Saturday, October 13, 2012

REVIEW: The Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet- Finely crafted by Elves hiding in Sweden

In JRR Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and the "Lord of the Rings," the Elves were reputed to be the finest smiths on Middle Earth. Their finely crafted swords and armor were highly regarded and sought after by men and dwarves alike. Some of the Elven pieces even had magical qualities, like Bilbo Baggin's sword "Sting," which glowed when Orcs came near.

Somehow, the axes made by Gransfors-Bruks in Sweden give me this same impression, as if the Shire of Halsingland where Gransfors is located was really Rivendell, where Elves live and forge their magical axes and hatchets.

This impression is reinforced by the fact that each Gransfors' axe is individually forged by hand, using methods and techniques not widely used since the mid-1800s. Every step of the production process is meticulously scrutinized, and each smith must stand behind his work.

Once the smith has completed his forging and is satisfied with the quality of his axe, he then stamps the head with his initials beside the company's crown logo, as a mark of Gransfors' high standards.

"MM" (Matthias Mattsson) forged the hatchet used in this review. Could Matthias really be an Elf?

The genius of Gransfors is that they were ahead of the curve back in 1989 when they recognized that axes would be used in the future by a small niche group, composed mainly of recreational campers, homesteaders, bushcrafters, hunters and firewood cutters.

Gransfors was also incredibly keen in that they studied the best features of classic American axes, and then incorporated those features into their axe designs. Things like the quality and hardness of the steel, adding "ears" to the sides of the head (to add extra surface area for the wooden handle to grip onto), leaving additional wood over the eye to ensure that the handle won't come off easily, etc. All of these features add up to an axe that is so good, it's become the gold standard by which all other axes are judged.

Check out this video of Gransfors Bruks CEO and head "Elf" Gabriel Branby explaining how Gransfors axes were developed:

Before going any further, I would like to thank Ben Piersma of Ben's Backwoods for providing the Wildlife Hatchet used in this review. Ben has a great selection of axes and bushcraft supplies, so please check out his online store.


Head Weight: 1 lb
Steel type: Hand forged Swedish high carbon steel (composition unknown)
Overall length: 13.5"
Cutting Surface: 3"
Handle type: American Hickory
Country of Origin: Made in Sweden
Weight with sheath: 23.4 ounces (as measured on a digital postal scale) 
Weight without sheath: 21.6 ounces (as measured on a digital postal scale)
Warranty: 20 Years against manufacturer's defect 
Retail Price: $111.00


The Wildlife Hatchet features a one pound, hand forged high carbon steel head. It has an overall length of 13.5", with a 3" wide cutting surface. The handle is made from Grade "A" American Hickory, and is finished with linseed oil and a coating of beeswax. The sheath is attractive and well made, and also covers the top of the head, which helps to protect the wood that protrudes from the eye area.

The sheath also allows for belt-carry, as shown in the photo below:

As mentioned, Gransfors usually leaves a generous amount of wood protruding above the eye of the head when the axe is hung. A metal pin is then driven into it, which helps to spread the wood apart above the eye. This ensures that the head won't come off easily, even under the worst of circumstances.

(click to enlarge)

The alignment on this hatchet is excellent, and typical of many Gransfors axes I've seen:

The direction of the handle grain is very good, and the tightness of the grain is about average:

The profile of the Wildlife Hatchet is one of the thinnest in production hatchets, which makes it an excellent wood carver and chopper. This is better illustrated when shown next to a similar offering by Swedish rival Wetterlings:

(click to enlarge)

Gransfors Bruks' axes and hatchets are consistently some of the most balanced production axes on the market, which makes them a joy to use:

(click to enlarge)

Each Gransfors' axe comes with its own "Axe Book", which contains great tips on how to use and maintain your axe, along with a history of Gransfors, including photos of the "Elves" at work.

