velvicut version, Council Tool decided to use it to make the heads for the standard grade model as well (produced in carbon tool steel instead of 5160 steel).  That means that the standard grade axe is a much better tool that before.  Also note: Council Tool has NOT changed the product description or model number to reflect the new 2 pound head weight of the standard grade axe and you will still see it described as having a 1.75 pound head.  That weight is no longer correct.

 

A comparison of depth of hardness. Velvicut ax heads are compared to the competition. Three Velvicut heads were cut into sections and analyzed by an independent lab and compared to a competitor’s ax. Heads marked B1, B2 and C are Velvicut. The head marked D was made by a  competitor. The Council axes are through hardened from 1.75” to 2.00” back from the bit. The competitor’s ax is hardened only about .75” deep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Head pattern, grind, edge profile and finishing ~ 

Overall shape

When French explorers arrived in North America, they carried an axe of a pattern said to have originated in the “Biscayan” region of Northern Spain.  The Hudson Bay pattern is descended from this French trade axe.  Highly popular among native tribes in the North Woods and Canadian Shield, it has become the choice of those who work, live and travel in remote wilderness.  The Hudson Bay pattern was never intended as a woodlot axe but rather, a wilderness axe made for light, fast travel.  The pattern excels at shaping wood, a common task of wilderness living.

Two negative characteristics of the pattern are caused by the prominent beard that can break in use, particularly in cold weather and poor balance relative to other designs due to the added weight of the beard.  These characteristics have been addressed by Council Tool with the choice of using a harder steel and by tempering the ax to be resilient.

Profile

Compared to the standard grade version, the Velvicut axe profile is thicker overall.  When first inspecting it, I thought this would negatively affect performance but in fact, the new axe design significantly outperformed my old one.  While the greater head weight likely contributes to this, it is apparent that the new profile makes a big difference.  I know that I like the feel of this axe a lot better.  The head, around the eye, is thick but transitions smoothly down through the cheeks and tapers less dramatically than what you see on Swedish axes, particularly on the Gransfors Bruks models.  When looking down from above, the profile appears to be nearly straight, with slightly hollowed cheeks, terminating in a convexed bit silhouette.  This profile makes for an ax good for general purpose use (chopping and splitting) and one that does not glance out of the cut.  The cheeks are hollowed just enough to throw chips well.  The profile also allows the axe to cut deeply but it never requires tugging at the end of a stroke to free it.  The new profile makes this an axe that works equally well at chopping, splitting and shaping wood (cutting tent stakes and wedges).

 

Head profile is excellent. Grind symmetry is very good.

 

Edge profile and sharpness ~ 

Again, the edge looks too thick if you are used to the Swedish axes. However, it outperformed all of my Swedish axes in splitting and that thickness is what does it.  The edge profile works and that’s what matters.  Both axes were delivered significantly sharper than the standard grade model I own, but more importantly, feature a properly convexed edge ending in a “V” bevel.  This is in marked contrast to the pronounced beveled edge of my standard version.   I found the sharpness to be similar to the three Wetterlings axes I own (all of which predate Wetterlings acquisition by Gransfors Bruks) but it does not come close to the sharpness of a Gransfors Bruks edge.  Though both axes were delivered very sharp, the moderately angled  “V” bevel is too blunt and thick.  If the “V”  was more acute and the bit  thinned down, the edge would be better at both chopping and splitting.  As it is, some time will have to be spent by the owner to improve the edge for chopping.  Council Tool should strive to improve their edge but in all honestly, I’d gladly take an axe with a good profile but needing a bit more edge work over one with a poor profile, delivered razor sharp.

Surface finish ~

Here is another area where the differences between this axe and the Swedish models are most apparent.  All of the Swedish boutique axes sold in the United States are delivered with the forging scale remaining on the head.  This practice is entirely unlike any of the great vintages axes made in America.  A lot of folks like this rustic look.  I’ll admit to liking that finish as well.  However, it was never used on production American axes, many of which, featured smoothly polished, painted heads.   The Velvicut Hudson Bay axes are given a smooth satin finish and the bare metal is treated with a coating of light machine oil (I applied a coating of my own compound of raw linseed oil and beeswax immediately upon receiving them).   Personally, I like how Council Tool finishes the Velvicut heads.  I think a North American pattern axe, made by an American company, should be finished like American axes have historically been finished.

Alignment ~ 

It’s a good thing that I received two examples of the axe as it allowed me to determine to a small degree, if the craftsmanship and quality of materials were consistent.  The alignment was found to be the best I’ve seen on an American manufactured axe.  One example had perfect alignment.  The other was only very slightly misaligned.  This is also in marked contrast to my “user” grade Council Tool ax that was delivered with  poor alignment.

Grind Symmetry~

The heads on both axes were much more symmetrically ground than the standard grade model I own.  Both were delivered with an equal thickness of steel on both sides of the eye and the poll was ground straight, square and flat.  The symmetry was not absolutely perfect however, as the taper toward the poll, just behind the eye, was ground a smidgen steeper on one side than the other on both axes.

