Saturday, July 7, 2012

Review: Fiskars X15 Chopping Axe- Hottest Axe on the Market for any Price?



Back in April of 2011 I reviewed Fiskars' new X7 Hatchet. In that review, I made the bold proclamation that the X7 was a "Budget Gransfors Bruks killer." 

Since that time, I've eagerly awaited the chance to test and review the X7's bigger brother- the X15 Chopping Axe, hoping that it would simply be a bigger and better performing version of it's smaller sibling. The wait was definitely worth it, because, as you'll see in the review below, it did not disappoint.

Technical SPECS (from Fiskars website):
  • Designed for felling trees
  • Chops up to three times deeper with each swing to chop more, faster
  • Perfected balance and power-to-weight ratio increases swing speed to multiply power, much like an aluminum baseball bat
  • Proprietary blade-grinding technique provides a sharper edge for better contact and cleaner cuts
  • Hardened forged steel blade stays sharp longer than traditional axes
  • Non-stick blade coating powers through wood and prevents head from getting stuck
  • Unbreakable PermaHead insert-molded head will not loosen and prevents overstrike breakage
  • Shock-absorbing FiberComp® handle is lightweight yet stronger than steel to prevent overstrike damage
  • Nonslip grip reduces hand strain and improves control
  • Designed in Billnäs, Finland
  • Included sheath helps protect blade and user
  • Bit hardened to 55 RC
  • 23.5" Long
  • Head weight: 2.31 lbs., Total weight: 3 lbs 6oz (as measured on a digital postal scale)
  • Lifetime warranty

 FEATURES

As is standard on all Fiskars X-series axes, the X15 comes with a rigid plastic sheath. Though not the most attractive, it is durable and functional. The axe head itself is made from drop-forged medium carbon steel. The steel also has a non-stick coating on it to prevent the head from getting stuck in the wood during chopping. I tried to get info from Fiskars as to what type of steel they use, but apparently Fiskars treats it as a trade secret and will only tell me that it's "medium carbon steel."

(click to enlarge)

HANDLE

As I mentioned in my previous review of the X7 Hatchet, I think Fiskars did a fantastic job creating a synthetic handle that is both comfortable and break resistant. The redesigned handle on the Fiskars X-series feels exceptional for a composite handled axe, even in some cases matching the comfort of a traditional wood handle.

A common problem with most fiberglass and metal axe handles is excess vibration when the axe is used for chopping or splitting. Through several months of testing the X15, no excess vibration was felt, and the handle always felt secure and comfortable.

If I had one criticism, it would be that Fiskars stopped making the 28" model. Though the 23.5" X15 performed exceptionally well in our field testing trials, I still pined for a longer handle. A longer handle allows for a more powerful swing along with a more relaxed posture when bucking lots of logs. If you're listening Fiskars, please bring back the 28" model as an option!

SIZE COMPARISON

Size comparison next to a 25" Wetterlings-made Husqvarna Multi-Purpose Axe (Left) and a 26" Best Made Standard Hudson Bay Axe (Right)

(click to enlarge) 

EDGE PROFILE

The edge profile of the X15 shown next to the Husqvarna Multi-Purpose Axe. The Husqvarna axe came with an excellent factory profile, so I thought it would make a great side by side comparison with the X15. Though the X15 has an overall thicker, triangular shaped profile, the edge itself is very thin, allowing for deep penetration and excellent wood-shaping performance as you'll see in the field test.

(click to enlarge)

FIELD TESTING

I originally began testing the X15 back in March, and since then, it has been used for everything from bucking and felling to splitting fatwood stumps.

In deciding which axes to pit against the X15, I chose two that I felt would be well matched with the X15's overall weight and perfomance.

The first axe is my 25" Husqvarna Multi-Purpose Axe, which Wetterlings custom-produced for Husqvarna back in 2010 and 2011. It has a head that weighs roughly 2 1/4 lbs. Along with its 25" handle, I thought it would be an excellent competitor for the X15. In fact, it was the best factory chopping axe I owned prior to the X15 (more on that later!). These Wetterlings-made Husky axes came with excellent edge profiles, and most could dry-shave arm hairs right off the shelf. Not many were produced, so they are now collector's items and rather difficult to find. It was fun to be able to bring mine out and give it a serious go against the X15.

