Monday, March 24, 2014

Gransfors Bruk Axe Review - Part 1

Not just any axe, a Gransfors Bruk axe.

As a kid, I loved being outdoors, but that was only one part of the equation. The other part was the dreamer, aspiring to be some rugged outdoorsman, carving out a meagre existence in the cruel wilderness. Seared into my impressionable head as a kid, was the iconic image of a woodsman holding an axe, much like Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett. It seemed to me to be the pre-eminent tool, for anyone wanting to embrace, live and survive in the wilderness. I wanted to be like them, and of course, that meant I 
had to have an axe too.

That was, and still is me. Forever the dreamer.

Well, many years have passed since, and my notion of a woodsman going hand-in-hand with an axe was crushed. I found out in time, that axes are not as heralded now as a must-have tool when heading into the bush, as they once were. I fondly, or maybe painfully remember heading out on a backpacking trip with an axe for the first time. I was proud as ever to purchase my first axe, a hatchet. There were few words to describe the feelings and elations of ruggedness that coursed through my blood having it hang from my waist. My childhood dream almost came true, until I used it for the first time. Without so much as an understanding of how to properly use it, or what it was for, I took it with the all-knowing assumption that it was to provide firewood, and lots of it. Little did I know.

Yup, if you believe, I still have the first axe I purchased.
I bit rough looking, but still very usable.

Yes, they are primarily a tool to cut wood, but not often just on its own. If you can imagine, my first mistake was hauling in a big log. (Big wood = big fire.) Chopping away, what seemed like forever was brutal. Sweating and cursing, I started to imagine the legendary woodsman as powerful demi-gods. After finally getting through my first cut, I looked at the log incredulously. How did they do it? I wasn't going to give up that easy, so I swung again vigorously. There is something to be said about the correlation between how youthfulness can make up for the lack of logic. (Thankfully, even though age hasn't made me stronger, it certainly has made me smarter.) I eventually got through the second cut, and finally had my first piece - yay! However, then came the splitting part. I quickly realized that hatchets aren't made for that, especially with a sizeable log. No matter how hard I swung, I couldn't get it to split. I sat that evening dejected around a cold fire pit, but learned some very valuable lessons. First and foremost being, that you don't need an axe to enjoy the wilderness, nor have a fire.

One of many fires enjoyed on a canoe
trip, without an axe.

Many years passed since that trip, with no axes in sight. Various types and styles of saws now accompanied me throughout the proceeding years. Then one year, the flame was re-ignited when I met a new paddling friend. On our first trip together, he brought an axe, and opened my eyes to the possibilities. Not that I was totally oblivious to the things axes could do, as I learned much more about them after that initial trip, but never bothered, as the saws were more than sufficient for my needs. But seeing how my friend put that axe to work, showing me what it could do, and where/when it was best to have one, I was duly impressed. Leaving that trip, I was not only convinced, but seriously considering getting an axe again. I had come full circle, and now was back where I started.

My friend Ben demonstrating what he could
do with his axe. (And yes, this
was on a canoe trip!)

Since them, I've purchased 2 axes and take them regularly on canoe trips. What a difference compared to my initial experience, especially when you know what to do with it. Owning an axe is only one part of the equation, the other, having the skill-set and knowledge of what it can do - of which I was sorely lacking years ago. Sure, I will still admit, they are not essential to have on a canoe trip, but depending on circumstances, they can be. For me personally, they've become an essential part of my kit. I find myself in many circumstances and conditions that warrant its need and use, so like how a paddle is essential to canoe, so is my axe essential to my needs in the bush.

On this canoe trip years ago, without an axe, I wouldn't be
warming beside a fire with all the rain, sleet, 
and then snow I got.

A couple years ago, I was introduced to one of the owners of The Canadian Outdoor Equipment Company, Chris Scerri. We had crossed paths a few times at trade shows, spoken of our interest and passions, and came to discussing opportunities. If you've ever seen their booth, or their shop, it would make any hardened outdoor warrior drool. It is filled with 'earthy' high quality outdoor gear that seems to fuse better with the sense of wilderness, than many of the other big box gear stores. With many subtle neutral tones in the colour of their products, tools and gear that have lots of wood, carbon, or wool, it just feels like - being in the woods. No GoreTex, bright flashy colours, or much plastic. The Canadian Outdoor Equipment store feels like the real deal, because in fact it is.

Inside of The Canadian Outdoor Equipment Company store.
Literally eye candy for the outdoor enthusiast!

One of those discussions with Chris was about me testing some of their fine gear and reviewing it for them - one of them consequently being a Gransfors Bruk axe. Have you seen their famed wall of axes? Not only are all those axes gorgeous, but they look plain intimidating as well, especially the double-sided ones. If you haven't had the chance to hold one of these beauties, I urge you to. They quite simply exude beauty, precision, and craftsmanship. There are axes, and then there's Gransfors Bruk axes. To hold one is to tease, and to use one is to savour - they are practically works of art. They are not cheap either, but neither is a prime steak, or a BMW. I think you get the idea. Simply put, they are premium tools for the hardened adventurer that accepts no compromise.

The wall of Gransfors Bruk axes. Once you get to hold one, bet
you'll find it hard to leave without one!

With any axe purchase, the best thing to do is talk with the staff. There are a various assortment of axes - styles, sizes, and features that are tooled for a specific purpose. You don't buy running shoes for a backpacking trip, nor would you buy a two bladed axe for a backpacking trip either. Tailoring an axe to your activity is key to your comfort and enjoyment, but also knowing you have the right tool for the right purpose. 

You got it, a Gransfors Bruk Small Forest Axe.
Forged by fire, to give you fire.

After hearing about the trips I do, and the situation I sometimes get myself into, Chris had the perfect axe for me, a Gransfors Bruk Small Forest Axe. I stood in awe admiring the solid wood handle, the polished axe head, and the snug leather sheath. I left the store with a sense of grandiose. Like how I recalled feeling years ago when I purchased my first axe. This time, it was a bit different, knowing what I could do with it and how it could be used. Maybe it's a guy thing, but holding this finely crafted tool in my hands, had me emoting a sense of confidence and power, like I was some unstoppable bushman. Then my wife broke my reverie, as she reminded me about getting her something to drink. Right, take the wallet to the convenience store, not the axe.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I finally get to put the axe through it's paces. And no, NOT at the convenience store!

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