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REVIEW: Best Made 26" Unfinished Hudson Bay Axe

Discussion in 'Axe, Tomahawk, & Hatchet Forum' started by coloradowildman, Jan 25, 2012.

  1. coloradowildman

    coloradowildman Gold Member Gold Member

    760
    Oct 28, 2009
    REVIEW: Best Made 26" Unfinished Hudson Bay Axe


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    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:


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    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.


    SPECIFICATIONS:

    26.2" overall length

    2.0 lb head

    5160 Steel

    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

    Price: $135.00​



    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:


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    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:


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    The Axe

    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):


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    The overall quality of the handle, including grain direction and head/handle alignment is very good and similar to the Velvicut:


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    Field Test

    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:


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    Performance


    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):


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    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:


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    Conclusion


    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.
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2012
  2. Operator1975

    Operator1975

    Sep 24, 2010
    Nice review as always. Performed similar to the Black Donald I have from them I see. I really like their products. The handles are top notch, and while the head could use some TLC when you get it, the overall quality of the entire package i feel outweighs this minor inconveinance. If you are going to own a piece like that you should have the bit they way you want it anyway. Well done, glad to hear the longer handle is the way to go. Thanks!
     
  3. coloradowildman

    coloradowildman Gold Member Gold Member

    760
    Oct 28, 2009
    Thanks Operator, really appreciate the comment.

    Cheers, CW
     
  4. Operator1975

    Operator1975

    Sep 24, 2010
    CW - Also wondering about the head, do you feel that with the longer handle that this fact also perhaps helped the balance of the head? What I mean by that is I have noticed that in that Hudson design, the head feels bit heavy to me in the hand, as if it is being pulled to the ground when I hold it. Does the longer handle in your opinion help or hurt that, or of no consequence?
     
  5. coloradowildman

    coloradowildman Gold Member Gold Member

    760
    Oct 28, 2009
    Yes, I think it definitely helps. This version feels more like a Council Boy's Axe in my hand, except that the head shape allows the hand to go further up the helve allowing for more control in close work, making feather sticks easier, etc.
     
  6. Operator1975

    Operator1975

    Sep 24, 2010
    Excellent, that is what I gathered from your review. I have not been fond of that head style, I believe primarliy because I am so used to dayton and michigan heads. When I finally used one it was almost alien. I only have a couple hudson bay style patterns, and obviously need to embelish them more. So I think instead of being a stubborn old gun I will try and open up to them, I at least owe it to the axe, it isnt its fault, after all.

    Great write up as said, and thanks for the info. Happy chopping!
     
  7. coloradowildman

    coloradowildman Gold Member Gold Member

    760
    Oct 28, 2009
    You're quite welcome and glad I could help.

    Cheers, CW
     
  8. Steve Tall

    Steve Tall

    Aug 28, 2010
    Thanks for the review. Good information, like Consumer Reports. :D
     
  9. OutdoorEnvy

    OutdoorEnvy

    308
    Nov 22, 2011
    Great review and comparison. It's nice getting quality reviews from people who know axes instead of some bloke who just holds it in his hand and talks about how shiny it is in front his computer. Thanks again.
     
  10. M3mphis

    M3mphis

    Jan 13, 2011
    Nice write-up, CW. Appreciate a reasonable comparison of two similar axes and the objectivity. Nice pics sure don't hurt either! :D
     
  11. Turbo4x4

    Turbo4x4

    104
    Jun 4, 2011
    Congratulations!
    My lovely axe.
    If you do not mind, I'll add some pictures of my ax
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  12. HandAxeProMan

    HandAxeProMan

    592
    Apr 9, 2011
    Bravo Coloradowildman. Excellent review as always.
     
  13. Liam Ryan

    Liam Ryan

    Sep 26, 2005
    Now thats a product I can agree with, longer handle and way better sheath for only 5 dollars more, and if ordering online you are almost guaranteed a nice grain orientation.
     
  14. coloradowildman

    coloradowildman Gold Member Gold Member

    760
    Oct 28, 2009
    Love the cat with the axe photo, thanks for sharing!
     
  15. moogoogaidan

    moogoogaidan

    666
    Feb 21, 2009
    Looks really good, but I have a question for Turbo: is the grain on the business end perpendicular to the head? I'm browsing on my phone so I can't see well.
     
  16. nickzdon

    nickzdon

    398
    Mar 3, 2011
    Love the kitty cat shot Turbo!
     
  17. Turbo4x4

    Turbo4x4

    104
    Jun 4, 2011
    If you mean the side of the line of the eye and butt, then they are parallel, of course.
     
  18. coloradowildman

    coloradowildman Gold Member Gold Member

    760
    Oct 28, 2009
    Thanks for the comments everyone, always nice to hear feedback:)

    Cheers, CW
     
  19. bearhunter

    bearhunter

    Sep 12, 2009
    nice review as usual wildman;) thanks for the time...
    nice pics too...
     
  20. coloradowildman

    coloradowildman Gold Member Gold Member

    760
    Oct 28, 2009
    Thanks Bearhunter, really appreciate that.
     

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