Balance ~  

The balance of a Hudson Bay pattern axe will never be perfect but this ax is as good as you’ll find.  Council Tool significantly improved the balance by lengthening the poll enough to compensate for the heavy bit without adding unnecessarily to the overall weight.  In a balance test, the edge dropped 7/8” below the centerline, which I consider to be excellent for this type.

 

Balance is excellent for this type.

 

The handle  

 

Material ~ 

The Velvicut axes are mounted on handles of American hickory, the favored species used for striking tools.  The handle blanks sourced for the Velvicut line are made from specially cut quartersawn hickory sapwood or heartwood or a mixture of both. 

Shape ~  

The handles are patterned after those found on vintage American axes.  They are smaller in diameter than the handles of Swedish axes and that slender profile gives them a bit of flex in use.  I find the Velvicut handles to be very comfortable in my smaller hands.  The look, feel and grip of the handle is superb.  I prefer the diameter and shape of the handles used by Council Tool over those of any other axe maker.

Length ~

This ax differs from most competitors because the head weight runs about 6 to 8 ounces heavier.  Most axes with a handle length between 18 and 24 inches usually have a head weight of around 1 ½ to 1 ¾ pounds.  Some may like the length to weight ratio and others may wish for a longer handle.  If you find that you want a longer handle, this is the same axe head fitted with a 26 ½ inch helve.  Personally, I love the size and weight of the Council Tool version.  It is compact for carrying in a pack or ax pocket but has the head weight to accomplish real work.

Grain Orientation ~  

In the old days, axe makers had their own saw mill and cut their own handle stock.  The lumber was cut in such a way as to obtain the largest percentage of straight-grained material possible.  As axe use declined, manufacturers began sourcing the stock from suppliers.  Cutting the lumber as in the old days is relatively expenisve because of waste.  The retail cost of a standard handle runs between $10.00 and $14.00 dollars but  to offer a handle cut to produce straight graining would be more like $25.00 or even more.  As most modern axe buyers are homeowners as opposed to professional wood cutters, to keep costs down, suppliers began cutting the lumber into planks and then cuttting the planks into the handle blanks.  Cutting lumber this way results in very few handles being straight grained.  Council Tool’s decision to specially source the handle stock for the Velvicut line has really paid off as the graining of both examples I received is excellent.  This is the result of the stock being quartersawn.  I think the added cost is worth it as you can see the difference immediately.  One axe has nearly perfect graining, while the other is off by less than about 5°.  Any modern axe that can consistently deliver a grain orientation in the range of 0° – 15° is as good as any you’ll find.   I have not seen enough of these axes to say that they meet this standard but time will tell.

 

 

Alignment is excellent on both examples

 

Helve to head fit ~ 

The fit of the helve to the head was excellent, with no gaps to be seen anywhere around the eye when viewed from the top or bottom.   In this respect, I found both axes to be every bit as good as any Gransfors or Wetterlings ax I’ve seen.

Wedge ~ 

The Velvicut axes are wedged with wood with a steel wedge driven across the wood wedge at an angle.  Some folks do not like the addition of a steel wedge and some do.  I personally think this is just how a larger sized axe should be wedged.  With the hydraulic handle mounting that Council Tool uses, plus the added security of the ribs inside the eye, this head will stay tight for many years.  Like the Swedish axes, the top end of the handle protrudes out of the top of the eye. 

 

  

Beautiful wedges on both examples.

Finish ~  

The Velvicut axe handles are sanded enough be offer a comfortable, secure grip and are then given a hand-rubbed raw linseed oil finish.  You can swing this axe all day and never get sore hands or a blister.  All in all, I believe this to be the finest handle ever used on an American axe and equals the quality and finish of any of the Swedish axes.

Performance ~ 

I’ve used these axes quite a bit at home and in camp, chopping wood, splitting kindling, cutting tent stakes and the like.   I did not improve the edge for chopping for testing as I wanted to see how both axes performed as delivered.  As I suspected, splitting performance was superb.  On a recent camping trip, I made a believer out of both of my camping partners.  One who has always been satisfied with the performance of his Fiskars axes (and who also harbors a deep mistrust of wood handled axes, as he believes they will soon loosen) used one of these axes to split kindling and became a convert.  Chopping performance did not match that of my Wetterlings.  Still, the more I’ve used these axes, the more I like them.  I plan to thin down the edges of both and see if performance improves.  My feeling is that a thinner edge and the outstanding profile of the Council Tool Hudson Bay axe will make it a great all-around axe.

 

The Velvicut Hudson Bay Axe is a superb tool and is MADE IN THE USA!