The second axe is my Best Made "Unfinished" Hudson Bay axe, currently produced by Council Tool for the Best Made Co. in New York. With its wide bit, 2lb head and 26" long handle, the Best Made axe has been one of the best performing mid-weight axes in my collection. Like the Husqvarna Multi-Purpose Axe, I felt it would be an excellent competitor against the X15. For more info on the Best Made Axe, check out the review we did on it earlier this year.

Chopping

X15 vs Husqvarna Multi-Purpose Axe

When I pitted the Husqvarna against the X15, I honestly expected it to trounce the X15. The Husqvarna is essentially a Wetterlings Scandinavian Forest Axe on steroids, so imagine my surprise when it had its head handed to it (pun intended!). The X15's bit hit the log hard and deep, popping out large chips in the process. In fact, chips were flying so hard, one hit my cheek and left a bruise in the process. As shown in the photos below, the X15 dominated the 30-chop competition. (the log used was a dead Ponderosa Pine).

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X15 vs Best Made Hudson Bay Axe
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Below, the log used for the chopping test. In the second photo, my canvas tent is vaguely visible in the background.



30 chops into the dead Ponderosa Pine log. The Best Made axe definitely made a great showing but still couldn't beat the X15.
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Finishing off the job with the X15. This log was definitely bigger than I'd normally chop with a 3/4 axe.
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More chopping 
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FEATHERSTICKS

Below is a comparison of feathersticks made by all three axes. Though the competition was close, I still think the Best Made's extra wide bit is the best for feathering. However, the X15 turned in a performance that was very close to that of the Best Made.
(click to enlarge)  

LIMBING

To add a new dimension to my test battery, I decided to use the X15 to limb a large Ponderosa Pine that had been blown down by a wind storm. 

(click to enlarge) 


The X15's excellent chopping ability made the job easy and enjoyable.

(click to enlarge)  

SPLITTING

The X15's wedge-shaped head made it an exceptional splitter. For this test, I used an extremely knotted Ponderosa Pine log that was chopped out of a section of a dead blow-down tree. Even with the knots, it took minimal effort to reduce the log into more manageable pieces. 

First swing:

(click to enlarge)

Second swing and the resulting pile of split wood after finishing the job:


Rough testing the axe by using it to split up a sawed fatwood stump. No edge degradation occurred during this test.

(click to enlarge)

CONCLUSION


During the many months of testing, I never experienced any issues with the edge getting dinged or dented, even when chopping through the occasional knot. There have been issues in the past with Fiskars axes that have edges that easily dented, but so far, my experience with the X-series has been very positive.

Having used a lot of Fiskars axes, I theorize that the denting might be caused by the extra thin edge that comes on them from the factory. I always sharpen my Fiskars before using them, and I've almost never had a problem with denting using this method. I think the sharpening removes just enough metal to strengthen the edge. If anyone else has had the same experience please chime in at the comments section below.


All in all, I believe the Fiskars X15 just might represent the best overall value on the axe market today. With almost unrivaled chopping and splitting performance, the X15 simply blows away the competition. In fact, nothing in my collection of Swedish, German, American and vintage axes, was able to outchop the X15 for its size. With a lifetime warranty and a price that's generally under $35, you might even say it's unbeatable.


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UPDATE: Check out RMB's full review 
of Fiskars' new 28" Chopping Axe

6 comments:

  1. Jason;
    Excellent review you really put a lot of work into it and it shows in the end result. The best overall ax test/review I have read to date.
    I like the extra limbing section too.

    I also have this ax and for the $30 total I paid it is a great deal for a lifetime warrantied tool. I keep it in my truck alongside the x7 and they can do anything I would need to do while camping,hiking or woods crafting. I have found mine hold a sharp usable edge for a very long time which is great.

    About the denting, my two splitters x27 and older pro super splitter both had minor small edge dent or roll that you could barely feel.
    This happened after using a little when they were new.
    After a sharpening it has not happened again even after some very heavy use.

    I actually like this size ax group a lot and they seem to get the most use from me.