(click to enlarge)

Comparison Photos

Wildlife Hatchet next to it's synthetic arch-rival, the Fiskars X7:

(click to enlarge)

Gransfors (on left) next to a re-branded Wetterlings Wildlife Hatchet (sold by Husqvarna at the time):

(click to enlarge)


I received the Wildlife Hatchet back in May, and to be honest, once I started using it, I didn't want to pick up any other hatchets. The ergonomics, precision, balance and performance are really second to none. The shape of the handle is very comfortable. The fit and finish is impeccable, including the beeswax coating, which ensures that it is grippy, yet smooth enough to use all day without blisters.

The steel that is used is among the best in the world of production axes. I've restored a lot of vintage American axes, which usually have steel of the highest quality, and the Gransfors' steel is every bit as good. The steel in this axe is tough, yet hard enough to take a razor-sharp edge, one that easily rivals the sharpest of knives. Even though the steel is hard, it sharpens easily, and holds its edge superbly.

Gransfors' axes are also the only production axes I've seen that consistently come with razor sharp edges right from the factory. The Wildlife Hatchet used in this review is no exception, in that it could dry-shave right out of the box.

Having had five months to play with this hatchet at my wilderness base camp, I put together a diverse and rigorous test battery to see if it could live up to its reputation.

Felling and Splitting

To see how well the Wildlife Hatchet could fell a tree and then split a section into kindling, I found a dead Aspen tree that was about 5" in diameter and chopped it down. I then bucked a log out of the tree and split it into kindling-sized pieces.

This test is good survival practice for winter trekking in snowy Rocky Mountain forests. Often, the only accessible dry wood is from dead-standing trees that jut out from the snowpack, and having a tool that can reliably process them into firewood is important in a survival situation.

 (click to enlarge)

The Wildlife Hatchet proved to be exceptional for the job. It's very accurate to swing while felling, and the thin bit cuts out a clean notch quickly. It's not the greatest at splitting, especially when compared to many thicker profiled hatchets, but it still gets the job done reliably.

(click to enlarge)

Limbing a tree

To see how well the Wildlife Hatchet could limb branches, I found a dead Douglas Fir tree that had been blown over by a wind storm. I then limbed it and bucked it into sections. The Wildlife Hatchet did a great job, just as it did in the felling and splitting test.

(click to enlarge)

3-Way Chop-off

The Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet vs the Fiskars X7 Hatchet and Wetterlings Wildlife Hatchet

I decided to pit the Gransfors Wildlife hatchet against two of its most popular competitors- The Fiskars X7 Hatchet and the Wetterlings Wildlife Hatchet.  

I reviewed the Fiskars X7 last year, and made the bold statement that it was a "Gransfors killer" at a fraction of the price. I still stand by this statement, if you factor in price as the only objective. This review, however, revealed many positive aspects of the Gransfors that price just can't figure into, as you'll see when we delve deeper into the field performance tests.

Gransfors Wildlife Hatchet vs the Wetterlings Wildlife Hatchet, 30 Chops each into a dead Aspen log- The thinner profile of the Gransfors clearly bit deeper into the wood. Winner- Gransfors Bruks

(click to enlarge)

Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet vs the Fiskars X7 Hatchet- I decided to conduct three different chopping comparisons between the Gransfors and the X7. Each test involved 30 chops each into a seasoned Ponderosa or Lodgepole Pine log. I wanted to make absolutely sure that the outcome would be accurate, so the axe that won two out of the three tests would be crowned the winner.

First Comparison- The Fiskars was the clear winner in this test. As has been my experience in the past, the X7 just powers through wood like no other production hatchet I've ever seen.

(click to enlarge)

Second Comparison- The second test was a bit more interesting. On this dead Lodgepole Pine, the test was pretty much a draw. The difference with this log is that it was more straight-grained than the Ponderosa logs used in the other two tests, plus, it was elevated off the ground, allowing a standing position for chopping (for the others I was kneeling).

 (click to enlarge)
Third Comparison- In the final test, the X7 proved to be the better chopper, with a result similar to the first test.