 

Now, my love for the beautiful Swedish axes has not diminished.  I believe them to be superb tools.  I also know that there are folks who would not own anything but a Swedish boutique axe.  However, their popularity has given rise to a lot of mistaken beliefs about the modern Swedish axe.  The fine Swedish axes we see today are not ancient patterns, handed down over generations but in reality, are a product of the 20th century.  And though the Swedish firms making the axes have been forging steel since at least the 19th Century (and in the case of Hults Bruk, the makers of the Hultafors and Husqvarna axes, since the 17th Century), none of these companies began making axes even close to what they produce today until they learned how to do so by visiting axe factories in the United States.  That’s right, the Swedes learned their axe making from Americans.   The United States was recognized around the globe for being the greatest axe makers in the world.  European axes were designed for hewing and shaping but were inefficient for cutting the very large hardwoods found in North America.  It was in the United States, during the 18th Century, that the greatest wood cutting axes were developed.  By the late 19th Century, European axe makers were visiting American factories to see how these superb axes were produced.   Sadly however, a peculiar characteristic of Americans is the high value they tend to place on all things new and their general rejection of anything that came before.  Once the chainsaw was developed, axe use in America steeply declined and with it, so did axe quality.

Manufacturers could not justify the cost of producing dozens of axe patterns, specially cutting their handle stock or spending the man hours finishing axes that were eseentially for homeowner use instead of being wielded by professional wood cutters.  In truth, most of the American axes sold today work fine for the homeowner who will likely use the tool very occasionally and who probably doesn’t know how to care for the tool anyway.  The better American-made axes that Council Tool produces in their standard-grade line are significantly better than most axes you’ll find in a hardware store and are very capable tools.  However, in order to keep the costs down, they are finished to be “users” and do not meet the bar that was raised by Gransfors Bruks and the other Swedish axe makers who have followed suite.

I’ve wanted to see some friendly rivalry develop among American and Swedish axe makers.  I’ve wanted, in some small way, to reclaim our nation’s recognition for producing a great axe.  I’d like to show the Swedes that we have not forgotten the craft.  For most folks who’ve wanted an American axe, until now that largely meant a vintage American axe.  This axe has changed all that.  With the introduction of the Velvicut Premium Hudson Bay model, Council Tool has crafted the best sporting axe ever produced in America.  This is an axe in pattern, size and weight that will meet the needs of guides, trappers, hunters, campers, canoeists, wilderness survival enthusiasts – most anyone in outdoor work or recreation.

Though the Velvicut Hudson Bay axe has only been on the market a little over a year, it has already recieved quite a bit of attention.  It was named a runner-up in Garden & Gun Magazine’s 2012 Best of the South awards for the outdoor category and was also also selected as one of the “Coolest Tools of 2012” by the DIY Network television show Cool Tools.   And yes, it’s the one I would choose if I were limited to just one axe.

Beauty is in the Eye of the (ax) Holder ~ Types for Wilderness Use

Friday, March 25th, 2011

It’s unlikely that you’ll find any ax, contemporary or vintage, having all of the desirable characteristics listed in my last post but there are some real jewels to be had out there if you know where to look.  In the past, you could choose from dozens of ax models from many different ax makers.  And nearly every maker offered at least one line of truly fine axes.  Today, the number of high-end makers can be counted on one hand.  And that’s considering the global market, not just the United States.

Or, you can restore a vintage axe.  Many folks consider them to be better made than what can be purchased today.  And while it’s true that a lot of inexpensive old ax heads can be found at flea markets or garage sales, note that unless you have the skill to do all or most of the work yourself, a vintage ax, ground properly and restored, will cost you nearly as much as a good new one.  Also note that a NOS (new old stock) vintage ax would still require proper grinding and shouldn’t be considered usable until that work is done.  After grinding, convexing, and honing, you can easily maintain the edge but it’s difficult to significantly alter the profile of an ax without the proper equipment.  If you want to go this route, check out the Tools section of Pole and Paddle Canoe, Owner Don Merchant often has a few old axes on hand for sale and he is very knowledgeable.  He won’t sell a bad one.

Old or new, I generally send my axes to Bark River Knives for the grinding and initial convexing and any head clean up (I always ask that they give the head a satin finish).  The price will vary on how much work they need to do but figure around $40.00.  So, if you find an old ax head for $10.00, it’ll end up costing you around $70.00 for all the work and purchasing a good handle, assuming you’ll hang it yourself.

