An ultralight small forest axe? Hardly, but to my way of thinking, every ounce that I carry has to pay its way, and the weight that a good axe adds to my overall pack weight is well worth the effort. I got my Gränsfors Bruks Small Forest Axe from Ben's Backwoods and have been using it for several months. It is as razor sharp now as it was the day that I got it.
Gränsfors Bruks is a small Swedish family operated company formed in 1902. Ever since it was founded the company has been making axes and crowbars of the finest quality. The smiths at Gränsfors Bruk are famous for their skill. The axes and the production of axes at Gränsfors Bruks today are based on the following five fundamental principles:
- An axe becomes as good as its smith. There has to be a craftsman behind every single axe.
- Unnecessary stoning, grinding, epoxy fixing, painting, and other cosmetics are eliminated. This is good for the environment, inside and outside the factory.
- More sensible production demands less natural resources at the same time as the quality and durability of the axe increases. Also, increased durability will decrease the total consumption of natural resources and decrease waste.
- We have an unlimited responsibility for Total Quality. Working conditions, product quality and concern for nature are some parts of the Total; humanity and ethics are as important.
- High level of knowledge of a product will increase its value.
Weighing in at 2lb 2.5oz, the Gränsfors Bruks Small Forest Axe (SFA) is definitely not like any of my other light weight, multi-tasking backpacking equipment that's for sure. However, I guarantee that you will use a heck of a lot more energy to split your firewood without an axe than you ever would by carrying an axe. It can also be used as a backup knife and hammer if required. A good axe, a well balanced, sharp, hand-crafted axe, is actually a delight to use and carry. Hand forged axes are also typically much lighter than their mass-produced drop forged counterparts. Not to mention the SFA is a truly beautiful piece of craftsmanship, made by experienced axe-smiths.
- Head weight 24 oz.
- Face width 3.25"
- Hickory handle soaked in linseed oil
- Handle length 19"
- Comes with "The Axe Book" (.pdf link)
- Split grain leather sheath
- 20-Year guarantee
Each axe head is individually hand forged by professional axe-smiths. They take great care in the forging process of each axe so that the finished piece requires no grinding, smoothing, or painting to eliminate imperfections. The smiths at Gränsfors Bruks have nothing to hide and are extremely proud of their craft. So much so, that when they are happy with their work and have accepted the final axe, they mark the head with their initials beside the company's GBA crown stamp. The initials 'KS' indicate that my axe was hand forged by Kjell-Åke Sjölund.
Each axe comes with a copy of "The Axe Book" which not only gives care and maintenance information, but also a history of the Gränsfors Bruks company (from 1910), anatomy of the axe, a guide to cutting and storing firewood, limbing logs, making a fire (indoors and in the field), axe throwing, and even making logs for log cabins.
The axe head is firmly attached to the handle by use of a wide wooden wedge as seen in the photograph above. The wooden wedge is then held in place by a smaller three-legged steel wedge that is hammered in at an angle across the wooden wedge. I've been using my SFA for common camping tasks like splitting logs and cutting firewood for quite some time, as you can tell by the wear marks in the photos, but there is absolutely no wobble or give in the head or handle. The quality and attention to detail is evident at every turn.
One of my favorite things about the SFA is the hickory handle. It's almost perfectly shaped to fit my hand and is superbly balanced against the weight of the head. It's soaked/treated using linseed oil and then wiped clean so that it doesn't feel greasy. Unlike varnished or lacquered handles, this one won't cause you to lose your grip or get blisters on your hands from repeated heavy use.
I've found that the length of the handle allows for pretty powerful chopping, but is still not too long to fit into a backpack or be strapped to the outside of my pack without sticking out. You can actually attach the axe to your belt by tucking the leather sheath's retaining strap underneath your belt and securing the snapper, but I still prefer to carry it in or outside my pack.
After taking such great care to make a beautiful and highly functional axe, Gränsfors Bruks make sure that it lasts for as long as possible by providing a nicely fitting leather sheath. The sheath has a strap that wraps around the back of the axe poll and snaps closed to keep it securely in place. The leather used for my axe's sheath was definitely of high grade, but I noticed it was rather dry, or at least drier than I thought it should be. So I gave mine a few coats of neutral colored shoe polish using a clean cloth and that seemed to soak in to the leather and make it much more supple.
There is a lanyard hole on the end of the hickory handle that you could thread a cord or thin leather strap through if desired. I haven't bothered to do that yet because I really haven't found the need for a lanyard on an axe, but it's nice to have the option.
I had read many wonderful reviews of the SFA and was somewhat worried that the hype would set my expectations too high or spoil my experience with this little axe. I'm happy to say that the reviews were absolutely spot on in every way. This is a superbly well made axe that will easily last you a lifetime if you look after it. It's the type of gear that can be handed down to future generations and continue to perform as well as the day it was bought.
If you're looking for a small camping or backpacking axe that will be the last one you ever need to buy, then the Gränsfors Bruks Small Forest Axe (SFA) is definitely a contender. If you have this axe and would like to share your experience or opinions, please leave a comment below - I'd love to hear what you think of it.
Disclosure: The author owns this product and paid for it using their own funds.