Thursday, April 4, 2013

Quick Review: Council Tool Boy's Axe, US Forest Service Edition- UPDATED

If you're a fan of Council Tool axes, this is the one to grab before they go bye-bye. Council has decided to sell their last remaining stock of US Forest Service Spec'd Boy's Axes, which feature a higher level of quality control and a better bit profile than Council's standard Boy's Axe.

The Forest Service Edition also ditches Council's ill-conceived aluminum wedge for a more stable plastic wedge. In addition, the head is epoxied to the handle for additional strength.

Here's a direct link to the Forest Service's Single and Double Bit Axe Specification Sheet if you're curious to find out more about their standards.


Overall length: 28" Listed on Council's website, review sample measured in at 27.5"
Head Weight: 2.25lbs
Overall Weight: 48.9 Ounces (as measured on a digital postal scale)
Handle Type: Grade "A" American Shagbark Hickory
Country of Origin: Made in Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina USA
Price: $45.00 (USD)
Warranty: None

The Forest Service specifies that the overall quality of the handle and alignment be as close to perfect as possible (Council advertises in their product description that these axes come with Grade "A" handles). On this particular sample, the quality of the wood, grain direction and alignment seem to confirm this.

These same specs also call for the handle to be protected by a thin coat of lacquer. This may surprise some readers, but if done right, like on this axe, it can actually work pretty well. No, it's not going to compete with a beeswax and linseed treated handle like on a Gransfors Bruks axe, but it works well enough that many people may not even notice it.

The handle is also slightly thinner and more contoured than a standard Council Boy's Axe, and highly reminiscent of vintage axe handles.

On the cutting edge, the Forest Service calls for a Rockwell Hardness of between 54-58RC, while Council's internal standards call for a bit hardness of between 48-55RC. On this particular sample, I think Council's softer standards won out. If I had to guess, this axe is no harder than 51-53RC, based on my experience sharpening it. In fact, the steel didn't seem any harder than the 9 other Council Tool axes I've owned/reviewed over the last few years.

The Boy's Axe FSS's out-of the-box sharpness was slightly better than other Council Tool axes I've used, but definitely not razor sharp. This isn't surprising, since the Forest Service prefers to do their own axe sharpening in-house.

Size comparison next to a Husqvarna Forest Axe (left) and a Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe (right)

Profile Comparison between a Wetterlings 2012 Swedish Forest Axe (Left) and a Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe (Right).


In spite of the soft steel, I feel that this is the best axe Council has to offer outside of their Velvicut line. For $45, you get a Forest Service spec'd Boy's Axe with upgraded build quality, along with a straightly-aligned Class "A" hickory handle. I did perform some off-the-camera chopping with it and it performed well, though edge holding wasn't as good as my Swedish and Vintage American axes. For people that live in very cold places, the softer steel could be a good thing, since it should be more chip and break resistant.

I really liked the handle, and it felt very comfortable in the hand. The lacquer was thinly applied and nicely done, so I didn't find myself longing for a raw, linseed-oiled handle as much I would have thought. As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, these are unsold leftovers from a previous Forest Service contract with Council, so I'd grab one before they sell out.

April 4, 2013 UPDATE- Please disregard our comment below which said that the Boy's Axe FSS was back in production. Council Tool has informed us that the Council Tool FSS Boy's Axe is now officially discontinued. Apparently, Council lost the military contract for this axe, and they will also be coming out with a new Velvicut version of this axe sometime in late Spring. These factors seemed to influenced their decision to stop production. The Velvicut version is expected to cost the same price as the existing Velvicut Hudson Bay Axe.

This is too bad, as I feel that this axe could be a classic in Council Tool's line. I was informed that there are only 30-50 of these left between Bailey's, Omaha Knife and Council Tool, so if you've been wanting one, better grab one while you can.

UPDATE 2-  REVIEW: The Council Tool Boy's Axe - US Forest Service edition, is back!

4 out of 5 Stars (Recommended)

About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He 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, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as 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. UPDATE- Council Tool has raised the price of the FSS model back up to their original price of $58.95. Council also informed us that they will continue to produce these due their signing a contract with the US Military to provide FSS Boy's Axes. 

    I have used this axe some more recently, and I still think it's Council Tool's best axe outside of the Velvicut line. Even with the price increase, I'm going to stick with our 4 out 5 stars recommendation. It's an axe that I would feel confident enough to stake my life on during backcountry winter excursions, and I think that speaks for itself.