I have always liked an axe as a woods tool and have never felt unprepared with one by my side. Paired with a nice belt knife and a small saw or pocket knife, the woodsman has all the tools he needs to not only survive but thrive in the woods. Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some woods time with a new favorite.
Photo accessed from www.traditionalwoodworker.com
The focus of this review is the Iltis Oxhead Small Forest Axe. Purchased through the Traditional Woodworker (www.traditionalwoodworker.com) for $89.95, the Iltis required blade sharpening and touch up for the best performance. The axe was shipped to Scott Gossman of Gossman Knives for full convexing and some tender loving care. When I received it, I was very impressed with its heft. This is no small axe. With a 5.5â€? blade, this axe has serious bite potential. The shape of the head is a traditional German forest axe design and not too common here in the United States. The edge is ground thin and is only .25â€? thick up to 3 inches from the cutting edge. The German Steel is hardened to 56-58 Rockwell C. Overall, the axe is 27â€? long. This is the perfect sized axe in my opinion. Full-size felling axes that are almost 3â€™ long can be too long to pack into the woods. This size is very practical and just big enough for large chopping tasks. On the other hand, it is small enough to wield all day and not become fatigued.
I have never been a fan of basement or factory â€œdestructionâ€? tests. Chopping concrete does absolutely nothing for me. A true test is found in the timber and only real world experience can take chopping/cutting theory and put it into practice. Iâ€™m not going to tell anyone to stop doing this. If it makes you happy, Iâ€™m happy for you. I will, however, invite these testers out in the woods with me and weâ€™ll see what lasts longer in the cold, the tools or the men who beat on them.
My test for this axe came on a winter camping trip in the North woods of New York. This hardwood forest had a mixture of beech, maple, plum and oak. There was no shortage of standing dead trees with varying diameters. After the campfire was started, we focused on gathering main fuel and this meant the axes were taken out. Large knives might handle small branches and trees but in a survival situation, a full-sized axe would be ideal. A person will burn more calories chopping with a big blade than swinging an axe. The axeâ€™s weight works for you while the knife requires more power put behind it. My Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe is lighter than the Oxhead but I didnâ€™t mind carrying the extra weight as the trade off was better cutting ability. After 3 days in the woods, this axe earned my respect.
The head is secured with two conical pins. This is by far the best way to secure an axe head short of molding a composite handle around it like the Fiskars lineup. In using the Oxhead all weekend in a hardwood forest, there was absolutely no play in the head at all. This axe was used to fell trees and split sawed sections of wood. In a pinch, the poll was used to hammer tent pegs into the frozen ground. Again, not a single wiggle in the axe head with almost continual use in firewood prep. Everyone who used the axe commented how well balanced it was and how it cut and chopped effortlessly.
I was shocked when I examined the grain alignment of the handle. Even though the handle is a beautiful piece of American Hickory, the grain was almost perpendicular to the cutting edge. When selecting an axe or hatchet, one should always look for the grain of the wood to be almost parallel with the cutting edge for maximum strength. I was worried the use this weekend would cause fractures in the wood or even worse. I was pleasantly surprised when the axe handled all tasks with ease and showed no signs of wear. In this case, the looks of the axe handle were deceiving. Hopefully, the axe will continue to impress me as I have no reason to believe otherwise.
In conclusion, the Iltis Oxhead Axe was a true champ. The only problem I encountered with the axe was a small .75â€? roll in the blade after felling a 12â€? diameter shad plum tree. Iâ€™m going to take the blame on this one as I might have pried the axe out of wood instead of wiggling the head back and forth to release it. The roll was fixed with the spine of my belt knife and the axe continued to cut with no noticeable difference. If this is the only problem encountered, I can live with it.
If you have wanted a quality axe that will handle anything a woodsman can encounter, you will be very satisfied with the Iltis Oxhead. If you are just learning axe craft, Iâ€™d suggest getting a Fiskars full-size felling axe and learn technique first. If you are experienced and want a practical tool that wonâ€™t break the bank, go with the Oxhead. An axe can be just as valuable, even more valuable than your belt knife. Pick one and treat it right as it might end up treating you right when you need it to.