Tuesday, January 24, 2012

REVIEW: Best Made 26" Unfinished Hudson Bay Axe


Formed in 2009 by axe aficionado and Grammy Award winning designer Peter Buchanan-Smith, Best Made Company is a fresh face in the world of axes. Smith, who'd been using axes since he was a child growing up on an Ontario farm, wanted to combine both his love of axes and art into something that could not only adorn one's home, but could just as easily be pulled off the wall and used for real world axe duties.

Much in the way that canoe paddles have traditionally been painted by both Native Americans and American settlers, Smith wanted to continue this tradition with axes as well.

Smith's painted pieces have already attracted international attention, having been purchased by the likes of Mike Jones (president of Myspace) and are also on exhibit at the Saatchi Gallery in London.

Here's an example of one of Best Made's painted versions of the Hudson Bay axe:




Smith, a longtime collector of vintage axes who spent his summers as a youth canoeing and using axes for camping and exploring, realized the need to produce a more affordable axe line in addition to his custom "art axes." In 2011, Best Made began producing "unfinished" versions of their axes, which were more affordable and featured unpainted handles, hence the title. The term "unfinished" though is slightly misleading, as these axes are actually completely finished in the traditional sense, in that the handles are sanded properly and coated in linseed oil, head is polished, etc.

In order to produce these axes, Best Made initially partnered with Maine-based axe maker Snow & Nealley before settling with longtime US axe maker Council Tool in 2010. The two axes that Best Made sells are actually existing designs by Council Tool from their Velvicut line. The axe in this particular review is a rebadged Council Tool Velvicut Hudson Bay Axe with a longer 26" handle, different sheath and Best Made stampings and packaging. I reviewed that axe here last month with both a First Impressions Review and a Field Review, so I won't rehash all the details and instead will focus on the feel and performance of the longer handle as well as the packaging, appearance and sheath differences.

SPECIFICATIONS:
26.2" overall length
2.0 lb head
5160 Steel
Grade "A" Hickory Handle
Weight (without sheath)-  45.4 ounces
Weight (with sheath)- 47.2 ounces
Country of origin- Made in Lake Waccamah, NC, USA by the Council Tool Axe Company
Price: $135.00

The Unfinished Hudson Bay Axe arrived in attractive packaging along with stylized information cards containing warranty info/registration, production number, axe maintenance tips and safety instructions:


The sheath is similar in style to those used on Swedish Gransfors Bruks axes. This is not surprising, considering that Smith visited the Gransfors factory a couple of years ago and took note of their simple, yet elegant sheath designs. On longer axes, these sheaths tend to be easier to use, compared to the top loading sheaths on the shorter Council Velvicuts. The strap also bears the "C.C.G.F." logo, which stands for Smith's outdoor credo; Courage / Compassion / Grace / Fortitude:


The Axe

As mentioned above, the Best Made is basically a rebranded Velvicut Hudson Bay Axe with a longer handle and different sheath. Here's a comparison shot of the two (Best Made axe on the right):


The overall quality of the handle, including grain direction and head/handle alignment, is very good and similar to the Velvicut: 


 Field Test

For the test, I thinned out the profile to get it as close to the Velvicut as possible. This particular model came with a thicker stock profile than the Velvicut did, so additional edge work was necessary to get the two to match for the test. This is not the fault of Best Made since Council Tool makes these, but hopefully Council Tool corrects this problem in their quality control process soon.

Here's a photo of the two axe profiles (after the edge work) side by side, with the Best Made on the right:


Performance

For the chopping test, I used a dry, seasoned Ponderosa Pine log and chopped 30 times with each axe. Due to the short 22.5" handle on the Velvicut, safe chopping required a kneeling position. This obviously reduces the amount of power in the swing. On the other hand, the Best Made, with its almost 4" length advantage, safely allowed for a standing position. This, along with the extra handle length yielded a rather dramatic result (Best Made notch on left):


The longer Best Made simply trounced the shorter Velvicut in the chopping contest. I was expecting a slight difference, but nothing quite this dramatic.

Feather Stick Test

I also wanted to test out the Best Made's balance by creating some feather sticks. I had mentioned in my previous review of the Velvicut that I felt that the handle was a bit short for the weight of this head. After spending time using the longer Best Made, I have to say that it confirms my suspicions. The extra handle length just balances the axe better, and I actually found it easier to use for close work like feather stick making than the shorter Velvicut.

