There is a saying attributed to Zen Buddhism that goes “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water”.For those of us who enjoy the solitude of the out of doors, we understand the meaning of this in our bones.The still of the woods and the physical and emotional fulfillment of the simple chores allow your mind to open and relax.
Now don’t get me wrong, I find rest in video games and other electronic media as well (an original Red vs. Blue fan here!), butthere is a whole different level of calm and happiness that is achieved out in the field.And at some point you will ‘chop wood, carry water’.Well a great tool to help you along to enlightenment (or at least a warm campfire) is the X17 Splitting Axe by Fiskars.
The Fiskars name is well known to folks who do their own back yard maintenance, and can be found in just about every major do-it-yourself chain store (for an MSRP of $42.99), but what you may not realize is how useful these tools can be in the field. Whether you are day-packing, setting up an overnight rough site, or heading up to the hunting camp, weight is always a consideration when planning your gear.And if, at some point you intend on prepping for a wood fire, then a good axe is a must.But unless you are planning on sticking close to civilization, you will need to pack a tool that will manage the tasks of chopping, splitting and perhaps even felling, with a minimal weight.Now I wouldn’t want to try and drop a twenty four inch oak with the Fiskars X17 (I guess you could , in the same way you could clean the latrine floor with a toothbrush), but for the small jobs you find around a campsite, this axe will fit the bill.
At a light weight 3.7 pounds, this axe should fit comfortably on your kit. The overall dimensions are 27 inches full length with a 20 ¾ functional handle length. This length gives you a decent swing arc for the 7 ¾ inch head to do its work. The handle is molded around the head, providing a firm attachment. The handle itself is made out of a poly/fiberglass blend and is hollow. This helps to further reduce the overall weight, and shifts the center of gravity further upwards. For a light axe, this is important, as it concentrates the mass at the point of impact. This handle construction provides a firm gripping surface in both wet and dry conditions, and is durable. Fiskars is so confident in this design, they offer a limited lifetime warranty which includes head separation and damage from overstrikes. The forged steel head has a good angle and width too it, making splitting easier. The angle isn’t too wide though, so it will still do a good job on limbing trees and general chopping. The physics behind this is simple; a thinner head will offer less resistance when going through wood, so it will sink in easily. A thicker head will offer more resistance, thus spreading the wood apart faster which is ideal for splitting. The Fiskars X17 offers the middle ground, which is ideal for a multipurpose axe. A final point about the head design is the nice low friction coating. This not only reduces the resistance during a cut, but also provides good corrosion protection to the tool. Finally, the Fiskars X17 comes with a polymer molded axe cover and carrying/storage handle that works great when storing this on the garage or wood shed wall. If you’re planning on taking this in the field however, you will need to craft yourself a cover more appropriate to your kit – yeah, another excuse to play with leather!
As for the actual performance of the axe in use, I was impressed.When I first headed into the tree line, axe in hand, I was a bit skeptical.This axe is light compared to the ones I’m used to using.Thinking that I was going to have difficulty with splitting, I approached the first log thinking that I was going to have to use a stronger swing than usual.I was pretty surprised when not only did I cleanly cleave the maple log I had set up, but I also sunk the head pretty deep into the cherry stand log on the bottom (a bad thing, since this is also the log I use to dish against when doing my blacksmithing… oops). And after few dozen more logs, I was confident that it wasn’t well seasoned wood, but the axe itself that was the deciding factor.This axe was performing well above my expectations, rivaling my light splitting maul.At this point I would like to note I did not do anything to the edge, it came direct from the factory.Taking a moment to test the edge after my splitting, it was taking the wear pretty well considering the taper on it was meant for multi-use, and not pure splitting.I then took it out limbing since I wasn’t sure how well a splitting axe would work for more fine tasks.I’ve tried using my mauls for this (being too lazy to get the hatchet), and have been rewarded with dead strikes and a variety of ricochets that far eclipsed the good shots. I needn’t have required such a wide stance because this little beauty was light enough to allow for accurate strike placement, and the edge cut cleanly through the limbs.Only a little choking up was required, and I tired out much later than I would have if I would have used a heavy maul.Finally I took this to a poor defenseless 6 inch standing dead maple.Again, the lighter weight of the X17 Splitting Axe made for easy and accurate placement.My only issue was that I had to adapt my strikes to hit softer when compared to a dedicated felling axe.This was due to the thicker head, but it wasn’t much of a trade off for an all-in-one tool for a camping situation.
While moving the logs for later processing, I had time to reflect on the performance. While the lack of a functional camping head cover is a drawback, the performance of the Fiskars X17 Splitting Axe more than made up for it. The wedge designed head is good for splitting medium sized logs, while not significantly sacrificing its ability to limb and fell small trees. The next time I’m out in the woods, or need to re-center myself, I’ll probably use the X17 to chop wood, and it will be hanging from my belt while carrying water.
Editor’s Note: I actually really like the new Fiskar’s axe head covers. The locking mechanism on it is pretty slick and I think it covers the head safely and securely. I personally wouldn’t have any problems with using it in the field. Nothing wrong with leather if that’s your preference though and my old Fiskars hatchet wears a JRE leather axe cover from our parent Company JRE Industries to prove it! – Tim
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