(Guest post by Steven Edholm)
“Examining, feeling and handling this tool has resulted in a lot of expletives, brow furrowing and head shaking.”
This will be the review I would have liked to have seen before buying this hatchet, but which as far as I can see does not exist. There is a popular resurgence in collecting and using axes and hatchets, so at this point the majority of reviews on the internet are still by fairly inexperienced users. As a result, there is not a whole lot of substantial well considered information to go on when researching this tool for purchase. When doing my own research, I found nothing at all like what this review will be, very critical with many points considered. This hatchet gets a lot of good reviews. It has over 280 reviews on amazon at an average of almost 4.5 stars. No one on amazon, or anywhere else, seems to have the gripes I have with it, but I am more inclined to trust my experience than the majority opinion. It is not my intent to disrespect anyone else’s opinion or experience just for the sake of it. I just think this design is lame and I feel it’s my duty to say so plainly with no punches pulled.
|The Husqvarana 13” hatchet, 15 inch total length and a whopping 2.19 pounds with handle. I could recommend this hatchet at this price point if virtually everything about it were different.|
I’m a huge hatchet fan. I’m frequently shocked that some people I know, who very well ought to own a decent one, don’t own even a crappy one. To be fair, some of them own large chopping type blades of some kind which serve similar purposes, but many don’t. A good one handed chopping tool is indispensable to conducting a lifestyle that is very engaged with local resources, and to crafting and making stuff from raw wood without using power tools. A good basic woodworking toolkit to me is a hatchet, a knife, a saw and a rasp, possibly even in that order. When it comes to reducing a chunk of wood to the rough shape you want to make something, hatchets are fast and can be surprisingly accurate in experienced hands. I have been on the lookout for many years for a quality affordable new hatchet that I can recommend to people. The subject of today’s review is not that tool.
I use hatchets for carving, splitting, limbing, chopping and have packed them around a fair amount. This experience extends about 30 years. I’ve owned and tried quite a few of them, though I wouldn’t say that I’m a collector, and just chopped my way through a lot of wood, filing, restoring, breaking handles, re-handling, making mistakes. I do not spend much time reading about hatchets and axes on forums or anywhere else unless I’m looking for something to buy or review. The use of hatchets is an extension of my interests and lifestyle and my opinions are for the most part born of, experience, or at least tempered by it. I expect certain things from the tool and it has to perform in my context not limiting me unnecessarily with it’s design or build quality.
While I have strong opinions about what I am familiar with, my perspective, as in all things, is limited, so there is much I don’t know and I like to think that I’m fully open to input, so I encourage the expression of dissenting opinions.
Finally, I just want to say that the options generally given to us by the market are never set up the way I prefer them. So, I’m not just comparing this so much to other products (almost all of which I am personally unfamiliar with) but to something that is probably not even available on the market. Okay, enough disclaiming, lets get started!
This tool can do a lot of work. It is not the worst tool ever and any stone age human would justifiably shit exclamation marks if they got ahold of it. But it is very far from ideal from my perspective and when it comes to tools, details matter. With a different design, all the resources used to produce thousands of these could be put into manufacturing a much more versatile and user friendly heirloom quality tool.
After reading many reviews and forum threads, and looking at specs and pictures, I finally just bought the damn thing figuring I could sell it if I didn’t like it. I guessed that it was going to be too heavy, but I thought I might be able to modify it into something closer to what I need. I bought this primarily for review. So, I dropped about 40.00 total on amazon and it was in the mail.
On opening the package I immediately wanted my 40.00 back, and just became more disappointed from there. I’m going to discuss all of the relevant points in series.
The only extent to which I’ve tested the edge at this point is to do some filing, which can detect soft and hard spots. I don’t feel the need to test it thoroughly because of other shortcomings. Judged by filing, the temper seems even, but it is hard to tell a lot and thats all I can say. The head is asymmetrical. It is not a problem with hafting, it’s a problem of workmanship. The edge is out of alignment with the rest of the head in not just one, but two planes. I can’t fix this with filing or grinding. It has to be reheated and fixed by hammering and then the head has to be re-tempered. I’ve done a fair bit of blacksmithing and it really looks like it just wasn’t finished out carefully. A few more hammer taps should have at least aligned the blade with the rest of the head. This is not protracted hard work, its quick detail work, but at this price point, I doubt they even have time for such details. This is a common problem, especially in these modern forged axes. If the work can’t be carried out well, “hand forged” becomes a liability rather than an asset.
It is not sharp in any sense and needs major edge work. That’s fine. That is something I expect from a $40.00 forged hatchet because it is time saved in the factory which keeps the price low. When I look at any axe to buy, I’m not thinking that much about the handle, which is almost a consumable item. It is likely going to be replaced at some point with long use, and often sooner than later by a novice, because we tend to be hard on handles when we start out. I mean it is certainly nice to get a good handle, but it can be replaced. It is the head that most of us can’t make or modify beyond what we can do with grinders and files, and that is the investment you are really making. The head I bought was a poor investment.