Feather stick made with the Best Made axe. The added balance of the longer handle definitely helps with this task:


Conclusion

This is the Hudson Bay I wanted from Council Tool all along. For me, the 26" handle is an almost perfect balance of length and packability, plus, it adds noticeably to the balance. The sheath is simple, attractive and easy to take on and off, another plus.

The biggest negative is the thicker profile that came on this axe. I spoke with Best Made about this and they said that most of the other axes they've seen are a little thinner than the one I received. They offered to replace it, but I declined, since I have access to a belt sander and it wasn't hard to adjust the edge profile with my equipment.

I would add that when talking with Peter (the owner of Best Made), he comes across as a genuine axe enthusiast who really cares about his product. He makes no bones about being a "boutique" company, but he also wanted to create what he feels is the perfect sized Hudson Bay Axe and worked with Council Tool on the specs for this version. His objective was to make it more affordable, so he priced this model within $5.00 of Council's Velvicut. After testing the Best Made version, I have to agree with his assessment that a longer handle is better. This one's a keeper for me, and I hope to be lucky enough to pass it down to my kid one day as well.

For more info please visit: www.bestmadeco.com

13 comments:

  1. Hi Just thought I would chime in with another user viewpoint, since I am a Hudson Bay axe pattern fan. Hope that's OK

    Interesting review. Cool Blog.
    I considered the Best Made but opted for the Velvicut instead because of the shorter handle.
    I have 4 capable axes in the 26 inch length. All of them excellent performers.

    With that said none of them are almost perfect for packability.
    However the Council excelled in this aspect.
    Being able to attach it to a daypack and trek 7 miles without any issues is a big plus for me.
    Having the rugged fully enclosed sheath is good assurance too.


    Also the shorter handle has advantages in tight spots when you can't wield a long handle axe.
    While using it I never felt disadvantaged doing any of the tasks I accomplished be it splitting, chopping making kindling.
    Making easier Feather sticks come on man.(:

    Couple of questions.
    Does the BM head come wedged with a steel?
    Can you buy replacement handles for the BM?

    I would like to see Council offer different versions of this Velvicut pattern maybe 1.75lb head would be nice in a shorter handle and a longer handle with current head.

    Have you seen the ridiculous prices vintage HB axes are going for on auction. Wheeeew. Seems like the only way to get a good deal is searching around in person at flea markets etcc...As little as a couple years ago you could score used heads on the cheap not any more...
    That was another reason I bought a nice new one.
    Take Care
    cattledog

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cattledog,

      Thanks for the comment and for sharing your experiences with Hudson Bay axes. As I mentioned in the review, for me, this is a perfect sized axe, though of course, each person has their own preferences. I've never had a problem packing a 26" axe in the netted side pocket of a standard 1-2 day backpack like an REI Traverse, for instance.

      As for the 22.5" being better than the 26" in a tight spot, I can't say I've found this to be the case. I would have to go down to the 19.5" Wetterlings Bushcraft Axe to really notice the difference.

      As for feather sticks, absolutely! Bushcrafters and woodsman have been using axes to make feather sticks and fine kindling for hundreds of years. In fact, an axe with the right profile can actually make feather sticks faster than many knives because of the added weight coupled with a less expansive cutting surface (usually 3"-4" inches, about the perfect sized bushcrafting knife for fine work).

      Haven't been paying attention to vintage GB axes on eBay, but it appears that all good vintage axe heads are going up right now.

      Cheers

      Delete
  2. Hey CW
    Thanks for the reply.
    Just when I thought I am am all axed up and not going to get any more axes, I see this. Check it out That splitter looks nice...
    happy trails
    cattledog

    http://www.wetterlings.se/the/index.php

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that new Wetterlings looks very interesting, and so does the splitting maul. Thanks for the link.

