Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: Husqvarna Forest Axe

"Rough Around the Edges" equivalent to a Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe at half the price


For the past several years, Swedish chainsaw maker Husqvarna has been offering rebadged versions of Wetterlings and Hults Bruks axes and hatchets at greatly reduced prices. For the savvy axe buyer, this can represent an excellent opportunity to pick up expensive name brand Swedish axes at steep discounts. The latest offering from Husqvarna, called the Forest Axe, continues this tradition, in that it is essentially a rebadged Swedish Hultafors HY 20 Felling Axe.

The SPECS:

Head Weight: 2 lbs
Steel type: Hand forged Swedish high carbon steel (composition unknown)
Overall length: 26"
Handle type: American Hickory
Country of Origin: Made in Sweden by Hults Bruks\Hultafors
Weight with sheath: 43.4 ounces (as measured on a digital postal scale) 
Weight without sheath: 42.4 ounces (as measured on a digital postal scale)
Retail Price: $65.88

Features

The Forest Axe features a hand forged, high carbon Swedish steel head which weighs in at 2 lbs. The handle is 26" long and made from American Hickory. A simple, yet functional leather sheath covers the bit to keep it protected.


HEAD PROFILE

The bit on the Forest Axe came out of the box reasonably sharp, though not as sharp as most Gransfors Bruks and Wetterlings axes. However, the profile is very thin, so honing it to razor sharpness was easy and only took a few minutes.

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The cheeks are also a bit rough compared to offerings from the aforementioned axe companies, showing large grinding marks, etc. However, this didn't seem to hinder the performance of the axe, as you'll see in the field test below.

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Axe Comparison Shots 

As noted in the profile section, the Forest Axe replaces the older "Multi-Purpose Axe", which was manufactured by Wetterlings at the time. Here's a comparison shot of the two (Forest Axe on left):


 Profile shot (Forest Axe on left):


Closeup of the bit profiles:


As mentioned, the Forest Axe is essentially a rebadged Hultafors' HY 20 Felling Axe. Here's a photo of the Husqvarna (left) next to the Hultafors HY 20 (right):
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Profile comparison (Husqvarna on left):


Comparison of the Husqvarna next to a Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe
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 Profile comparison of the two (Forest Axe on right)

Husqvarna in between the Fiskars X15 Axe (left) and the Best Made Standard Hudson Bay Axe (right)

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Handle/Handle Grain/Alignment/Balance

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The handle came from the factory with a light coat of linseed oil. It is a little thicker than the handles on Gransfors Bruks or Best Made/Council Tool axes of this size, which I initially thought would make it rather bulky and unwieldy. After using it a bit, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I preferred it over the other handles. It is thick, but the way Hultafors profiles the handle makes it feel comfortable and secure in the hand.

The direction of the handle grain on this particular model is above average, and the tightness of the grain is excellent.


The alignment is almost perfect:


The handle is pinned to the head with a traditional wooden wedge and reinforced with a circular metal pin-style wedge. With the exception of a small gap at the four o'clock area of the eye, the overall quality of the head/handle joint is excellent. Over the course of 6 months of regular use, the handle stayed secure and never budged.


Using the Mors Kochanski balance test, the Forest Axe balances very well, with only a slight hint of heaviness in the bit.

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FIELD TESTING 

I received this axe back in March for testing, so it was used quite extensively before writing this review. As mentioned in the "Head Profile" section, the bit came sharp, though not shaving sharp as is typical of most Gransfors Bruks axes. The quality of the steel and hardness are very similar to Gransfors axes, so getting the edge to hair-shaving sharp was easy and only took a few minutes with a diamond sharpener and stone. Hults Bruks, maker of this axe, is Sweden's oldest axe company and highly respected in Europe. For a more comprehensive history of Hults Bruks, check out Woodtrekker Blog's "A Brief History of Swedish Axe Manufacturers."

In order to test the Forest Axe, I assembled a battery of five tests that I felt would be a good assessment for a full-size, all-purpose bushcraft axe. These include Chopping, Splitting, and Limbing as well fine carving tasks, such as making feather-sticks and carving a tent stake. I also wanted to see how well the Forest Axe would perform in comparison to the similarly-sized Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe, which literally costs twice as much as the Husqvarna. My goal was to see if the budget-priced Forest Axe could perform as well as the pricier Gransfors.

Chopping Comparisons

I pitted the Husqvarna against several popular axes to see how it would measure up. Each axe was chopped 30 times for the comparison.

Forest Axe vs the Best Made Hudson Bay Axe- The competition between these two axes was a draw. The thinner bit of the Husqvarna allowed it to bite deep into the wood, while the heavier head and wider bit of the Best Made made it take out shallow, yet large pieces of wood.

