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Archive | Bushcraft

Bargain or Just Cheap? – Cold Steel Trail Boss Axe

Welcome to Bargain or Just Cheap? This series will review budget friendly knives for a variety of uses in a short format. All of the knives will cost less than $50 (in most cases, much less) and will be purchased out of my own pocket. I’ll buy them, carry them, and use them in an attempt to determine if the knife is a bargain or just cheap.


It isn’t hard to find an axe at the hardware store but finding one worth owning is another story. There are lots of tools that look like axes but much of the nuance of what makes an axe good has been lost. You can still get great axes but they tend to cost a fortune. Is the Cold Steel Trail Boss an a bargain pack axe for the budget woodsman or is it just cheap?

Specs:

Head weight: 2.5 lbs

Total weight: 2.77 lbs

Overall length: 23″

Steel: Forged 1055

Observations from Use:

The Trail Boss is probably a bit of an odd duck to the axe purist. I have seen its head referred to as a Hudson Bay pattern but it really has more in common with German designs thanks to its larger, fan shaped bit. Its 23″ handle has some shaping but it is mostly straight overall, likely to save cost. It really is a mish-mash of design elements but… it works really, really well.

It is always best to be able to inspect an axe in person when purchasing but I bought this one on Amazon per the rules for this series of reviews. The hang is quite good – straight, tight, with wood pushed out, filling the eye. The handle is quite good too with good grain orientation, no heart wood, run out, etc. I have been able to handle several of these and they have all been quite good.

The Trail Boss carries very light for an axe this size. It is large enough and heavy enough for light felling (especially when used with a compact saw of some kind) and compact enough to lash easily to most overnight or larger bags. This would be an extremely handy tool for packing into a winter camp.

The bit has nice thin cheeks which is surprising on an inexpensive axe. The head comes with only a courtesy edge that you will need to finish when the axe arrives but once you do, you will be treated to an axe that bites deep thanks to the efficient shape of its cutting bit. It also splits surprisingly well for a compact axe and splitting is likely the most important thing you will ask of a camp axe. This attention to head geometry is what makes an axe work and what is largely missing from most hardware store axes.

I am not exactly breaking the news that this is a great budget axe so there is already a solid after-market for this axe. That means that if you want an axe mask (bit cover) or sheath, you can easily find them and they aren’t expensive either.

There are still a few things I would change and most of them have to do with the haft. The are of the haft above the flared butt is where users are likely to grip the Trail Boss most often. This area has been left slightly square which can easily be fixed with a rasp or belt sander. It’s odd but also not that uncomfortable. The haft also comes with a lacquer finish. Boiled linseed oil would be preferable as lacquer finishes cause blisters on bare hands but this too is easily fixed… I still haven’t “fixed” mine because it works and I wear gloves.

Bargain or Just Cheap?

The Cold Steel Trail Boss is certainly a BARGAIN. It shows, in its design, an understanding of what makes an axe functional. It won’t have the camp cache of a swedish axe but it also won’t set you back nearly as much and will perform nearly as well. It is functional as delivered and the knowledgeable axeman can really transform it into something special.

I am probably going to buy another one.

I use Amazon as the price base line for this series. All knives (and axes) were purchased by me, from Amazon:

Cold Steel Trail Boss


Our goal is to represent knives for a variety of uses from EDC, to outdoor, to tactical knives. Do you have a favorite affordable knife? Let us know about it in the comments!

The above article contains affiliate links.

Frontier Axe & Tool

I have a confession to make. I like axes, hatchets, and tomahawks (maybe too much) and I am fortunate to live in a place that lets me put them to good use. I even started an Instagram feed (@thedailyaxe) that shares pictures of them which is how I cope with my vice. It is also how I came across Frontier Axe & Tool.

Frontier Axe & Tool sells axes, hatchets, and tomahawks. There are tons of shops selling new axes and tons selling restored vintage axes but Frontier Axe & Tool sells both. Their site has a variety of restored vintage American axes right along side a line of quality, USA-made, newly manufactured axes.

Those new axes, hatchets, and tomahawks are pretty unique and worth a look. The heads are hand forged by H&B Forge. Then Frontier Axe & Tool hangs each one with their own handles, sharpens them, and fits them with a leather axe mask. The quality appears to be excellent. They even go so far as to coat the leather masks with multiple coats of Sno-Seal. The prices on these axes are lower than their high quality imported counterparts and you are getting some solid value for the price considering the included leather mask and hand worked hafts.

Check out Frontier Axe & Tool.