This is a heavy hatchet. The head is between a small axe head and a hatchet. Hefting it with one hand for any extended time may be something of a chore for a lot of people. If you choke up on it, meaning move your hand up the handle closer to the head, it is easier, but there are also design issues with that, which we will get to presently.
Portability of a hatchet basically comes down mostly to size and weight. This one is portable in terms of length, but it is quite heavy. I would actually consider packing a tool this heavy around under some circumstances, just not a short handled hatchet. My Gransfors forest axe is only .4 pounds heavier and it’s a tool that can do some serious work. The Husqvarna can do a minimal amount of work, FOR IT’S WEIGHT. When comparing the two, this tool is a joke. Yes, a short tool is also more portable. But, if you are making a tool to be transported by human power, just sticking more weight on the end of it is not a very good solution to the fact that it’s form has certain limits. This tool is probably not really designed with packing in mind. I hope not anyway. If the handle was truly long enough to use with two hands, a person would be able to do a lot more work, but then it wouldn’t be a hatchet anymore. The other reason that one might put a short handle on a heavy tool is for hewing and carving type work. This tool however seems in no way specially designed for that type of work. If anything, the overall form and thick handle make it very unsuited to such uses.
The handle length to weight ratio on this hatchet is odd to me. The handle is shorter than my coveted baby Swedish hatchet which weighs 17.5 oz in total. The Husqvarna is 2.19 lb in total. But my hatchet handles tend to be long relative to the norm. I have a long standing suspicion that the head size to handle length ratio in hatchets and axes is typically determined more by what looks balanced rather than according to practical considerations. I think the handle on my little hatchet is just right, but it looks kind of funny from the sort of natural aesthetic standpoint that gives us things like the golden mean or rule of thirds. This Husqvarna hatchet actually errs in the other direction, with the handle, if anything, appearing oddly short and stubby relative to the head size.
If the handle on a given head is longer you have more leverage, which means that your effort is more or less amplified. With a longer handle the Husqvarna could be a much more useful tool. Then again, since it is so heavy, it could only be hefted near the end of a long handle with one hand for a shorter period of time in comparison to a lighter tool on the same long handle. In one way, the handle length may make sense if you are forced by a short handle to use this heavy tool with one hand. So the one point I can give this tool, regarding the handle length and shape, is that it is probably designed around the sweet spot for this hatchet if it is to gripped in one spot and swung over and over. But, given the shape of the handle, which we will address next, it is somewhat to very awkward to use when gripped outside of that area, making it something of a one trick pony. So, this handle length might make sense in that one way given the heavy size of the head, but I’d still be inclined to put a long handle on it because the head is just pretty large. I wouldn’t be inclined to put a boys axe sized handle on it, but something long enough to use with two hands, though pretty well suited to using with one hand too. Something similar to a lot of bushcraft axe designs.
In regards to the handle shape, at this point I feel near 100% sold on straight handles for hatchets. I use my hatchets for a very wide variety of tasks and am constantly sliding my hand up and down the handle to grab it exactly where I want to. If I want more control I choke way up on it. If I need more power for chopping I’m holding it at the end. If I’m becoming fatigued I choke up on it a little bit. I can shift easily to any spot. Curved handles are limiting, and for what benefit? I’ve yet to determine that there is any tangible and meaningful benefit to an S-curved handle on a hatchet. But there are un-benefits to be sure. When I pick up a curved handled hatchet it typically feels inhibiting and awkward, though some are better or worse. Again and foremost, they are less ergonomic when shifting your grip up and down the handle. That is a major consideration to me since I do that constantly. They are also more prone to breakage. To be fair, this concern is minor if the grain of the handle is properly aligned and of quality wood, but it is still true and relevant enough to mention. The curves on this tool are strong and packed into a short distance. The bottom line is that it just feels really awkward, except when grasped where it is designed to be grasped. To me, the way I use hatchets, this is basically a design flaw and limits its potential as the multipurpose tool I think it should be.
The handle is also absurdly thick, which in turn makes it heavy. It seems like a much better club than a handle. Hickory is dense. It has one of the highest fuel values among North American woods. Just looking at it, I’d say 1/3rd or more of the bulk of the handle should be removed straight away and maybe up to half. So, one third to one half the weight to the handle is just unnecessary excess. I’ve seen this on other Swedish axes and hatchets as well, all of them actually, at least all of the newer forged ones. Why? I shave my handles down until they work right. They should have some give to them in order to absorb handle shock. I have probably never acquired a hatchet or axe handle that I didn't shave down at least some. I would guess that they are targeting a market of inexperienced users who are likely to be rough and break a delicate handle pretty fast. I’ve seen a youtube video of a guy breaking the handle on his brand new hand forged Swedish hatchet right out of the box by gross misuse, and it was thick as hell like all of them. But I don’t think just increasing thickness and eye size is a good solution and I’ll address that further presently. Suffice to say that to my way of thinking, this handle is an abomination in terms of the clunky thudding feel of it and were I to keep it (which I wouldn’t), I would remove a LOT of wood until it had a reasonable amount of spring to it, because now it offers no appreciable shock absorption.