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Forest Axe vs the previous Husqvarna Multi-Purpose Axe- I felt that the older Multi-Purpose Axe had a slight advantage, owing to it's heavier head. The photo doesn't convey this advantage very well, as the Multi Purpose Axe chopped as deep as the Forest Axe even though the area that I chopped had more knots. Winner- Older Husqvarna Multi-Purpose Axe

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Forest Axe vs the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe- The slightly heavier head (the Forest Axe weighs roughly 2 ounces more than the Gransfors), 1" longer handle and thinner bit of the Forest Axe gave it a clear chopping advantage over the Gransfors Bruks. Winner- Forest Axe

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FINE CARVING  

The thin bit on the Forest Axe makes it surprisingly adept at finer work. I was surprised to find that it slightly out-performed both the older Multi-Purpose Axe and the Best Made Hudson Bay when making feather-sticks, as shown in the photo below.

(Note- the Gransfors Bruks seen in the chopping comparison was a late arrival, so it is not seen in the fine carving comparison below. But the Husqvarna did compare very favorably to the Gransfors in some last minute feather-stick tests that I performed)

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A tent stake carved from a dead Aspen branch, using only the Forest Axe (who says you gotta have a knife to survive in the wilderness!):

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SPLITTING

My biggest concern with the Forest Axe was its ability to split logs, due to the thin profile of the head. True, it won't split with the ease of say a Fiskars X15 or a Council Tool\Best Made Hudson Bay axe, but it still split well enough to do a respectable job out in the bush. 

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Success!

LIMBING

To test the Forest Axe's ability to limb a tree, I found a dead Lodgepole Pine, that had been blown over by a wind storm many years ago, and went to town. The Forest Axe performed excellently in this test.

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I then bucked the limbed tree into sections. Once again, the Forest Axe performed well and made this job a pleasure.

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Conclusion

I really can't think of a better deal on the market right now for bushcrafters who want a high quality traditional 3/4 axe. The only similar axe I can think of in terms of "bang for the buck" is the Fiskars X15 that I reviewed back in July. While the X15 is excellent for a synthetic axe, many still prefer to use a traditional axe due to the better balance and comfort of a wooden handle. I think the Forest Axe is an excellent alternative for those traditional axe enthusiasts who prefer "wood over plastic", yet can't afford a Gransfors, Council Tool Velvicut, Best Made, or Wetterlings (Wetterlings just had a big price increase, with their Swedish Forest Axe now costing almost $120 as of this writing).


Another positive is the quality of the steel. It's hard, yet easy to sharpen and holds an edge, very similar to the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe. In fact, during my chopping tests against the Gransfors (I usually chop several more times than what's shown in my test photographs) I could detect no difference in edge-holding between the two. The edge also never chipped or rolled during 6 months of hard use, another indication of the excellent quality of the steel on this axe.

The leather sheath was also a surprise. Initially, my impression of it was rather lackluster, knowing the high quality of Wetterlings and Gransfors sheaths. Not only has it been durable, but I actually learned to appreciate having a sheath without a strap, as you can leave it on when hammering tent stakes or tapping logs without having to worry about damaging it.

One other thing to note is that, as of right now, this is the only way to buy a Hults Bruks axe in the US, since Hults doesn't sell directly to the US (hopefully, this will change soon!).

In the subtitle of this review, I made the claim that the Forest Axe is a "rough around the edges" equivalent to a Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe, and I stand by that. For half the price of the Gransfors, you get a high quality, hand-forged, traditional Swedish axe that outchops the Gransfors, performs fine carving tasks just as well, and is nearly as balanced. Husqvarna seems to change manufacturers rather frequently, so if were you, I would grab one of these axes before they switch makers again.




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9 comments:

  1. killer review Jason! I appreciate the work you put in to this and the honest opinion you gave. This looks like a fine axe and even better deal.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Rocky Mountain Bushcraft another finely,detailed axe review. What a great bushcraft axe for $60
    Why spend more?

    Like you I have the older model and am completely happy with it, I think mine was made by Hults though judging by the shape of the lugs. I had this one in and out of my cart several times but owning the X15,older style one and a VHB I am well covered.
    How about that x15 what a nasty splitter.

    I hope the Hults people create some competition
    to drive prices down...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cattledog, as always, thanks for your insightful comments. You can email Nils, the Hultafors rep at nils.holmdahl@hultaforsgroup.com to let him know that American axe buyers would like to have Hultafors sell in the US. The more people he hears from the more likely Hultafors will pull the trigger on US distribution.

      So, you bought the X15? Aside from splitting, how's it working out for you?

      Delete
  3. The x15 is a one axe do all kinda axe. Wish it had a wooden handle for soul. Can't beat the price. $30 free shipping when I got it.
    Always keep it handy it's a splitting machine...!
    All positives so far with the x15er I leave it out in the rain by the fire mud etc...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad to hear someone else having a similar experience with it. Thanks Cattledog.

      Delete
  4. Thanks Cattledog, glad to hear someone else having a similar experience with it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Cattledog, as always, thanks for your insightful comments.

    So, you bought the X15? Aside from splitting, how's it working out for you?

    ReplyDelete