Axes are very useful tools here in the north where campfires, bonfires and wood stoves are a big part of life. Everybody has at least one tucked away somewhere. I recently did an inventory and found that I had 11 or so, including mauls, splitters and chopping heads.

I was a bit surprised by that number, but one in the truck, another in the boat, one one on the snowmobile and one in the meat care bag leaves me only seven or eight to justify. Those remaining are split between the cabin and our home. One thing I do not have is a hatchet, as I’ve never thought them to be very useful and always found them easy to injure myself with.

Also, a light, longer handled axe will do more than a hatchet and is less likely to hurt yourself with. Good quality axes or splitters/mauls are common at garage sales and cost next to nothing.

I recently did a review of what is available in Whitehorse and found products from Mexico, China, Canada, the U.S. and Finland. Replacement handles were commonly a product of Mexico and did not identify the type of wood used.

The Mexican and Chinese products were remarkably similar in appearance to the more expensive Canadian and Finnish products and were about half the price. I would guess the lower price indicates a lower quality, which is a very important consideration in a tool like an axe. A shattered handle or a loose axe-head flying through the air can lead to a very dangerous situation – possibly many miles from help.

Also, a cheaper axe is probably using lower quality steel in the head so it will dull very quickly. A higher quality axe will need the axe-file less frequently so it will get more wood split in the same length of time.

A Canadian product that looked good was a “Canadian Style” made in Quebec. It’s wooden handled, 2 ¼ pound, with a handle about 24” and priced at about $43.

I closely examined – but fought off the temptation to buy – one of the made-in-Finland “Fiskars” models. I have been in camp a number of times where one of these axes was used and available to me to try.

If I was buying an axe I would grab one of these right away. They are available in a wide headed, 36” handled splitter at about $80. A lighter 23” handled splitter is priced at about $70. Both sizes of splitters have wide “V” shaped heads with a razor sharp cutting edge. Both of these models readily split wood that is bigger than you might try with a different axe.

Fiskars also produces a 30” handled chopping model priced at about $70. These axes use a manufactured material rather than wood for the handles. The handles are also hollow, which helps keep the axe light in weight but still balanced well.

Safety is important with any of these very sharp tools, so it is important to learn and practice basic rules of safe use and handling. There are some proper techniques, which are easily mastered, that will keep you and the people around you free from injury and warm by the fire.

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