      Cheers, CW

      Delete
  3. My fiancĂ© ordered me a “Best Made” axe for Christ­mas in early Decem­ber 2011 with some other gear from their web­site. After months of wait­ing the axe arrives in mid May 2012 with­out any of the other stock we ordered or a rea­son as to why it was not shipped. Where’s our refund on the stock that didn’t arrive? Im not wast­ing my time again writ­ing them an email, they can keep our cash — emails you send them either go to man with­out fin­gers or some­one who would rather not reply.. We wrote them an email every 3 weeks for 5 months and only got 2 fee­ble, very vague replies.
    Prior to deal­ing with them I held the Best Made Co ideals close as I had been look­ing for an out­doors com­pany spe­cial­iz­ing in qual­ity & unique prod­ucts for every­day use. For a pre­dom­i­nately online com­pany their cus­tomer ser­vice is atro­cious to say the least.
    The axe head qual­ity seems to be good how­ever he hick­ory han­dle on the axe has a very large knot right near the head of the axe where the wood needs to be strongest. Dur­ing the 5 month wait I ordered a grans­fors axe; its qual­ity is supe­rior by a long shot.
    To their defence the pack­age did get lost in the mail — how its takes 5 months to rec­tify is beyond me. Im guess­ing they’re not look­ing for repeat busi­ness; there were no attempts to rem­edy the sit­u­a­tion at all on their behalf.. My advice is to AVOID AT ALL COSTS, Im flum­moxed with the experience.
    Best Made Co
    Where great mar­ket­ing col­lides with hor­rific service.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sadly, we have heard similar stories from other folks. The one we reviewed was good, but maybe that was a fluke? We decided a couple of months ago not to review anymore Best Made products because of poor customer feedback and lack of communication.

      Having a whole collection of axes, including Swedish, Finnish, German and American varieties, I believe that the Swedes still make the best production axes. I think the hottest deal on the market right now is the Husqvarna Forest Axe, which is a re-branded Hults Bruks Forest axe but a little rough around the edges. At under $60 with a leather sheath, it's a great price for what you get. We should have the review up soon.

      Delete
  4. I ordered a Best Made Hudson Bay Axe just minutes before I read this review. I freaked out and wondered if I could cancel it. I immediately emailed them to assure that the axe was in stock. I got a response early the next morning, stating that it was indeed "in stock" and that it would be shipped that day. I received a shipping notice with a tracking number that afternoon. I ordered it 7 days ago and received it today. It is beautiful and very sharp. Almost too pretty to use but i bought it to use and I will use it. I'm sorry that some may have had a bad experience but that simply was not the case for me. I would give them (Best Made) 5 stars, and on appearances alone, i would give the axe 5 stars. I have not used it yet and I am no expert.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Scotty,

      Thanks for the comment. I'm glad to hear your positive experience and hope that Best Made is responding to some of the customer service issues. Once you use it we'd love to hear your feedback.

      Cheers,

      Jason

      Delete
  5.  
    The
    Estwing E44A 16-Inch Steel Campers Axe is highly recommended.



    It gets great reviews on the web.



    Read more: http://ibookmarkedit.com/estwing-e44a-16-inch-steel-campers-axe/

    ReplyDelete
  6. Cattledog,

    Thanks for the comment and for sharing your experiences with Hudson Bay axes. As I mentioned in the review, for me, this is a perfect sized axe, though of course, each person has their own preferences. I've never had a problem packing a 26" axe in the netted side pocket of a standard 1-2 day backpack like an REI Traverse, for instance.

    As for the 22.5" being better than the 26" in a tight spot, I can't say I've found this to be the case. I would have to go down to the 19.5" Wetterlings Bushcraft Axe to really notice the difference.

    As for feather sticks, absolutely! Bushcrafters and woodsman have been using axes to make feather sticks and fine kindling for hundreds of years. In fact, an axe with the right profile can actually make feather sticks faster than many knives because of the added weight coupled with a less expansive cutting surface (usually 3"-4" inches, about the perfect sized bushcrafting knife for fine work).

    Haven't been paying attention to vintage GB axes on eBay, but it appears that all good vintage axe heads are going up right now.

    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yes, that new Wetterlings looks very interesting, and so does the splitting maul. Thanks for the link.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sadly, we have heard similar stories from other folks. The one we reviewed was good, but maybe that was a fluke? We decided a couple of months ago not to review anymore Best Made products because of poor customer feedback and lack of communication.

    Having a whole collection of axes, including Swedish, Finnish, German and American varieties, I believe that the Swedes still make the best production axes. I think the hottest deal on the market right now is the Husqvarna Forest Axe, which is a re-branded Hults Bruks Forest axe but a little rough around the edges. At under $60 with a leather sheath, it's a great price for what you get. We should have the review up soon.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi Scotty,

    Thanks for the comment. I'm glad to hear of your positive experience and hope that Best Made is responding to some of the customer service issues. Once you use it we'd love to hear your feedback.

    ReplyDelete