REVIEW: Best Made 26" Unfinished Hudson Bay Axe
Formed in 2009 by axe aficionado and Grammy Award winning designer Peter Buchanan-Smith, Best Made Company is a fresh face in the world of axes. Smith, who'd been using axes since he was a child growing up on an Ontario farm, wanted to combine both his love of axes and art into something that could not only adorn one's home, but could just as easily be pulled off the wall and used for real world axe duties. Much in the way that canoe paddles have traditionally been painted by both Native Americans and American settlers, Smith wanted to continue this tradition with axes as well.
Smith's painted pieces have already attracted international attention, having been purchased by the likes of Mike Jones (president of Myspace) and are also on exhibit at the Saatchi Gallery in London. Here's an example of one of Best Made's painted versions of the Hudson Bay axe:
Smith, a longtime collector of vintage axes who spent his summers as a youth canoeing and using axes for camping and exploring, realized the need to produce a more affordable axe line in addition to his custom "art axes." In 2011, Best Made began producing "unfinished" versions of their axes, which were more affordable and featured unpainted handles, hence the title. The term "unfinished" though is slightly misleading, as these axes are actually completely finished in the traditional sense, in that the handles are sanded properly and coated in linseed oil, head is polished, etc.
In order to produce these axes, Best Made initially partnered with Maine-based axe maker Snow & Nealley before settling with longtime US axe maker Council Tool in 2010. The two axes that Best Made sells are actually existing designs by Council Tool from their Velvicut line. The axe in this particular review is a rebadged Council Tool Velvicut Hudson Bay Axe with a longer 26" handle, different sheath and Best Made stampings and packaging. I reviewed that axe here last month with both a First Impressions Review and a Field Review, so I won't rehash all the details and instead will focus on the feel and performance of the longer handle as well as the packaging, appearance and sheath differences.
26.2" overall length
2.0 lb head
Grade "A" Hickory Handle
Weight (without sheath)- 45.4 ounces
Weight (with sheath)- 47.2 ounces
Country of origin- Made in Lake Waccamah, NC, USA by the Council Tool Axe Company
The Unfinished Hudson Bay Axe arrived in attractive packaging along with stylized information cards containing warranty info/registration, production number, axe maintenance tips and safety instructions:
The sheath is similar in style to those used on the Swedish Gransfors Bruks axes. This is not surprising considering that Smith visited the Gransfor's factory a couple of years ago and took note of their simple yet elegant sheath designs. On a longer axe, these sheaths tend to be easier to use in the field as compared to the top loading sheath on the shorter Council version. The strap also bears the "C.C.G.F." logo, which stands for Smith's outdoor credo; Courage / Compassion / Grace / Fortitude:
As mentioned above, the Best Made is basically a rebranded Velvicut Hudson Bay Axe with a longer handle and different sheath. Here's a comparison shot of the two side by side (Best Made axe on the right):
The overall quality of the handle, including grain direction and head/handle alignment is very good and similar to the Velvicut:
For the test, I thinned out the profile to get it as close to the Velvicut as possible. This particular model came with a thicker stock profile than the Velvicut did, so additional edge work was necessary to get the two to match for the test. This is not the fault of Best Made since Council Tool makes these, but hopefully Council Tool corrects this problem in their quality control process soon.
Here's a photo of the two axe profiles (after the edge work) side by side, with the Best Made on the right:
For the chopping test, I used a dry, seasoned Ponderosa Pine log and chopped 30 times with each axe. Due to the short 22.5" handle on the Velvicut, safe chopping required a kneeling position. This obviously reduces the amount of power in the swing. On the other hand, the Best Made, with its almost 4" length advantage, safely allowed for a standing position. This, along with the extra handle length yielded a rather dramatic result (Best Made notch on left):
The longer Best Made simply trounced the shorter Velvicut in the chopping contest. I was expecting a slight difference, but nothing quite this dramatic.
Feather Stick Test
I also wanted to test out the Best Made's balance by creating some feather sticks. I had mentioned in my previous review of the Velvicut that I felt that the handle was a bit short for the weight of this head. After spending time using the longer Best Made, I have to say that it confirms my suspicions. The extra handle length just balances the axe better, and I actually found it easier to use for close work like feather stick making than the shorter Velvicut.
Feather stick made with the Best Made axe. The added balance of the longer handle definitely helps with this task:
This is the Hudson Bay I wanted from Council Tool all along. For me, the 26" handle is an almost perfect balance of length and packability, plus, it adds noticeably to the balance. The sheath is simple, attractive and easy to take on and off, another plus.
The biggest negative of course is the thicker profile that came on this axe. I spoke with Best Made about this and they said that most of the other axes they've seen are a little thinner than the one I received. They offered to replace it, but I declined, since I have access to a belt sander and it wasn't hard to adjust the edge profile with my equipment.
I would add that when talking with Peter (the owner of Best Made), he comes across as a genuine axe enthusiast who really cares about his product. He makes no bones about being a "boutique" company, but he also wanted to create what he feels is the perfect sized Hudson Bay Axe and worked with Council Tool on the specs for this version. His objective was to make it more affordable, so he priced this model within $5.00 of Council's Velvicut. After testing the Best Made version, I have to agree with his assessment that a longer handle is better. This one's a keeper for me, and I hope to be lucky enough to pass it down to my kid one day as well.