    I thought the balance took a little to get used to but after a bit it was comfortable to swing.
    Axes like this make me wonder why I spent so much money on my fancy schmancy ones.
    take care
    cattledog

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Cattledog,

      That was an excellent comment, and one of the best I've read so far, thank you!

      This axe really surprised me, as I just couldn't conceive of a cheap axe besting my Wetterlings\Husky axe right off the shelf.

      Traditionalists will scoff at this axe of course, but I think this is THE axe for beginners to start off with. Council Tool axes need edge work and have quality control issues, and Wetterlings still appear to be having quality control issues as well (post forthcoming!). This leaves axes like the Fiskars, Husqvarna Forest Axe (by Hults Bruks) and Gransfors Bruks pretty much the only quality "turn-key" production axes for those not experienced nor inclined to do their own profile work.

      The Bahco axes that Ben's Backwoods sells are supposed to be pretty good as well, but need a little more edge work. I hope to be reviewing one of those soon.

      Cheers,

      Jason

      Delete
  2. Great review Jason. Has there been any testing in very cold weather? Do you think the handle would be brittle enough to crack or break in colder weather? I know some of the plastic or fiberglass handles can weaken in cold weather.

    I'm a traditionalist on my axes. I hate how plastic feels in the hands. It is nice to see quality axe like this though at a great price. As you said, this would be a great starter axe. I for one though like hanging and profiling axes so I don't mind the imperfections on the traditional ones. We all have are preferences I suppose.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Outdoor, thanks for the comment and hope your blog is doing well.

      Regarding the Fiskars and cold weather- I used them for several winters and never had a problem. When I researched most of the internet forum stories about handle breakage, it was because of people doing ridiculous things with them, like using a sledge hammer on the handle to baton wood, etc. One guy even complained because his Fiskars broke when a tree fell on it! Geez. Considering how many problems I've had with Wetterlings edges rolling/chipping and heads coming loose (same issues with Council Tool axes, but more with the heads coming loose), the Fiskars have been a breath of fresh air.

      Traditional axes- I'm totally with you on the feel of traditional axes. I have a whole collection that I cherish greatly. In fact, I'm rapidly becoming a Gransfors-Bruks convert now that I'm reviewing one (Wildlife Hatchet). They are expensive, but the build quality and the warranty are excellent.

      Fiskars makes a great "gateway" axe for beginners or those on a budget. They're also good for use as a workhorse axe while saving your more expensive traditional axes for bushcrafting.

      Cheers,

      Jason

      Delete
  3. Outdoor, thanks for the comment.Regarding the Fiskars and cold weather- I used them for several winters and never had a problem. When I researched most of the internet forum stories about handle breakage, it was because of people doing ridiculous things with them, like using a sledge hammer on the handle to baton wood, etc. One guy even complained because his Fiskars broke when a tree fell on it! Geez. Considering how many problems I've had with Wetterlings edges rolling/chipping and heads coming loose (same issues with Council Tool axes, but more with the heads coming loose), the Fiskars have been a breath of fresh air.Traditional axes- I'm totally with you on the feel of traditional axes. I have a whole collection that I cherish greatly. In fact, I'm rapidly becoming a Gransfors-Bruks convert now that I'm reviewing one (Wildlife Hatchet). They are expensive, but the build quality and the warranty are excellent. Fiskars makes a great "gateway" axe for beginners or those on a budget. They're also good for use as a workhorse axe while saving your more expensive traditional axes for bushcrafting.Cheers,Jason

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    Reply

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Cattledog,

    That was an excellent comment, and one of the best I've read so far, thank you! This axe really surprised me, as I just couldn't conceive of a cheap axe besting my Wetterlings\Husky axe right off the shelf. Traditionalists will scoff at this axe of course, but I think this is THE axe for beginners to start off with. Council Tool axes need edge work and have quality control issues, and Wetterlings still appear to be having quality control issues as well (post forthcoming!). This leaves axes like the Fiskars, Husqvarna Forest Axe (by Hults Bruks) and Gransfors Bruks pretty much the only quality "turn-key" production axes for those not experienced nor inclined to do their own profile work. The Bahco axes that Ben's Backwoods sells are supposed to be pretty good as well, but need a little more edge work. I hope to be reviewing one of those soon.

    -Jason

    ReplyDelete