If you want to buy new, you should know that it’s easier than ever to buy a good ax.  Seven or eight years ago, there was only one or two ax brands I would have recommended, today there are at least a large handful.  And many more dealers than in the past.  Currently, Swedish-made boutique axes dominate the sporting ax field.  The first of these to gain prominence was Gransfors Bruks (pronounced brewks).  A bruk is a historic Swedish business model.  It was mostly applied to small iron working plants, such as a smithy or foundry but other manufacturers dealing in natural materials such as forest products etc were occasionally established as a bruk.  The companies operated as a self-sustaining community.  The bruk provided worker’s residences and was supported by company owned farms.  A bruk was established with the charge of managing and conserving the resources consumed as part of doing business.  Many bruks have been swallowed up by larger companies and may or may not exist in the original sense.  However, Gransfors is still a true Bruk).  Gransfors axes are beautifully made, are razor sharp and quite expensive.  Another Swedish company, S. A. Wetterlings makes a line of very similar axes.  Gabriel Branby, the man who purchased and revived Gransfors Bruks bought Wetterlings a few years ago and quickly got to work improving the fit and finish of the Wetterlings brand.  Although the head profile of the Wetterlings axes are different, they are now very close to Gransfors in fit and finish.  Wetterlings axes are more affordable but still are considered an expensive axe.  Two recently imported Swedish ax lines are Hults Bruk and HusqvarnaThe Hults Bruk name is used on axes produced by Hultafors AB, a Swedish conglomerate.  The company was a manufacturer of rulers for over 100 years before beginning to acquire various too brands in the late 19802’s.  In 1992, the company purchased Hults Bruk, a manufacturer of hammers and axes.  Everywhere else, these axes are trademarked Hultafors but in the United States the old name Hults Bruk is used, perhaps to take advantage of the name recognition of Gransfors Bruk.  Hults axes are forged at the historic Hults Bruk foundry, the oldest continually operating foundry in the world, established in 1697.  Their history of axe making is much more recent however, beginning after a company representative visited the United States in the late 1800’s to see how the greatest axe makers in the world differed from those makers in Europe.  Hults Bruk produces two lines of hickory handled axes, a premium line that is very similar to those axes made by Gransfors and Wetterlings and a slightly less well finished and less expensive line (though these are generally far better than anything found in the United States).  Hults Bruk also produces hickory handled axes under the Husqvarna name.  The Husqvarna axes are said to be factory seconds but I’ve found them to be very high quality axes.  In my opinion, they represent a real bargain.  While you won’t confuse a Husqvarna with a Hults Bruk or Wetterlings or Gransfors, note that the Husqvara hatchet ($41.00) is essentially the same as a Hults Bruk Tarnaby, which sells for around $100.00.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Still, as much as I love Swedish axes are not American pattern tools – and I do like the performance and look of an American ax.  While American axes have not traditionally matched the level of quality of Swedish models, the new Council Tool Velvicut Premium Axe line has changed all that ~

 

The Council Tool Velvicut Premium American Felling Axe (Item # JP40DV36C – 4 Lb Felling Axe with 36” Curved Handle – $170.00) was introduced in 2011 as the first model in an entirely new line of high-end axes. The Velvicut name has been resurrected from Council Tool’s best axe line of half a century ago. The Velvicut line was originally introduced to compete with the top of the line Plumb and TrueTemper axes of the day (the Plumb “Dreadnaught”, Kelly “Perfect” and “Flint Edge” axes most likely).  The Felling Axe model was followed up by the Velvicut Premium Hudson Bay Axe (Item # JP20HB24C – 2 Lb. Hudson Bay Axe with 24” Handle – $130.00) in October of the same year.

These axes are entirely American made – forging, heat treatment, finishing, honing and hanging are all done by Council Tool in their factory in Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina. The “A” grade American hickory handles and stout leather sheaths are also sourced in the USA.   The felling axe was originally delivered in a commemorative box though I don’t know if Council Tool continues to do that.  While Council Tool’s standard axe line are crafted of excellent materials and are properly tempered, the Velvicut line is superior in every respect. According to Council Tool:

Premium axes are drop forged from alloy steel for strength and toughness. Heads are rough ground and profiled in a robotic work cell. Bits are quenched and tempered for superior edge holding. Bit sharpening is by hand – and an experienced one at that – with increasingly fine grit abrasives and finished with leather…Custom handles, selected for grain orientation and density, are grade “A” American hickory, white sapwood, or red hardwood. Axe heads are lightly oiled and left unpainted to showcase the natural steel beauty…This top-of-the-line, world class axe is made for the serious user, collector, outdoorsman, or tool aficionado. It is not for everyone but rather for those who seek the best.” (from the Council Tool Velvicut announcement)

I was a bit surprised and a might disappointed to learn that the first model out of the gate was a felling ax.  With a four pound head and 36” handle, it is nota sporting ax and should not even be discussed among camping axes here. However, Council’s effort to produce a very fine American made ax was a start and I was buoyed by the idea that it might be followed up by a model more appropriate to camping and wilderness use (at the time I did not know when the Hudson Bay model was going to be produced and actually expected it to be a year or more later).  I was very pleasantly surprised to get a call from Council Tool saying that the Hudson Bay axes were boxed and ready to ship in late 2011.

 

Above: Velvicut ax heads are compared to the competition. Three Velvicut heads were sectioned and analyzed by an independent lab for depth of hardness against that of a competitor. Heads marked B1, B2 and C are Velvicut heads. The head marked D is a competitor. The Council axes are through hardened from 1.75” to 2.00” back from the bit. The competitor’s ax is hardened only about .75” deep.  Photo used with permission of Council Tool.

Council Tool graciously sent me a pre-production Velvicut Felling Axe for evaluation.  The version I was sent was a very early example and while I found the head profile to be excellent (the ax threw chips like a dream), all was not perfection.  I had a few minor to moderate criticisms of the ax.  The head was not ground symmetrically, being thicker on one side of the eye than the other.  It was also slightly misaligned on the handle.  And while I loved the shape, diameter and finish of the hickory handle, though the graining was acceptable, it was not straight.