Flat Face Knives Brewhawks

You’ve seen tomahawks with hammer poles and you’ve seen them with spikes. Flat Face Knives makes tomahawks with something even more useful on the opposite side from the cutting bit… a bottle opener. The Brewhawk is a hand forged tomahawk with a very traditional appearance until you notice the bottle opener.

Flat Face Knives makes these in various sizes and they are most easily available directly from the maker on Instagram. You can also check out their work at Arizona Custom Knives.

H&B Forge and Pine Fire GOShawk

Traditional, hand forged tomahawks haven’t changed much over the years but there is new tomahawk available that manages to teach the old workhorse some new tricks. The GOShawk is the result of a collaboration between Michael Herdson at Pine Fire and H&B Forge. It can do everything that a typical hammer pole tomahawk can do but it also boasts a few features that set it apart.

The GOShawk has a .85 pound hammer pole head on 23″ haft. A longer haft can be used to balance a heavier tomahawk head and adds speed to the swing. The head on the GOShawk a mid-weight compared to most tomahawks and when placed on a long handle, it should hit very hard.

In addition to the typical cutting edge, the GOShawk also features a utility edge on the lower edge of the bit. This edge can be used for scraping a ferro rod, tinder preparation, or other tasks that you might not want to risk damage or dulling to your main cutting edge. It also has a relief cut behind the bit that allows the user to get their hand behind the cutting for fine work and makes the head more comfortable to hold when it is off the haft.

Finally, the GOShawk also features a 3/8″ divet that can be used as a bow drill socket. The socket is usually the hardest part of a bow drill set to manufacture in the woods so having one with you, can be a great advantage if you have the skills to use a bow drill.

Check out the GOShawk at H&B Forge.

RMJ Tactical Little Bird 2017

It’s Little Bird season! If you follow the work of RMJ Tactical, you know what I am talking about.

Photo Credit: Rob Orlando

RMJ Tactical’s Little Bird Tomahawk is their way of saying thank you to their customers. It is basically a one-off design that they sell at dealer cost. They are made in limited numbers and often sell out quickly. They have released a Little Bird in 3 of the last 4 years (2014, 2015, and now 2017).

The Little Bird 2017 was just released today and it is limited to about 90 pieces. It sells at $320 including free shipping. This is a considerable discount versus something like an RMJ Jenny Wren which is very similar is size and construction to this latest Little Bird.

This tomahawk is basically an ourdoorsy version of the Jenny Wren. It is nearly identical in size to the venerable Jenny Wren, features a hammer pole, and a false edge on top specifically designed for scraping. It is laser cut and machined from 1/4″ thick 80CRV2 steel and has machined G-10 scales. Like all RMJ Tactical tomahawks, it comes with one of their excellent sheaths with MOC Straps (Low).

These were released at Noon, Eastern time so the clock is ticking. Act fast if you want one.

Little Bird 2017 at RMJ Tactical

Model

Little Bird 2017

Length:

11.75”

Head:

Forward edge: 3.8”

Forward edge to hammer: 4.9”

Steel:

1/4” oversized thickness 80CRV2

Finish:

Tungsten Cerakote

Handle:

Full tang handle design.

G-10 3D machined handle scales.

Handle Color(s):

Black

Hardness:

56-58 HRC

Weight:

24 oz w/o scabbard

30 oz w/ scabbard

Sheath:

Bottom-eject Kydex scabbard with Low Ride MOC Straps (Belt carry) included.

Bargain or Just Cheap? – ESEE Avispa and Zancudo

Welcome to Bargain or Just Cheap? This series reviews budget friendly knives for a variety of uses in a short format. All of the knives will cost less than $50 (in most cases, much less) and will be purchased out of my own pocket. I’ll buy them, carry them, and use them in an attempt to determine if the knife is a bargain or just cheap.


If you are a manufacturer planning to create a budget knife, pay careful attention to what ESEE has done with the Avispa and Zancudo. They’ve kept cost down by getting the important things right and careful material selection. I’ll let the cat out of the bag right up front. These knives are great.

ESEE Avispa D2

Avispa Specs:

Lock: Steel frame lock

Pocket Clip: Left or right, tip up or down

Steel: AUS 8 or D2

Handle: Textured FRN front, steel back

Blade length: 3.5 in.

Blade thickness: .11 in.

Open length: 8.5 in.

Weight: 4.51 oz.

Zancudo Specs:

Lock: Steel frame lock

Pocket Clip: Right pocket only, tip up or down

Steel: AUS 8 or D2

Handle: Textured FRN front, steel back

Blade length: 2.94 in.

Blade thickness: .09 in.

Open length: 7 in.

