Woods Monkey splits some fur with 150 years of old world German Craftsmanship using the Helko Vario 2000 line of axes! Helko has a long history of producing excellent tools for the working woodsman. From their Classic series, to the revolutionary Vario 2000 series, they have been a leader in the European forests. Woods Monkey received the Vario 2000 hatchet for review from Axe Specialists. The Vario hatchet comes in two options, a 15.7 inch ash handled version with a head weighing 1.3lbs, and a 17.7 inch hickory handled version with a head weighing 1.75 lbs.
Unlike the one piece head of a traditional ax, the Vario 2000 line use a patented screw system that runs two bolts through a aluminum retaining cap, through the handle, and into the head of the blade. The design makes it easy to change out broken handles, or switch between the different handle lengths of the other models. The heads are also interchangeable with Helko’s synthetic handles Tomahawk line of axes. The Hatchet is the only model that does not come with an over strike protector, but it is easy to add one if you so desire. The Vario 2000 also comes with a leather edge guard that is riveted at the stress points and uses an elastic band to wrap around the back of the handle.
The first thing I noticed upon opening the package containing the Vario was the aluminum strike plate and bolts running through the handle. I’m used to traditional styles, so this seemed very odd to me. Looking it over I noticed that there were some warnings printed in pictograph on the handle. No using the head as a hammer for wedges, no pounding it through a log, and no twisting of the handle side to side to free it from being stuck. All those warnings made it seem kind of fragile, but don’t always go by your first impressions. The high carbon steel head was lawyer sharp, but some time with a file and a whet stone produced a nice sharp edge. Helko’s website lists a Rockwell hardness ranging 47-56 HRC in the carbon steel head, and I think mine was in the 54 range. The file was able to cut it, but it took a bit of work. This helped with edge retention, but can make it a bit brittle. I worried about this due to the design of the Hatchet, with the bolts possibly shearing off, but Helko claims that this is a safer design that will not allow the head to come off during use.
I used the Vario 2000 on a recent trip where it was put to work chopping up dead fall, and splitting some of the small diameter fire wood. It was also used to chop some fine shavings for kindling off of the deadfall. The weight of the head made short work of both the felling and the splitting, and by choking up on the head there was plenty of control for that fine work. The pine and dogwood we burned that weekend were well within the Vario 2000’s abilities.
The handle feels good in hand, with a pleasant shape, and the thickness is about right for my small paws. I find a lot of handles are either too small or way too big, and the Helko falls perfectly in between the extremes which I found very controllable. It was also easy to choke up on the handle for that fine work. The head is pretty weighty, and I did not feel I would need to do more than guide the ax into the cut, which is the correct way to use a chopping tool. Trying to muscle it causes miss strikes, and fatigue quicker than allowing the weight of the ax to do to the work. The blade seems hollow ground to me, which means it is more of a cutting design than a splitting design. I did do some light splitting with it, and with the weight of the head, it is by no means a bad splitter. I did find that the hollow grind would cause it to occasionally stick, but a quick flick up on the handle would normally free the blade.
I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t use the poll to hammer with. I use my hatchets for pounding in tent stakes, or if it’s stuck, taking another log and pounding it through. With the aluminum plate on the back, it seemed to take away from a lot of the functions of a hatchet or ax. I am still not sold on the whole idea for changing out the handles. It just seems overly complicated, and requires a hex key to take it down. The hatchet did not come with one, and I didn’t have the correct size in my woods kit to take it down. This would mean one more thing to carry, and frankly, I carry enough already. Now your average monkey would probably just go buy another ax instead of carrying another handle or two, but I can see how a professional arborist or logger would appreciate a quick change of a broken handle without having to completely reprofile, and resharpen the ax.
Overall, I like the weight and feel of the Helko Vario 2000. It swings well, and bites deep, but the Vario is not my idea of an ideal ax. The parts required for the interchangeability take away some of the usefulness in my mind. I can see it making a great carving ax, especially with the head finely sharpened, and the comfort when you choke up on the handle.
The Vario 2000 Hatchet retails for around 60 dollars on the Helko and Axe Specialists websites. Axe Specialists also carries replacement heads and handles for the Hatchet as well as other Helko axes. If you are looking for a quality ax that cuts like a dream and has easy to replace handles, then the Helko Vario 2000 Hatchet is right up your tree.