Though the type was not what I wished for, my experience using the ax  left me very impressed with its look, feel and performance.  To be sure I had quibbles but it was also superior to the standard grade Council Tool axes I own or have seen.  It also had very good temper.  A hardness test (running a file over the edge, toward the poll as if sharpening, showed that the steel was hard enough to hold an edge while not being as difficult to sharpen as some Swedish axes I own.  I found the balance to be excellent as well.

I submitted my critique to Council Tool and to their credit, all of my criticisms were corrected in production.  In fact, the ax eventually produced was so improved and so different than the example I was sent, it is not fair to provide an evaluation of the felling axe here.  I plan to purchase a production model in the future to give the model a proper test.

In addition, Council Tool provided me with one of their Velvicut 2 Lb. Premium Hudson Bay Axes for evaluation just prior to delivery and found it to be superb.

Until I post an evaluation, just watch this video of how the Hudson Bay axe is crafted and see it in action here.   More will be posted about this wonderful axe in the near future!

Other American brands include Vaughan and Bushnell and Barco Industries (now owners of the venerable Kelly name and makers of the Kelly “Perfect” and “Woodslasher” axes but sadly, i hear that the Kelly name is being retired).  That’s it.  Snow and Nealley axes are now assembled in the US but are no longer forged here (more about this brand below).  Everything else is made offshore or in Mexico to my knowledge.

 Types of Camping Axes ~

From Woodcraft (1939) by Bernard S. Mason

Each type of ax has its aficionados and detractors and every author or expert will recommend one size or the other as being the most useful. In his book Woodcraft (1939, the current edition is titled Boys Book of Camping and Woodcraft), Bernard S. Mason provided readers with descriptions and photographs of the ax patterns commonly used in outdoor recreation activities and which were best for particular situations. Using his list as a rough guide, plus some advice from Nessmuk and Horace Kephart, a good selection of axes for the outdoors would include the following:

 “POCKET” AX ~   

 

Two Pocket Axes: The Gransfors Bruks Mini Hatchet and the now discontinued Bark River Knife and Tool Mini Axe, a modified Vaughan hatchet. A Karesuando Raven Scandi blade knife is in the center. 

The very lightest ax.  If you want an ax for backpacking this is the type to consider.  These miniature hatchets can be taken on any or all trips, to be there by your side, always at the ready.  Here is what noted woodcraft author, Horace Kephart, had to say about the pocket ax ~

 “Among my most valued possessions is a tiny Colclesser tomahawk, of 8-ounce head and 2 ½ inch bitt, which, with hickory handle and home-made sheath, weighs only three-quarters of a pound…It is all that is needed to put up a satisfactory shelter…I use it oftener than I do my jackknife.

Although pocket axes are currently very popular, their usefulness is limited by their light weight.  These aren’t chopping axes. They’re primarily used to split kindling from small-diameter logs by striking the poll with a log baton.  In this manner these toy-like tools will produce kindling faster and more efficiently than a knife.  Currently there are two pocket axes on the market: the Vaughan “Supersportsman Sub-Zero Axe (8 oz. head, 2 ¼ inch bit, 10-inch handle, 11.5 oz. total wgt, $17.00-$30.00) and the Gransfors Bruks Mini Belt Hatchet (8 oz. head, 2 ½ inch bit, 10 ¼ inch length, 12.01 oz. wgt. $145.00).  The Gransfors Brukshatchet is abeautifully crafted ax that’s delivered razor sharp and is tempered to really hold an edge.  The 2 oz. weight increase over the Vaughan gives the Gransfors ax more heft and puts it in the same weight class as Kephart’s original Colclesser hatchet.  The extra head width also provides for a larger eye allowing a larger diameter handle to be used.  This makes the Mini Belt Hatchet a stronger tool than its competitor.  Older Vaughan hatchets featured thicker profiles than today, which made them possible to reprofile.  That was done by Bark River Knives, who modified the Vaughan to create their Mini-Axe a few years ago.  Here is a discussion of pocket axes, including a review of the Vaughan hatchet and the modifications made by Reid Hyken, which later became the Bark River Mini-Axe.  When Vaughan changed their die and thinned out the head profile, Bark River could no longer modify the ax and dropped that model.  I own an unmodified, old style Vaughan hatchet and the now discontinued Bark River Mini-Axe.  No question but that the Mini-Axe dramatically outperforms the regular Vaughan hatchet.  Though I like the Vaughan and Bark River Mini-Axe I’ve come to use the Gransfors Mini Hatchet more often because of the greater head weight.  It’s too bad that there aren’t more pocket axes made in a similar weight but with profiles like the Bark River Mini Hatchet.  Both Gransfors Bruks and Wetterlings also offer a small hatchet of around 11-inches in length with a 1 lb head.  The Wetterlings was the first with one of these on the market and it has become quite popular.  However, no ax with a head weight of one pound can be considered a true pocket ax.

