The Weekend Woodsman’s cutting tools

This is the third part in my gear series. So far, I have covered my belt pouch and shoulder bag in previous posts. This time, I’ll go over my cutting tools, the purposes they serve and how they change seasonally. These tools accompany me on any trip that’s longer than a short hike, i.e. whenever I’ll be making fire, cooking, working on projects or any other situation where I’d need them.

There are a lot of factors which can be considered when selecting the blades one uses for bushcraft and camping, including personal preference, geographic location, season, tasks to be done etc. Over the past few years, I have tried many combinations of knives, saws and axes (small, medium and large ones of each) in order to find a selection that suits me the best. About two years ago, I settled on a trio of blades for use in the boreal northern forest where I live: a small knife with a thin blade of no more than 3″ (7.5 cm), a medium-sized fixed-blade knife with a blade of around 6″ (15 cm) and a ¾ or boy’s axe of around 26″ (65 cm). This combo varies a little depending on the time of year, but it is the set I bring along on most trips.

To be perfectly honest, most of the cutting tasks I do could be handled by an axe and just about any half-decent 3 – 4″ (7.5 – 10 cm) bladed knife. However, I find that my assortment does indeed add extra versatility and functionality (as well as a degree of redundancy). Seeing as how bushcraft and camping are my hobbies, I have the luxury of choosing a selection of tools which I enjoy using, rather than what might be deemed “necessary” or “appropriate” by some. There are as many opinions on blades as there are blade users, so it’s up to each person to choose what they like best.

I’ll start with the tool I use most often, the 6” (15 cm) fixed-blade knife. My current favorite is a variation of the BushProwler design made by Ilkka Seikku. The reason why this tool sees so much use is because it is very versatile, though not a gimmicky “one knife for everything”. Among other things, I have used this exact knife or type of knife to make shavings for kindling, baton small logs for kindling, chop down and buck 3” (7.5 cm) thick logs, slash-cut saplings and branches of more than 0.5” (1.25 cm) thick, slash-cut weeds and brush, carve sausage-roasting sticks, notches, forks and pot hangers, strip bark, make a walking stick, make a digging stick, pry off pieces of fatwood, harvest birch bark, rough up birch bark for taking a spark, open food packages, cut cordage, prepare food and more. If I choke up on the handle, the balance easily allows for finer work to be done. Choking down gives me a 9″ (23 cm) reach from my hand to the tip of the blade. In short, this knife is a general-use tool that fits in nicely between my folding knife and axe.

On occasion, I will need to do a fine cutting task for which the fixed-blade is just too big/thick (though to be honest, there aren’t a lot of tasks I do which can’t be handled by the belt knife above). In this case, I use a knife like my small Wenger Classic 07 Swiss Army Knife. This knife also features an awl for drilling holes in wood, puncturing leather etc. It stays tucked away in my belt pouch, ready if needed.

For heavier chopping, splitting, limbing, carving etc. I use a 26” (65 cm) axe which I restored in 2010. It was forged by Gränsfors Bruks sometime between the 50’s and 70’s and sports a 2 lb. head. I had to clean up, reprofile and sharpen the head and also put on a new handle and make a sheath. I find this size axe to be perfect for my uses, as it is powerful, yet relatively light and compact in comparison to full-sized axes (it fits nicely on the side of my backpack, or inside it with just a few inches/cm poking out). I have felled trees up to about 5″ (12.5 cm) thick, bucked and split both green and seasoned saplings and trees from 1” to 8” (2.5 to 20 cm) in diameter, split various sizes of kindling and fuel wood for fires, limbed and cut shelter poles and done other similar tasks with such an axe.

In the fall, winter and spring, I may on occasion also carry a Fiskars 10” (25 cm) sliding saw for comfortably bucking logs up to about 7” (17.5 cm) in diameter (though I have used it on logs up to 9” (23 cm) in diameter). It requires a lot less effort to buck larger logs with the saw, though I don’t need to do it too often in a bushcraft setting. Often, the axe is all I need for larger wood processing.

During the warmer months, when I don’t have to process larger wood for heating fires, I will carry a Wetterlings Mini Axe (not the “Small Axe”) or a traditional leuku instead of the larger axe and saw. Either is plenty enough for processing wood for small cooking fires, projects etc.

So there you have it. These are my preferred woods-running blades. They may not all be necessary, but they are all useful and enjoyable to use! In an upcoming post, I will also show the set of tools I have accumulated for larger-scale, professional-type woods work.

By the way, the total cost for all the tools above was about 350 Euros (450 Dollars). This might sound like a lot, but good cutting tools often don’t come cheap, and they are an important part of the camper’s/bushcrafter’s equipment loadout. I’m not saying that it’s necessary to spend a lot of money, as there are a lot of great value deals out there. Just be sure that the tools you rely on are up to the task! Some of my tools came from the flea market, and some were custom made for me. What’s important to me is that they work well and do what I need them to do. I want to stress that tools do not have to be expensive to be good!

UPDATE: I mentioned previously that I recently moved my firesteel from my belt pouch to my knife, and that I’d show how I carry it in this post. These pictures show Ilkka’s clever firesteel loop along the seam of the sheath.