 (click to enlarge)

Even though the X7 chops consistently better, the Gransfors Bruk's supreme balance and comfort makes it easier to use during long days of firewood processing. In fact, I often chose the Gransfors over my X7 when I needed to process kindling at my wilderness base camp this summer. I still love the X7 (and find it more comfortable than many traditional hatchets) but it just doesn't compare to the overall feel of the Wildlife Hatchet.

Fine Carving Tasks

The Wildlife Hatchet turned out to be the best fine carving hatchet this author has ever laid hands on. It easily carves off the finest slivers of wood, feathers phenomenally, and slices with the finesse of a fine bushcraft knife.

Below is a feather-stick comparison between the Gransfors Wildlife Hatchet, Fiskars X7, and the Wetterlings Wildlife Hatchet. The Gransfors clearly dominated this test.

 (click to enlarge)

A small tent stake carved entirely with the Wildlife Hatchet. I could not have done a finer job with a Mora knife.

 (click to enlarge)

  The stake was then pounded into the ground with the poll.
 (click to enlarge)


Prior to this review, I had never spent any significant time bushcrafting with a Gransfors Bruks axe. I've tried them in the past and was always impressed, but not to the point where I could justify spending the extra money to buy one. After completing this review, I have to say that I've changed my mind -- I now believe that Gransfors's axes are definitely worth the premium they charge.

When you consider that many popular survival knives such as Fallknivens, the Ontario Blackbird, and ESEE Knives cost more than the hand-forged Wildlife Hatchet, it doesn't seem so expensive after all.

In fact, the Wildlife Hatchet performs better than most survival knives I've used, whether it's to create feathersticks, shape large pieces of wood, chopping, or even fine carving. The only thing the Wildlife Hatchet lacks is a point. Simply carrying a small folding knife solves this problem if the need arises.

Having mentioned the practical advantages, the aesthetic appeal is what might be the biggest attraction for me. There really is a sense of Old World craftsmanship with the Wildlife Hatchet.

Whether it's the linseed oil and beeswax coated handle, the leftover forge scale, replete with the smith's hammer marks and stamped initials, or the fine leather sheath, each part of this axe exemplifies quality. Heck, I'd bet that if Frodo Baggins carried a hatchet during one of his Lord of the Rings' adventures, it might even be similar to the Gransfors' Wildlife Hatchet.

So if you're looking for the best production hatchet money can buy, with attention to quality and detail that's hard to find these days, look no further than the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet. You won't even have to go on a journey to the Elven lands of Rivendell to find one. Just visit Gransfors Bruks' website at

5 out of 5 Stars
(Highly recommended )

Was this review helpful? If so, please stop by our Facebook page and follow us!

About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft, a blog that features articles, news stories, outdoor tips and product reviews written from a bushcraft and wilderness survival perspective. Schwartz is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America. He has also written for the The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ (without spaces)


  1. The GB axes are actualy forged with a set of dies and a blacksmith handling the metal, same as Wetterlings actualy.
    At least that is according to the videos and other info I've found on the net.
    In my oppinion this isn't actualy "hand forged" but people are so convinced of the myth and legend around Swedish axes that many won't ever accept that thier wonder axe is forged in a very similar manor as many cheaper brands.
    That said, I understand the appeal!

    1. Hi Lonewolf,

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, what Gransfors and Wetterlings do is something of a hybrid, and not pure in the sense of what an old blacksmith would do by hand.

      Most manufacturers drop forge their axe heads, like Council Tool does, for instance. In comparison to drop forging, what Gransfors does can be compared to hand forging, though I understand that purists wouldn't agree. What's most important is quality, and having used/restored/reviewed lots of new and vintage axes, I believe that Gransfors' steel is probably the best among production axes, along with Hultafors.

      As far as price, anyone who's spent time filing and profiling a head, hanging a handle on it, sanding and oiling the handle, then making a sheath would agree that what they charge is certainly reasonable given the labor.