Weight: 3.06 oz

Observations from Use

Both of these knives do a great job of getting the important things right which leads to knives with great performance and high perceived quality. It is obvious that care goes into ensuring that things like the frame lock, detent, grinds, and ergonomics are dialed in on these knives.

Both knives flick open with ease. They have positive detents and smooth bronze phosphor washers paired with thumb studs that are well placed and easy to find with your thumb. My examples were smooth right out of the box and became even smoother with some use and the tiniest drop of oil on each washer.

I’ve been able to handle several of these knives over the years and they all have incredibly consistent lock up. The frame lock contacts the blade tang at about 75-80% lock up. There is no blade play and plenty of room left to wear in with use. These are well executed frame locks.

These knives cut extremely well! The blades on both knives feature a similar profile. They are drop points with full height flat grinds. The point drops to the center of the blade so much that this is nearly a spear point shape. They cut aggressively thanks to their thinner blade stock and excellent geometry.

Both knives are offered with two steel options: D2 and AUS 8. Flip a coin. They are both good. The AUS 8 is stainless and very easy to sharpen at the cost of some edge holding performance. D2 is a carbon steel (very rust resistant compared to most carbon steels). It offers great edge holding but can be tricky for some people to sharpen. The knives are a good value with AUS 8 steel and an incredible value with D2. It is hard to find other knives with similarly high performance steels at this price.

The FRN scales offers good texture without being tough on your pockets and they are available in about a million color options. Both knives have full steel liners under the FRN scale. The liner is drilled with a series of holes to reduce weight on the Avispa. I wish the same steps were taken with the Zancudo. It could have been a truly lightweight knife.

The ergonomics on both knives are great. The Avispa feels large and hand filling even though it is actually quite slim. The Zancudo is actually smaller than a Spyderco Delica in nearly every dimension yet it still manages to offer a grip that all four fingers will fit and a longer cutting edge. That is truly incredible as someone who has been carrying a Delica for more than 15 years. They fit your hand, are slim in the pocket, and are large enough to do real work.

They’re good but not perfect. The FRN scales can tend to flex away from the steel liner a bit which is a little annoying. The pocket clips will ride directly on the frame lock bar if you switch them around for right pocket tip up carry which can make one handed closing difficult (though still doable). Those are pretty minor gripes considering that even the D2 version of this knife comes in at well under $40.

ESEE Zancudo D2

Bargain or Just Cheap?

The ESEE Avispa and Zancudo may lack gimmicks, flash, and pretense. However, they more than make up for it with cutting performance, ergonomics, and value. There is no doubt. These knives are BARGAINS.

Amazingly, the D2 version of these knives tends to cost only $4-5 more than the AUS 8 version and they are still less than $40. If you are feeling flushed with cash, there are D2 and Carbon Fiber options that still come in under $50!

I am using Amazon as the price base line for this series. All knives were purchased by me from Amazon:

ESEE Avispa on Amazon

ESEE Zancudo on Amazon


Our goal is to represent knives for a variety of uses from EDC, to outdoor, to tactical knives. Do you have a favorite affordable knife? Let us know about it in the comments!

Bargain or Just Cheap? – RUIKE Hornet F815

Welcome to Bargain or Just Cheap? This series will review budget friendly knives for a variety of uses in a short format. All of the knives will cost less than $50 (in most cases, much less) and will be purchased out of my own pocket. I’ll buy them, carry them, and use them in an attempt to determine if the knife is a bargain or just cheap.


You would think that it would be easier to find bargain fixed blades than it is to find bargain folding knives due to the simplicity of a fixed blade knife. However, that isn’t always the case for one reason – sheaths. Most bargain knives come with terrible sheaths and by the time you replace the lousy included the sheath, the knife isn’t a bargain anymore. It takes a little digging but there are bargains out there beyond the standby Mora.

RUIKE Knives is kind of like the knife division of Fenix Lights though their affiliation with the flashlight maker isn’t always spelled out clearly on their website. They make a number of interesting and value minded knives but there is one in particular, the RUIKE Hornet F815, that drew me in several months ago.

Specs:

Steel: Sandvik 14C28N

Handle: Textured G-10

Blade length: 3.35 in.

Spine Thickness: .14 in.

Overall length: 7.48 in.

Weight: 3.7 oz.

Sheath: Injection molded

Observation from Use

I was initially drawn to the Hornet because I was looking for a full sized fixed blade knife that was both stout and lightweight. I like flat grinds and drop point blade shapes for general use. The Hornet seemed to hit all those points. It has been on several adventures since then, spending a lot of time tucked into a Hill People Gear Runner’s Kit Bag, and has served me well.