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17 comments on “The Weekend Woodsman’s cutting tools

  1. Ron says:

    That’s a nice setup of sharpies!
    I especially like the long handled Gränsfors. And your No.1-knife…. well, I allready told you how I feel about that.

    I think it takes some time, trial and error befor someone finds his setup. Posts like this help those seeking with their quests…like me.
    For now I’ll have to make due with a Mora Clipper (which works quite good I might add), a DIY-store hatchet and my old trusted army SAK.

    • Thanks, Ron.

      There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Moras, hardware store hatchets, old army knives etc. They can function just as well as any other tools, and they don’t cost lots either. The most important thing is getting tools which work well for the user and are reliable. My tools range from flea-market finds to custom-made items. The most important thing is that they serve their purpose well.

    • Finnman says:

      By the way last year I bought old Gränsfors axe in decent condition as less as 50SEK. And I bought it in Gränsfors (village). There´s a lot of house yard fleamarkets (loppis in swedish) along the roads in summertimes.

      – Finnman

  2. Mike Hotel says:

    Man, you have some nice gear!

  3. Mike Hotel says:

    Oh, and when you’re hiking into camp, I think you should refrain from running with that many sharp objects.

  4. OZme says:

    Nice post. I am still in progress of finding out my choice of blades. As you have pointed that it changes based on geographic location, season, tasks to be done etc… When I was in Japan, my choice was fixed with Japanese Nata hachet, saw and SAK. Which, I find it inconvenient in Finnish boreal forest because the tasks required here are so much different.

    • Thanks for the comment, OZme!

      I would be VERY interested to hear more about your blade choices for Japan and Finland, including how the tasks are different in the different countries. I bet lots of people would be interested in reading about it at your blog!

    • Finnman says:

      What´s the difference between Nata hatchet and finnish style axe in use? I have seen pics about those and just been curious how those could work here.

  5. Finnman says:

    Congratulations, you have found perfect set of cutting tools. I have tried dozens of sharpies, but still haven´t found perfect set that stays same year after year :)

    At the moment I´m getting back to the roots mean traditional finnish woodsman tools
    – Puukko of some kind (Puukko is something very precious to finnish, it´s like katana for japanese or like)
    – One of my axes (Roselli, Gränsfors, Hultafors, Bilnäs, Fiskars depending on mood)
    – Bahco Laplander folding Saw or Eka combisaw collapsible buck saw

    Those I mostly boos up with pocket knife (usually Victorinox OH Trekker)

    Other time than winter I can do mostly fine without an axe, but often carry one anyway just in case.

    – Finnman

    • Hehehe, well, I wouldn’t say it’s a perfect set, but it works very well. Although my tools have changed a bit over the past 2 years, the general types have stayed the same. Now I have ones that are exactly what I want for each of those types.

      A puukko, axe and saw combo is certainly capable of doing a lot. There’s not much more that you’d really need.

  6. Perkunas says:

    One thing that occurs to me often, while watching bushcraft related tool set-up reviews is that theres usually very few multitools. I mean that as i´ve been hiking quite a lot, its almost surte thin that every time something needs to be adjusted,tightened, loosened, bent etc, from ski bindings to door hinges and fishing reel repairs etc. In “swiss army” knives, you get a good basic tool kit yes, but at some point, you might consider adding a small plier in your kit, if you dont want to use plier-based multitool which i totally understand. Pliers just happen to be something i´ve used and needed so many times. Especially, if you start doing longer hikes, far away for various nights and stay in old cabins, fish with reel, or hike with mountainbike, as all mechanical gear and such, are far easier often to ajust and repair plus modify with pliers. Oh, and a Phillips screwdriver, #2, is one “must” item as well, its still the most commonly used screw in ski bindings,and hinges, and in many many other spots. Pair a plier with Phillips screwdriver, and combine it with your wenger pocket knife and youre very mush set up and ready to face any common dilemma along the hike.

    This went bit offtopic,sorry :), i just wanted to tell that hikers often need to be able to fix stuff, rather than concentrate on wood processing only.

    • Very good point! I have thought about bringing a small pair of pliers because they can be so useful. So far, though, I have not needed them, because I don’t use a lot of “mechanical” gear (for example, gas stoves, bicycles etc.). Even my snowshoes have old-style bindings with no screws. So with the stuff I use, I don’t have a big need for a lot of tools like screwdrivers, pliers etc. BUT…
      I think I will add a small pair of needle-nose pliers to my kit, because they could come in handy and don’t weigh a lot. :) I’m sure I will need them someday! (But still, this post is about “cutting tools”, so pliers wouldn’t be included here anyway. ;)).

      I do have a multitool with pliers, Phillips-head screwdriver, flat-head screwdriver and plenty of other tools, but I don’t bring it into the woods. I bring it along if I’m doing some other activity where I might need it, though.

      As for wood processing, I have to say it’s the main thing I use blades for in the woods. Other materials I cut include cordage, bark, food, string and things like that.

  7. Thanks for sharing this wood cutting tools information with us. Keep posting like this nice sharing.

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