    2. Don't forget Hults Bruks as well! I actualy grabbed the new Husqvarna hatchet recently but found that the handle was just too short for comfort with this head.
      I do enjoy using hatchets (old and new Fiskars for example) but this one was just odd and now has a handle just over 22" long. After slightly smoothing the rough edges this little axe is one of my favorites, maybe even more fun than my Fiskars X15.
      One question, have you ever used any of the Cold Steel tomahawks? I realize they need work out of the box but one of my favorite camp axes is actualy the CS Pipehawk.
      It has a thicker bit than most hawks I've seen and used and (mine at least) actualy looks like it has cheeks.

    3. Hi JC,

      Sorry, when I mentioned Hultafors above I should have said Hults Bruks. Yes! Excellent axes. Not sure if you heard but we are testing Hults Bruks Classic and Agdor line axes right now for Hults (owned by Hultafors). They are mulling over US distribution and asked us to review their axe line for the American market. I should have a review up soon.

      So, you put a 22" handle on that Husky ay? Sometimes that works out real nice. Do you know the weight on that head?

      As far as Cold Steel tomahawks are concerned, yes, I've messed with them, and they have interesting possibilities. My biggest issue is that they stick really bad when chopping wood (including the Pipehawk). They're also not very good when it comes to splitting. Of course, it depends on where you live and what you'll be doing with it.

      Hope this helps.


    4. I don't know the wieght actualy, I haven't access to a suitable scale, but on the original 15" handle it felt much to heavy headed.
      I've handled a few different 1lb-1.25lb hatchets and this one felt much heavier so may have actualy been 1.5lbs.
      I'm certain that Husqvarna lists the hatchet as a 1.25 but I also know that Hultafors (Hults Bruk) also makes a 1.5 hatchet of the same design (it is the Agdor line without polish).
      The Husqvarna axes are (in my oppinion) one of the better deals available, especialy if one is actualy capable of using basic hand tools and polishing a bit themselves as I did on the edge and poll.

  2. Jason
    You really put some work into this review and it shows with the excellent results. A joy to read!
    Couple of things The steel is recycled according to a video I watched. I think that's great! The head on this is the same as the one on the Kubben axe from what I found out and am interested in.

    When I look at your tests they sure are all pretty close and
    I would be happy with any of the axes out in the bush.
    But that's where the GB stands out with the folklore and history and elves and Bilbo...Reputation warranty etc.
    Lord of the Rings is a favorite movie of mine. I read the hobbit long ago and far away...
    Keep up the good work!

  3. Nice review Jason. A fine hatchet is truly a wonderful tool to have. I know that would be my choice in the "One Tool" scenario. I've never tried this one but it looks great and performs well. Also keeping in mind it a 1 lb. head instead 1.25lb head that you see in most hatchets this is compared to. So you're getting a lot of performance out of the weight.

    1. Outdoor, thanks for the comment. I agree, this would be the one tool I'd want to grab in that scenario. The one pound head, as you mentioned, performs very well, while also saving pack weight. It also makes it less fatiguing to use all day.

    2. I bet. Well if you're really really sold on the fiskars hatchet you know where to send the GB so it will be appreciated ;)

    3. Haha, keeping the Gransfors, but I'll keep that in mind!

    4. Keep using the GB, that way the fiskars will end up stuck in a dead tree used as nothing more than a coat hanger around camp :)

      Sorry I just can't come around to plastic, eesh!

  4. I'll also add a good word for Ben. I've bought from his store, service and products were all good.

  5. Haha, keeping the Gransfors, but I'll keep that in mind!

  6. As I am new to buschcraft I only learned about Gransfors Bruks a few months ago. but since I had only seen pictures, and never hefted one in my own hand, I didn't "get" what all the fuss was about. I received my own Scandinavian Forest Axe a few days ago and now I do "get" it. What a beautiful and high quality tool.