REVIEW: Gransfors Mini Belt Hatchet
ABOVE: Gransfors Axes: Top to Bottom: Small Forest Ax, Wildlife Hatchet, Mini Belt Hatchet.
BOTTOM: Lennart Petterson making a Mini Belt Hatchet
It's small and light and perfectly balanced. It can sharpen a pencil to a piercing point, slice a tomato paper thin, and shave the print right off this page. It will frizz fuzz sticks for tinder, cut fine kindling and split small logs. It will fillet a fish, skin a moose, hack through bone, tenderize a steak, turn your pancakes, spread jam and peanut butter, pound tent stakes and chop vegetables. And it will ride as lightly on your hip as the average hunting knife. No, it's not a secret Air Force survival tool; it's the Gransfors mini belt hatchet!
My first impression of this little ax was "It is soooo cute; but is it practical? Now, after several years of using it, my take is "Wow--this miniature hatchet does it all!" Indeed, it has become my favorite ax for go-light canoe trips.
Check the specs below and you'll see that the hatchet is almost small enough to qualify as a miniature. But use it for serious work and you'll discover it's no toy. Nearly everyone who has seen this little axe reacts in the same way: first they smile, then they turn the tool over repeatedly in their hands, marveling at the rugged whisker-sharp edge and well-designed (artistic) oiled hickory handle. They approve of the hammer-forged marks on the head and the brightly polished poll which functions as a "priest" for administering the coup de gras to fresh caught fish. One hunter observed that the handle appeared to be molded to the head. "Fits like a custom gun- stock," he said.
*When they have seen enough, they ask, "Where can I get one?"
So what is so compelling about a tiny belt axe that weighs less than a pound? If you're old enough to remember the Marble Safety axe, you know. But the Gransfors copies nothing: it is a brilliant new design. Here's how this mini-axe compares to the full-sized Gransfors Wildlife hatchet.
MINI BELT HATCHET GRANSFORS WILDLIFE HATCHET
Weight: 11.3 oz 1 lb. 8 oz.
Length 10.25 inches 14.5 inches
Cutting edge length 2.5 inches 3.0 inches
Length of head 4.25 inches 5.25 inches
Poll width 0.625 inches 0.75 INCHES
Poll length 1.2 inches 1.5 INCHES
The mini-hatchet is built like every other Gransfors model—solid! The high carbon Swedish steel blade is hardened to 57Rc, which is nearly as hard as a good knife, and much harder than most store bought axes. It comes from the factory shaving sharp, and with a good-looking, full-grain (one-eighth inch thick!) riveted leather sheath.
The head is secured to the handle in a unique way: It is driven in tightly (form fit) until it protrudes about one-eighth inch beyond the head. Then, a wooden wedge is driven in. The wedge expands the handle and the part that protrudes, in effect, producing a reverse taper (similar to the handle on a tomahawk). Then, the two wide metal "cheeks" on the head are pounded tightly to the wood. The result is a metal-to-wood bond that should never come loose. There's no need for epoxy or metal wedges to make up for sloppy workmanship.
The Swedish name for this little axe is Gransfors Lilla Yxa, which means Gransfors Little Hatchet. But Lennart Pettersson, the blacksmith who designed it—calls it my "Instead-of-my-knife hatchet" which, I think is a more descriptive name.
Grasp it lightly just behind the head and you have an Eskimo ulu—one that will chop chicken salad and slice meat and vegetables into wispy strips. It will even cut cheese into respectfully thin slices!
Choke the handle as above but reverse the blade and you have a powerful draw knife that wisks through kindling. Hack away in the usual manner and it splits wood better than many axes that are twice its weight and size. The secret is the fine, knife-like edge that tapers progressively to the fairly beefy (0.625") poll—this ain't no simple "wedge grind"! Note that the end of the handle is cut at a 45 degree angle ("chopped tail") to facilitate a two-hand hold. The little axe will slash through large logs fast if you power with both your arms.
The hatchet is a surprisingly effective wood splitter: I can easily split foot long, five inch diameter maple rounds by setting the axe head lightly into the end grain, then pounding the head on through with a chunk of wood. Try that with a typical thin-bladed hunter's hatchet!
The Mini belt axe is the brain child of 54 year old Swedish black smith, Lennart Petterson who, like his father before him, has worked for Gransfors Bruks his whole life. Lennart lives in a small house within walking distance of the Axe forge. He loves the outdoors and is passionate about fly-fishing and ice-fishing. He also enjoys making knives, some of which have won awards in Sweden. For years, Lennart dreamed of one compact tool that would function as both knife and axe. It should be light and small and ride safely on the belt, secured by a sturdy leather sheath and safety strap. It took Lennart two years to perfect and build his dream. He even desgined the specially shaped handle.
The roots of Lennart's mini-hatchet go back to the time when native Americans and their tomahawk's ruled the land. In the 16th century, the French began trading axes with the Indians, who didn't like 'em much, because they were constantly on the move and preferred smaller, lighter tools. The belt axe, which was about two pounds lighter and somewhat narrower than the heavier camp axe, was introduced about 1700, and it became the "trade axe" of the day. Ultimately, the Belt Axe was put on a diet and transformed into the tomahawk which survives today. (similar evolution occurred with the popular lightweight trade musket).
It's interesting to note that modern outdoors people usually view the tomahawk as more of a fighting tool than one for wilderness survival. But on the frontier, the tomahawk had equal status with the rifle. Indeed, an 18th century journalist once asked Simon Kenton, a contemporary and close friend of Daniel Boone, what one tool he would choose if he had to cross the "dark and bloody ground" (Kentucky) alone. Simon replied: "Either my rifle or my tommyhawk; I'd have to think on it."
The Gransfors Mini belt axe is neither tomahawk nor scaled down hatchet. It is a functional, fresh design that mimics nothing. Lennart Petterson says these little hatchets are extremely difficult to make. The problem is forging the huge hole in the small head which requires great skill—akin to forging (not laser-cutting) a knife with a giant cut-out in the center. At this writing, Petterson is the only smith at Gransfors who has the skill to make these tiny axes. With this in mind, the $160 price is a bargain for what is, essentially, a "custom forged belt axe".
Available from Piragis Northwoods Co.