Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tools of the Trade

Cold Steel Trail Hawk

Head weight:  12.6 oz.
Handle weight:  10 oz.
Total weight:  1 lb. 6.6 oz.
Head length:  6.75"
Cutting surface:  2.5"
Handle length:  21.75"
Price:  $36.99, plus shipping

My Trail Hawk in the foreground, and Mojo Slim's in the background.
During a recent extended weekend of backcountry skiing and winter camping in the central Colorado Rockies, I had a chance to look at several splitting axes, hatchets, and tomahawks. This was also the first time I had a chance to take out my Cold Steel Trail Hawk. Some months ago I had purchased the Trail Hawk, and I spent some time customizing it. This work included applying an antique patina to the head, using mustard, vinegar, and paper towels. This process is explained here, and a number of other sources.  I also removed the set screw that attaches the head to the handle, smoothed and flame colored the handle, and applied a coffee grounds and stain finish. It took quite a bit of time with wet/dry sandpaper and steel wool to finally get the head in the shape and finish I wanted, but I think it turned out pretty well. The final step was to sharpen the head shaving sharp with wet/dry sandpaper and a mouse pad. I am not completely satisfied with the handle, but it’s quite functional and will work until I can finish a new handle.

Two Cold Steel Trail Hawks during some recent backcountry testing (above) and some of the tools we had in camp (below).

Why in the world would a lightweight backpacker carry a tomahawk? I’ll make a short story long. For some of my summer rambles I wouldn’t take it at all. These are my lightest weight trips. All I ever need are my own two hands to break off squaw wood to feed a tiny fire, or at the most my feet to stomp thumb-sized wood into pieces for my Emberlit UL stove, my Kifaru wood stove, or a tiny campfire if there’s a fire ring. BUT, I also venture out into what I call “shoulder season”. Early spring and late fall. For those times, I need a way to split up arm-sized pieces of wood that I’ve cut with my Fast Bucksaw or my Corona folding saw. I’ll be found carrying a larger Kifaru wood stove…either a small stove or a medium stove. Having the ability to split those arm-sized pieces of wood in half is a must. In late fall I’m also out hunting deer and elk, and having a ‘hawk with which to split the pelvis of a big bull is pretty handy. Couple all of that with the ability to pound tent pegs with the hammer poll, and you have a very handy backcountry tool. Move even later in the year when I’m winter camping and backcountry skiing alone or with one partner, and the ’hawk really comes into its own. Burning a Kifaru large stove in my Sawtooth shelter, I can take rounds of beetle killed lodgepole pine or dead standing aspen, up to 5” in diameter, and split them up with the Trail Hawk. Winter camping with nighttime temps dropping down below zero requires a LOT of stove wood. I have been pleased with the velocity at which I can split wood, provided by a longish handle and a relatively light head. The Trail Hawk will also split up kindling just as well as my Gransfors-Bruks Mini Hatchet, but at a fraction of the cost of the latter. I also have the ability to easily remove the head from the handle if I want to make wood shavings for tinder, using the head as a hand tool. I plan to carry my Trail Hawk on many more backcountry trips!

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