Here are some comparisons of three modern pocket axes to the Colclesser tomahawk described by Horace Kephart ~ 

Kephart’s Colclesser Ax:       8 oz. Head         2 ½ inch Bit         12 oz. Wgt 

Gransfors Mini Hatchet:       8 oz. Head         2 ½ inch Bit         12.01 oz. Wgt

Vaughan Hatchet:                   8 oz. Head         2 ¼ inch Bit         10.01 oz. Wgt

HAND AX (or Belt Ax or Scout Ax or Hatchet) ~

 Left: Sears Craftsman Model 48101 Center: Wetterlings Wildlife Axe #SAW13H Right: Snow & Nealley #014S Young Camper’s Belt Axe

Heavier but far more efficient than a pocket ax.  Hand axes (approx. 5 1/2″ head, 2 3/4″ bit, 1¼ to 1 ½ lb. total wgt.) are often called Scout axes due to this type’s long association with the Boy Scout program.  Axes in this size are stocked in far greater numbers than other types and are typically the least expensive of axes.  This is a great size of ax to start with and most folks will never need anything more.  The Boy Scout catalog continues to list hand axes, the Swedish companies make hand axes, and domestic companies such as Council Tool (Hunter’s Axe #125HU), 1 ¼ lb. head wgt., 14″ total length, $34.00) continue to make them in America.

Gransfors Bruks crafts the very nice  Wildlife Hatchet Model #415 and Wetterlings, the Wildlife Hatchet #106.   Husqvarna makes the wonderful Hatchet, described in a previous post, which sells for only 41.00.  It makes me sad to report that while the Snow & Nealley company of Brewer, Maine has been a long respected ax manufacturer, reccent reports indicate that their quality control has declined and they are now having their heads forged in China.  My experience with their “Young Camper’s Belt Axe” #o14S was not entirely positive.   The ax was tempered too soft to hold an edge and the quality was not up to par for as much the ax cost.  For an ax that retails in the same range as some of the Swedish axes, they are not as well finished or as well tempered and the slick varnish on their handles must be removed.  Mine also had a large gap between handle and eye that was filled with wood putty.  This was painted over with paint (also applied to the head) which served to disguise the defect.  Because of their quality control issues and their exceedingly soft temper, I cannot recommend a Snow & Nealley ax at this time.  I honestly have not tried the Council Tool #125HU but know that it is a made-in-USA tool of good temper.  A couple of years ago I discovered the inexpensive Sears Craftsman Model 48101 1 ¼ lb. Camp Axe ($16.99) at my local Sears store.  Frankly, I was amazed at how nice this little ax looked.  In size, weight and appearance it was much like the Snow & Nealley but of higher quality.  My example is an earlier version of the current Sears Camp Ax.  Mine has the brand name, model number, head weight and “made in the USA” stamped in the head.  Current models feature just the brand name and model number laser etched on the head with no mention of where the ax is made.  I was immediately struck with the Craftsman’s high quality features and appearance.  The head was clear lacquered raw steel with satin finished faces (the top and bottom are left roughly ground).  The handle was of white hickory (sapwood).  Of several on display, all featured perfectly mounted heads fitted with a wood wedge, showing no gaps whatsoever.  This was in marked contrast to the Snow & Nealley I own.  Handles were stained dark reddish brown and finished with a slick, clear coating (which must be sanded off and refinished with raw linseed oil).  Of the six examples I examined, two had perfect graining and edge-to-handle alignment.  They were the best grained and aligned hardware grade axes I’ve seen, bar none.  The remaining four (all etched versions) had near perfect graining but two of those had heads that were very slightly misaligned.  The profiles seemed good but edges were not particularly sharp.  Sharpening proved that these are well tempered and would keep an edge but after testing I discovered that profile is too thick overall and must be really thinned down to improve performance.  This thickness is throughout the cheeks and into the edge and so, would be too much work to alter with hand tools.  The ax needs to be professionally reprofiled.  I’ve put the Craftsman away until I can send it to BRKT for some serious work.   Unfortunately, that means the Craftsman ax is not the bargain I thought it would be.  After the reprofiling it would approach Swedish ax prices.  Too bad.

Double-bit Hand Ax ~

Nessmuck style hatchet by Lee Reeves of Shattuck, Oklahoma. A superb ax.

Another choice in hand axes is a double-bit pattern.  The double-bit hatchet, as described by Nessmuk in Woodcraft (1881), has intrigued generations of outdoorsmen since he first touted its utility nearly 130 years ago.  Because the weight of the head is equalized by the two bits, balance is superb, making it an absolute joy to use.  Double-bits also make good winter axes because if one bit breaks due to the cold, you still have a back-up.  Those benefits however, are negated by the fact that you lose the poll, so valuable for pounding stakes etc.  Double-bit hatchets are a distinct rarity today.  You’ll never see one in a hardware store as they are sporting axes, and you’ll never see one in a sporting goods store as they are only known to the cognoscenti.