Finally, the swell at the top of the handle where it enters the eye comes down too far. It can’t be grasped at all comfortably up close to the head. That can be reshaped by carving and rasping, but only so far, because the eye is freakin’ HUGE! To my way of thinking, it is not an eye fit for a hatchet. it is an axe eye. Drastic wood removal would be required to get the handle the shape that I need for it in to function comfortably. So, that means scooping the back out more to get the top of the handle shaved down to a reasonable thickness for grasping up close to the head. The huge eye pretty much kills any interest I may have had in modifying this tool into a useable hatchet.
|Showing relative widths of some handles. Note how bulky the handle of the Husqvara is near the eye. All of the others are easily grasped near the eye. The potential for shaving it down is limited by the axe sized eye.|
A few good points on the handle: It is hafted pretty solidly, the wood is far from the worst grade of hickory and it’s not varnished which is good. Actually, the grain alignment is reasonable too. In competent hands it would be very unlikely to break due to grain alignment. There is heartwood in the handle, but that is not always a deal killer as some would have us believe and, again, in competent hands it would probably be just fine. It is not the top grade handle you find on more expensive hand forged Swedish axes, but the wood is perfectly adequate. The thickness can be fixed, but the length and shape I find unacceptable for my personal use, so this handle is basically a total loss to me unless I want to take it off and club fish with it.
SUMMARY AND WHERE TO GO FROM HERE:
Examining, feeling and handling this tool has resulted in a lot of expletives, brow furrowing and head shaking. What this tool is, is an axchet or maybe an axshit! It is stuck between two proven concepts and seeming more like it was tossed together from disparate ideas. It is a light axe head, with an axe eye stuck on a too short handle that is just a squashed axe handle, yet far too thick for even a full sized axe. I frankly don’t like curved handles on a hatchet at all. Even if I did, I still think this one is too drastically curved in too short of a space and just feels awkward to handle and shift my hand around on. You can’t choke all the way up on it comfortably, not even close, and options for modifying it to be able to do so are limited by the large eye. The edge is out of alignment in two planes, not from hafting, but from slack workmanship. I didn’t really test the steel, but I would still hope and guess that is one place where this tool is going to score well. But again who knows. I’m not going to find out, because I’m not going to keep it. I would consider putting a short axe handle on it which could be used with either two hands or one, but the poor workmanship on the head is a deal killer when I could use a symmetrical drop forged head that I can get for cheap or free, or already have lying about. So, I’m probably going to sell it, but that is an ethical dilemma since I strongly un-recommend that anyone buy it! Maybe I should just eat that 40.00 and give it to my mom to use for splitting kindling, because at least it's heavy enough to be good for that.
I have used this hatchet a little bit. I use it as a wedge to split logs for making handles and such, for which it is just adequate. It’s an expensive wedge though! I’ve also used it to peel bark on the metal tailgate of my truck because I’m not concerned in the least about damaging the edge. Even for that light use it feels awkward and very stiff since the handle has no appreciable flex on a tool this size. Basically this is a beater hatchet. Having a beater hatchet around is fine and all, but making and selling a hand forged one doesn’t make sense to me.
THE DUMBING DOWN OF AXES
I think this tool is probably designed for inexperienced users. The huge eye and chunky handle have no doubt been chosen to offset inexperienced use. In my video review on youtube I said it represented the dumbing down of axes more than any other tool I’ve seen. Well, I should qualify that somewhat, because there is so much absurdity in the hatchet market right now that I might do myself harm from all the head shaking, eye rolling and face palming if I were to spend too much time on amazon looking at the latest collection of abominations. I think I said that because this is sold in a line of traditional axes. The line includes a carpenter’s axe and a multi-use light axe with 26 inch handle, both of which look much more promising. This is nothing approaching any traditional hatchet I’ve seen and even if it was it was still a bad design for a multi-use tool. I think this dumbing down for the lowest common denominator (or what Peter Vido calls the devolution of axe handles) is the wrong approach for many of the people who are buying this hatchet. My prized pet hatchet, a very small Swedish head, has a very small eye. The handle is probably around 23 years old and was lost in a field for an entire year. Yet, here it is yet, battered, having chopped through enormous amounts of wood, the tiny eye crammed with 4 metal wedges to keep it on!, still unbroken. I broke handles learning not to break this one, but that is just the process we have to go through. Increasing the eye and handle size until the actual functionality of the tool becomes compromised is not a good solution! Learning the limits of handles and how to replace and repair is part of the deal when it comes to owning and using hatchets. The various “fool proof” options that have been devised for the increasingly unskilled market all come with an unacceptable cost so far as I’ve seen.
