Tuesday, October 22, 2013

BLOG 57. Gransfors Mini-belt Hatchet Review


by Cliff Jacobson

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 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!
Top to bottom: Gransfors "Small Forest Axe", "Wildlife Hatchet", "Mini Belt Hatchet"
My first impression of this miniature axe was "It’s cute, but is it practical? “Now, after years of use, I can can say,  "Wow—it performs better—yes better!--than most hatchets twice its size!

The Mini belt axe is the brain child of 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.
Three fine Gransfors axes.  Mini Belt-Hatchet (closest)
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 Swedish name for this little axe is Gransfors Lilla Yxa, which means Gransfors Little Hatchet.  But Lennart Petterson calls it my "Instead of my knife hatchet" which, I think is a more descriptive name.

Check the specs below and you'll see that the mini belt hatchet is almost small enough to qualify as a true miniature.  But use it for serious work and you'll discover it's no toy.  Nearly everyone who has seen this little axe reacts the same: first they smile, then they turn it over in their hands, marveling at the rugged whisker-sharp edge and ergonomic (artistic) oiled hickory handle. They nod approval at the hammer-forged marks on the head and the brightly polished poll which functions as a meat tenderizor and "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.  Indeed it does!

Here's how the mini belt axe compares to the standard sized ”Wildlife” hatchet: 

Weight: 11.3 oz
Length: 10.25 inches
Cutting edge (length): 2.5 inches
Length of head: 4.25 inches
Poll width: 0.625 inches
Poll length: 1.2 inches

Weight: 1lb. 8 oz.
Length: 14.5 inches
Cutting edge (length): 3.0 inches
Poll width: 0.75 inches
Poll length: 1.5 inches

The mini-belt ax 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 U.S. axes.  It  comes from the factory shaving sharp, and with a good-looking, full-grain (one-eighth inch thick!) riveted leather sheath. These hatchets are extremely difficult to make. Forging the huge hole in the small head requires great skill—akin to forging (not laser-cutting) a knife with a giant cut-out in the center.

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" (lugs) 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. 
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 reasonably 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.

It is also a surprisingly effective wood splitter:  I can easily split foot long, six inch diameter rounds by setting the axe head lightly into the end grain, then pounding the head on through with a chunk of log.  Try that with a typical thin-bladed hunter's hatchet!

For go light trips where you don’t need to produce a shedful of firewood each night, the little mini belt ax can’t be beat.

NOTE: Check out the complete line of Gransfors Bruks INC axes in stock at the Boundary Waters Catalog.

Gransfors also makes a number of museum-quality, ancient axes, based upon ax heads found during excavations.  Each axe is hand hammer-forged and duplicated as accurately as possible. I am proud to own the four lugged, 7th Century Chopping ax  pictured below.
Seventh Century 4-lugged Chopping ax (museum quality reproduction). Among the first designs to be useful for both fighting and chopping.  Beautiful, isn't it?

A brochure of museum-quality offerings is available from Gransfors. All are custom-order items.
Cliff Jacobson


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