Certainly, the most popular of the modern Nessmuk style belt axes is the handmade double-bit made by Lee Reeves of Shattuck, Oklahoma.  His hand forged axes are made in the traditional manner, with hardened steel bits forge welded into a softer steel ax head.  Reeves forges his axes using both a trip hammer and hammer and anvil.  The axes are made like Nessmuk’s, with one bit ground thin for cutting clear timber and the other thick and stunted for cutting deer bones, knotty wood etc.  Lee provides handles of ash, walnut, Osage orange, or curly maple at various costs.  Head weight of the ax is about 1 lb., head dimensions are approximately 5½” long, handle length is 15-inches long.  Wait time for one of these fine axes is running one year. Lee’s website has changed considerably since the last time I looked at it.  He used to show both single bit and the Nessmuk axes and showed the prices of every kind of ax/handle combination (the Nessmuk axes ranged in price from $165.00 to $205.00).  Now he only shows a photo of the Nessmuk axes but no prices whatsoever.  Contact him to determine current prices.  If you desire a Nessmuk style hand axe, the Lee Reeves double bit is a beautifully made, perfectly balanced choice. 

CAMP AX 

 

 

College professor, author and woodcraft expert Bernard Mason considered it the most useful for camping.  A camp ax has roughly a 1 to 1 ½ lb. head and an overall length of 18-20 inches.  Here is what Mason had to say about the type:

“My vote goes to the…camp-ax…Note the long, slender handle – eighteen inches overall (two inches of the 20” handle is inside the head).  Light, fast, perfectly balanced, the ease and speed with which chopping can be done with it is remarkable…It is at once a one-handed and a two-handed ax, as light as the average one-handed hatchet, yet with a handle long enough for two-handed swinging in felling small timber.  No larger ax is really needed to supplement it on a camping trip in the bush” ~ Woodcraft (1939)

Although Mason loved this type, others disagree about its versatility.  Critics note that the weight and size of these axes make them too large and heavy for convenient carrying, yet they also lack the cutting efficiency of the larger “Boy’s” ax.  It’s all a matter of preference.  The primary reason for Mason’s high opinion of the camp ax was his experience with a particular model ~ the Marble’s No. 10 Camp Ax fitted with a 20-inch handle (18-inch overall length after mounting).  The Number 10 was produced from 1906 to 1914 with a 1½ lb. head and from 1915 to 1943 with the 1¾ lb. head.  A choice of 16, 20 or 24-inch handle lengths were offered for all years of production.  Properly convexed and honed, the No. 10 will outperform any camp ax made today.  Its only design flaw was the small-diameter handle.  Number 10 Camp Axes are extremely difficult to come by, and when found, the handle is usually broken.  In good shape, they are a collector’s item, commanding very high prices.  Too bad no manufacturer produces a modern version of this ax with a slightly wider head/eye and thicker handle.  It would be the perfect camp ax.  The modern axes in the same general size and weight range are the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Ax (1 ½ lb. wgt, 3 ¼” bit, 19″ handle) and the Wetterlings Outdoor Axe #118 (1 3/4 lb. wgt, 3” bit, 19″ handle)  At this time, Husqvarna produces no similar model.

HUDSON BAY AX ~

 

The ax of explorers, voyageurs, trappers, and traders.  The Hudson’s Bay pattern descended from the trade ax/tomahawk of the 18th century and is the traditional ax of the North Woods and Canadian Shield.  Highly popular among native tribes and those who work, live and travel in remote wilderness, the pattern has both devotees and detractors.  Critics complain that the corners of the axe’s prominent beard are prone to breakage, particularly in cold weather, and that the design isn’t an efficient chopping ax.  Enthusiasts counter that it was never intended to be a woodlot ax but rather, a wilderness ax made for light, fast travel.  They also point out that it excels at shaping wood, a common task of remote wilderness living.  Bear in mind that because “Hudson Bay” refers to an ax pattern rather than a size, a wide range of weights and lengths exists.  While hatchet-sized versions are often found, the ax typically considered a Hudson Bay is one fitted with a 24” to 28” handle.

It’s a widely shared opinion among knowledgeable users, that the finest American Hudson Bay axes ever produced were made by the O. A. Norlund Company.  Sadly, Norlund axes disappeared sometime between the late 1970’s to mid 1980’s.   As they were made up until relatively recently, it’s not uncommon to see new old stock examples still in the package turn up on eBay.  These now go for up to $200.00.  Luckily, nice used Norlund heads can be had for $50.00 or less, making it possible to have a very nice Hudson Bay ax at a reasonable cost.

A popular American-made Hudson Bay axe, currently in production, is the Council Tool  #17HB18 (1 ¾ lb. head, 4-1/8″ bit, 18-inch handle) and the #175HB28 (1 ¾ lb. head, 4-1/8″ bit, 28-inch handle).  Council Tool advertises the length of the handle before hanging, thus the 18″ model has a handle of 16 inches and the 28″ model has a handle that actually measures 26 inches.  The Council Tool axes are well tempered and are fitted with lightly waxed handles.  However, they are a utility grade tool and suffer from the occasional misaligned head and/or poor graining.  Yet, with careful selection they make good wilderness axes.  I own one that Bark River worked their magic on and it is an excellent Hudson Bay ax.  Of course, the recently introduced Council Tool Velvicut Premium Hudson Bay Axe, model # JP20HB24C   has eclipsed all other Hudson Bay axes on the market (See my review of ths axe).