The Hornet is relatively lightweight while still offering the durability and comfort of a full tang knife with slab handles. The knife’s most distinctive feature is its skeletonized handle with textured G-10 slabs. This feature is VERY well executed. They slabs are fit to the tang very well and RUIKE even took steps to chamfer the edge of the G-10 inside the lightening cutout. The result is a knife that is lightweight for this type of construction, more comfortable to use than a knife without handle slabs, and that offers great grip even with gloves.

RUIKE uses Sandvik 14C28N at .14″ thick on the Hornet. Sandvik 14C28N is a great steel that takes a fine edge without much fuss. This knife cuts and slices well at .14″ thick and with the relatively tall, flat saber ground blade. It cuts well but is also stout enough to stand up to hard use like batoning.

The sheath is made from injection molded plastic. Like many plastic sheaths, it is bit bulkier than a real kydex sheath would be. However, it is functional. It has adjustable retention (not often seen on injection molded sheaths) and secures the knife well. The included clip works well for belt carry and is adjustable for a number of angles. I removed the clip on mine since I generally carry it in a pack or Kit Bag.

Bargain or Just Cheap?

The RUIKE Hornet F815 bumps right up against our $50 limit for this series but it packs a lot of features not commonly found on bargain fixed blades. It is well designed. It offers a great balance of durability and lightweight. It comes with a functional sheath. It’s a good looking knife with very good fit and finish. The steel is not a bargain basement steel. I call it a BARGAIN and like this knife a lot.

I will be using Amazon as the price base line for this series. All knives were purchased by me from Amazon:

RUIKE Hornet with Black G-10

RUIKE Hornet with Orange G-10

Note: This design is also be available from Sanrenmu, who may actually be the OEM maker of the Hornet, with lower grade 8Cr14Mov steel for considerably less money. I purchased the Hornet because of the better steel and the backing of RUIKE for any potential warranty issues.


Our goal is to represent knives for a variety of uses from EDC, to outdoor, to tactical knives. Do you have a favorite affordable knife? Let us know about it in the comments!

TOPS Knives to Sell Pre-Production Fieldcraft Folder

The Fieldcraft Folder is perhaps the most anticipated knife that TOPS Knives has ever dreamed up and the pro-production version is about to go on sale. On July 18th, TOPS will offer a special edition of the Fieldcraft Folder that is limited to 50 pieces – the first 50 knives made to production specs. These pre-production models were produced after TOPS spent years dialing the processes that it would take to produce their first in-house production folding knife.

Each of these 50 special editions will come with a serialized box to match the knife, a knife cleaning mat, a bottle of Breakthrough Clean knife oil, and of course a TOPS whistle.

The Pre-Production Fieldcraft Folders go on sale July 18th. Stay tuned for additional details.

TOPS Knives

Outdoor Adventure Supply Recon Survival Tool

I am a sucker for sharpened shovels, especially when they don’t cost an arm and a leg. The Recon Survival Tool came to my attention via EJ Snyder who, according to his Facebook page, has been using one for about a year and it has been performing well.

This tool looks like a real outdoor multitasker with design elements meant to stand in as a shovel, brush hook, hatchet, saw, hammer, and knife. The handle seems to be relatively well designed with a guard and the ability to change where your grip depending on your task.

Outdoor Adventure Supply who markets the Recon Survival Tool states that it is designed and patented in the USA (likely made over seas somewhere). It is made from some non-specific stainless steel with G10 handle slabs and weighs less than 2 pounds. The Recon Survival Tool comes with a sheath and ferro rod.

Check out the Recon Survival Tool at Outdoor Adventure Supply

Big Changes at Survive! Knives

Survive! Knives has been hinting toward big changes for a while now and their upcoming SK series of knives hasn’t exactly been a secret though details were sparse. That all changed yesterday when Survive! rolled out new details on the future of the SK and GSO series.

The Survive! GSO series of knives have been in high demand and that is an understatement. The demand has easily outstripped the pace at which the semi-custom line can be produced and the knives are back ordered out more than a year in most cases. Enter the SK series. The SK series of knives will be more of a high end production line produced by Millet Knives, a well established OEM producer with a great track record of quality, and delivered to Survive! for finishing. The hope is that the SK series would be able to be kept in stock to meet the demand of most users and the GSO series can continue to be Survive! Knives’ more premium, hand finished line.

The SK series consists initially of 3 different models: SK 3.5, SK 6, and SK 12. Pre-orders are already open on the SK 6 and SK 12. You can read details on all the SK models on their product page: SK product page at SurviveKnives.com

You can read what Survive! Knives has to say about the transition on their blog and view the video below for more details.

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