If you only had one tool to use for clearing land, building a cabin and possibly self defense, chances are you’d pick an axe. Take a look at this axe for inclusion in your emergency gear.
by Leon Pantenburg
Hults Bruk™ American supplied the product for this review. At the time of publication, the company had no advertising relationship with Survivalcommonsense.com. I was not paid to do this review and Hults Bruk had no input in any of the content.
Heating and cooking with wood might be your backup plan for when the power grid goes down and the shinola has hit the fan. But are you relying on a chainsaw or other power tools that require gas?
Gasoline will be one of the first things to become scarce and expensive. Let’s go with this disaster scenario, which is extremely possible, and probable, where I live in Central Oregon.
The power grid went down after the Cascadia Fault earthquake and the highway infrastructure and bridges have collapsed. Central Oregon is isolated. Gasoline to run chainsaws to clear trees off roads was used up, and no tanker trucks can get through.
But fallen trees have to be removed, wood has to be cut for heating houses and cooking, and that spendy Stihl chainsaw is useless until you can come up with some gas. All you will have to work with are hand tools. In this case, a quality axe could be vital to survival, and the Hults Bruk American Felling Axe might be your most used tool.
There are many different designs of axes, and they are used for different tasks. IMHO there is no best do-it-all axe design. The felling axe features a Montreal pattern axe head, and is designed to take a standing tree down.
Felling axes are designed with an extremely sharp, thin blade and slowly tapered head that cut across the wood grain as deeply as possible with every stroke. To that end, felling axes tend to have mid-weight heads—about 2.5 to 3.5 pounds—and have a 28- to 36-inch handle. This makes them ideal for creating stumps and lopping off the limbs of downed trees.
Hults Bruk is the oldest axe manufacturer in the world, starting production in 1697. The Hults Bruk factory is located just north of the Swedish city of Norrkoping. Currently there are over 20 people working at Hults Bruk where over 100,000 axes heads are hand forged each year.
Created by wilderness skills instructor, blacksmith and New York Times bestselling author, Dave Canterbury, the American Felling Axe design is based on professional felling axes made popular during the 19th century American forest industry boom. The axe head is made with high quality Swedish steel, forged at the Hults Bruk factory, and it comes in a sturdy cardboard storage box.
Here are the Hults Bruk Felling Axe specifications:
Overall Weight: 5 lbs.
Head Weight: 3-1/2 lbs.
Handle Length: 32 inches
Head: Solid Swedish steel
Handle: Solid American Hickory
Sheath: The sturdy leather sheath protects the edge and the user.
I’ve never worked in the timber industry, but I’ve done a lot of construction work, used all kinds of tools and have cut and split cords and cords of firewood.
In 1981, I moved to a house in rural Warren County, Mississippi that was heated almost entirely by wood. The surrounding timber supplied all wood we needed. Most of the firewood was white oak. We relied on Stihl and Husqvarna chainsaws for felling trees, and used splitting mauls and mechanical wood splitters.
Wood cutting, as we did it, was kind of like hard play. The neighbors would form a work party and fell several oaks. We formed an assembly line of cutting the trunk up into stove length rounds, and then splitting the rounds and stacking the wood. Everybody went home with a pickup load of wood.
But this efficiency would have come to a screeching halt without gasoline. This is where a good felling axe could be worth its weight in gold. (Not to mention a quality cross cut saw!)
If you anticipate using your axe mostly for splitting wood, get a splitting maul or an axe designed for splitting wood. I used a heavy splitting maul a lot when we were taking care of smaller batches of wood, and recommend getting one for your off grid wood cutting. Another good option is to get a sledge hammer and several splitting wedges. If you are felling trees with a chain saw, get plastic felling wedges to keep the tree trunk from pinching the saw blade.
Here is what the Hults Bruk company says about the American Felling Axe:
- The axe head is hand-forged and made from Swedish axe steel.
- As part of the hand grinding production process, the steel is struck multiple times, thereby increasing its density and resulting in more durability of the axe.
- The head is constructed in such a way that there is a tempered zone designed to hold a very sharp edge even after many sharpenings.
- The straight hickory handle is treated with linseed oil.
- Each axe comes with a traditional leather protective sheath that is embellished with some unique Swedish decorative elements. (Replacement sheaths are available) The axe is shipped in its own storage box and comes with a detailed users manual.
I have not yet felled a sizable tree with this axe, but I intend to this fall when the work parties start again. So far, I have noticed that the felling axe works really well for splitting wood, and the axe made short work of chopping a medium-sized log in half.
Here’s what I’ve learned about the Hults Bruk American Felling Axe so far:
Steel: The axe holds an edge well, and doesn’t require sharpening often. I have been using it on Ponderosa pine, which is softer than the Mississippi white oak it will be used on later.
Handle: Swing a hammer or axe for several hours at a stretch, and you’ll learn all about handle fit and design. Some modern curved handles provide forward momentum and leverage at the expense of control, but according to the company website, the Hults Bruk American Felling Axe features a straight, 32-inch American hickory handle to reduce wrist pivoting on the swing.
A straight handle is my choice for a tool that will be used for extended periods of time. So far, the handle is working well for me. I’ll get back to you after I’ve felled a few trees.
I’m not the only one who likes straight handles. Famed outdoorsman Horace Kephart also preferred one:
“In making a new axe-helve, do not bother to make a crooked one like the store pattern. Thousands of expert axe men use, from preference, straight handles in their axes.” – Horace Kephart.
Appearance: This is important to some axe collectors. My wife, who has no experience with axes and power tools, immediately commented that the axe was good looking and showed quality workmanship. As far as I’m concerned, an axe is a tool, and I don’t care what it looks like. To me, a tool is not attractive unless it works well. So far, this tool is really attractive.
Leather sheath: The sturdy leather sheath protects the edge and looks really good. It adds to the overall quality look.
Do you need a felling axe?
Felling large trees the traditional way is an art requiring skill and a proper axe. Good felling axes are often expensive competition designs, too heavy for practical outdoor use. They are specialty tools, and if all you need an axe for is basic firewood splitting and chopping, get a cheaper axe at a hardware store.
Now, the history nerd aspect of my personality really bonds with the felling axe. I frequently hunt with a blackpowder rifle, and may carry a tomahawk and handmade knife and wear a 1700s-era powder horn and shot bag when hunting squirrels. I like arranging my flintlock and all the accouterments during breaks and looking at them. It’s the same concept as looking at a painting or photograph you’ve seen many times. This felling axe will fit right in with the display.
The felling axe is also the tool I’ll pack back into the timber to help remove brush and clear shooting lanes from my deer stand. The five-pound weight allows me to go squirrel hunting, scout for deer and also do stand maintenance on the same trip.
When it comes to ROI, you have to consider price point. The American Felling Axe retails for $239.00 A quality hand forged axe, like the American, costs as much as a new mid-sized chain saw. Is it a better deal? Well, this is so apples and oranges – you need both tools to cut firewood.
Personally, I will continue using a chainsaw to fell trees and process firewood, and during an emergency, I will use my chainsaw until it runs out of gas.
In a preparedness survival kit, a quality felling axe is a sound investment. It can operate forever on muscle power, and over the long term it may prove to be the most useful and valuable tool you have.
And this quality tool, well-taken care of, will serve you well and can be used by your grandchildren. And you can’t beat that for a preparedness tool investment.
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