BOY’S AX  (or “three-quarter” or “pulpwood” ax) ~

  

Bahco Model HUS-1.0-650.  Left: As delivered Right: After some prep work

A favorite of the old timers.  The “boy’s” or ¾ ax features an American pattern head that weighs between 2 ¼ to 2 ½ lbs. and is fitted with a 26” to 28” handle.  Such axes chop and split wood nearly as well as a full sized felling ax (for which there is little use in outdoor recreation), yet, are lighter, more compact and easier to swing.  Their head weight makes them the best non-full-sized single-bit ax for winter use as they have the heft to cut wood resting on snow.  Boy’s axes were recommended by most of the old experts, albeit, with a measure of caution.  Their single reservation was due to the fact that this kind of ax was dangerous in the hands of a novice (as are all short axes).  Outdoor expert and writer Calvin Rutstrum warned:

“The axe commonly used on canoe trips is the three-quarter size, often referred to as a “boy’s axe” or small pole ax.  It is the source of more accidents in the woods than all other mishaps… The difficulty is not very apparent, but lies in the fact that a miss while chopping does not allow this axe to swing clear of the body and usually lodges it in an ankle or a foot. A full-handled axe will either wind up in the chopping block in the event of a miss stroke or it will swing clear of the body… Organized camps should not permit the use of the so-called “boys” axe or pole axe.  The hazard is too great.  However, no matter what I say here about safety, the pole axe is a very handy instrument in the hands of an experienced axeman, and I confess to using one myself.   But for the beginner such an axe is almost certain to result in an accident.  To determine the right length of an axe handle, have the user stand erect and place the blade on the ground with the handle alongside his leg. The end of the handle should touch approximately at the lower prominent part of the hip bone.”

I have to agree with Cal that this size and weight of ax is dangerous and should not be recommended to a beginner as a first ax.  Yet, in modern outdoor recreation, no full sized ax is useful.  All of the axes that would be carried for outdoor activities are short and thus, should be used with the same caution.  Remember, you can produce a much more powerful swing with these than a small camp or hand ax – but you can easily strike yourself with a miss – so learn your onions and spend some time practicing.

As for recommended models, the most popular ax in this size is the Gransfors Bruks No. 430 Scandinavian Forest Axe (2 lb. wgt, 3 ½” bit, 25″ handle, $118.98).  Wetterlings makes a very similar axe (Scandinavian Forest Axe #121), 1.9 lb. wgt, 3 ½” bit, 26″ handle, $79.98).  Another ax to consider is the Bahco HUS-1.0-650, a super value for the money.  Bahco (now owned by Snap-On Tool), a Swedish company established in 1886, produces a large selection of drop forged, German-made axes.  The company regrettably switched the handles used on their “Top Range” axes from select hickory to a choice of fiberglass or ash.  The ash handled models feature fully polished heads and a soft-grip orange elastomer coating on the bottom of the handle.  Their “Standard Range” axes feature painted heads and come fitted with ash handles that are coated with thick textured paint on the bottom.  In my opinion, the ash handles are a reasonable tradeoff for an otherwise very high quality product.  Their Standard Range ax: Model HUS-1.0-650 and Top Range ax: Model HUS-1.0-650SGfeature a 2 ¼ lb. head, fitted with a 26-inch ash handle.  As delivered, the HUS-1.0-650 features a painted head, a handle garishly marked with the Bahco logo, application pictogram, product code, and a barcode, applied over a gloss coating, with the thick paint applied to the bottom fourth of the grip.  The wedge is made of carbon fiber that features an integral hanging loop.  The profile is good but the factory edge is not fully convexed.  However, craftsmanship is excellent and of the examples I’ve seen, nearly 50% are straight grained and all had aligned heads.  While it would be nice to have someone grind the head a bit and properly convex and hone the edge, at an average retail price of between $28.00 and $39.00, the added cost for the improvements would add up to more than the ax is worth.  However, if you desire a relatively inexpensive ax that works, then look no further.  With the bit convexed, the edge honed, the hanging loop sawed off and the head and handle refinished, the HUS-1.0-650 makes a very good wilderness ax.  Husqvarna recently introduced their Forest Axe (approx. 2.25 lb head, 26″ handle) and it looks very nice indeed.  At only $63.00, it may soon be my Bahco replacement.

Council Tool makes the #22BR Council Pro Boy’s Axe (2 ½ lb. head, 28″ handle), which also appears to be a high quality tool but will take some careful selection and work to get it into proper shape.  Still, it only costs around $35.00 and would be worth the work if you can find one with good graining and alignment.  Hopefully, Council Tool will produce a Velvicut version of this model in the near future.

There you have it – a list of several ax models from various makers that are perfect for woodcraft camp use.  Now go find yourself an ax to grind!