I think most of the people that are buying the Husqvarna hatchet are earnestly interested in obtaining a quality hatchet for bushcraft, lifestyle or woodworking use. But this hatchet is not designed well for any of that. It’s designed like something you’d have laying around to split kindling, tossed in a chainsaw tray, or under your pickup seat, to drive a wedge here and there (or use as a wedge itself), or to knock off the occasional limb. Do we need a 40.00 forged hatchet for that stuff? It doesn’t seem very modifiable as a hatchet and besides that, the modifications would be major enough to prompt the question “why bother?” Reducing the head weight by removing steel, (which I considered even before I purchased it), is pretty much nixed by the enormous eye. Perhaps it’s too much to expect an heirloom forged tool for 40.00 that is consistent in quality, but it could at least be designed well in the first place.
Here is what I’d like to see. I’d like to see Husqvarna stop producing this design or at least add a more sensible and versatile model, even if it is more expensive. It doesn’t make any sense to me. It seems much better to design a hatchet that is a real hatchet, designed for versatile one handed use, not an overbuilt clunker like this. New users that are serious need to get a real hatchet with a normal sized eye and maybe break the handle a couple of times while learning its limits and how to put on and make new handles, not something that has limited potential because it is designed for the lowest common denominator. I’m not sure I could design the very best hatchet head pattern, or handle for that matter, but designing one better than this doesn’t seem difficult. Just making the eye smaller and reducing the weight would be a great start.
SO WHAT TO DO?
So, what is a new earnest user to do in the meantime to acquire an affordable new hatchet that is designed and manufactured well? I can only throw so much money at the problem reviewing one crappy tool after another, or ordering hatchets which I already know have handles that are too short. For most mass manufactured brands, I’d also have to test the steel and manufacturing quality on multiple samples to get an idea of consistency. A better option in many ways is to buy used. There are a lot of quality hatchet heads bouncing around out there. Some are ruined by burning the handles out in a fire, or by being ground too fast on electric grinders. Some were not even manufactured well in the first place. But very many of them are not only okay, but quite excellent. Yes, a hand forged Swedish steel hatchet is neat I guess, but it is not in any way necessary and it will not do the work for you or perform significantly better just because someone tapped it with a hammer a few times, quite possibly the contrary. Looking good should fall second to functionality. I get the aesthetic thing, believe me, I fall for it too, but it is a dangerous trap! Later, once ready, I would not discourage anyone from investing in a high quality hand forged Swedish hatchet if you can find a decent model, although the handles I’ve seen are much too short and thick, so I would lose them and put on a longer straight one. I only have direct experience with one Gransfors Bruks hatchet, which I liked well enough, but I bought just the head and put on my own handle on it. I have yet to use or examine an older, used Swedish axe head that didn’t seem worth owning. Buying a clean looking one on ebay is probably a pretty good gamble and you can do that and spend less overall than buying the Husqvarna. Add a 16 or 17 inch straight handle and you could have an amazing tool. There are plenty of good American brands too, and others. Try first to find one from a friend or in a junk store. There are still a lot of them lying about that can be had for cheap or free.
Acquiring a hatchet and learning to use it, maintain it and replace or make handles is a journey. It’s been a long but rewarding journey for me so far, and it’s far from over. I have all sorts of questions remaining and new ones come up occasionally. It’s a journey worth taking. Much versatile work can be done with this simple tool, but the tool and the knowledge to use, maintain, and repair it come as a package. We can’t just plunk down some cash and be on our way, and even the best designed hatchet will perform poorly in inexperienced hands. It certainly would help to have an option in the market that was plug and play and the rest can be learned from there, but I’m not sure that there is, and people may not be able to afford it anyway, as much as it may be worth the cost if the tool is put to use over many years. It is quite likely that if you hunt around a bit and find a free or cheap head, you can put together a very satisfactory hatchet for as little as no money at all, while learning a lot in the process. If the project does not go as planned, it is only a waste of time if you don’t learn something and go forward with that new knowledge.
If you made it this far, thank you for your attention and I would be pleased to hear your comments or new hatchet recommendations.
Link to my video review of this hatchet: https://youtu.be/dK6Ad0uoVqw
Bio: Steven Edholm. I have been pursuing various practical arts from primitive to more modern for most of my life in an attempt to regain some of the freedom we have lost as modern living has made us less able to provide for our own needs. I think about, experiment with, practice, write about and make videos about such things mostly at www.SkillCult.com and www.youtube.com/skillcult