Wood and zombies have a lot in common besides their acting abilities; an axe easily splits them in two. And surprisingly, both zombies and iron battle axes share a similar timeline more than a dozen centuries long. Sure, stone axes were chopping coconuts and skulls as far back as 6000 BCE, but metal ones took longer to develop. Gunpowder displaced the battle axe as a primary weapon in the 1600s, but the modern zombie craze has caused a resurgence of interest in the swinging heavy blade.
Battle axe evolution followed technology improvements as well as battlefield tactics. The early wood handles were often the target of the enemy combatant’s own axe since axes cut wood and a broken handle makes the weapon as useless as an empty magazine. Seems every weapon can be reduced to a club.
Metal handles were the natural outgrowth of adding metal reinforcement to the traditional wood handle. But metal adds weight and if of sufficient strength, the wrought iron handles of battle axes relegated them to two-handed use except by those humans of the heavily muscular variety. A six-pound head on a battle axe was huge with single-pound heads not uncommon. Since battle axes were more for chopping flesh than chopping wood, the blade could be narrowed and have a longer, more curved presentation. They could also be thinner overall prior to where handle mounts. If a wood axe was designed as such it would chop much like a machete meaning it would stick into wood and provide little splay.
Recommended Daily Allowance
A distinct advantage of the axe as a tool is that it really is a tool. Nobody doubts the utility of a good axe to the point that even the U.S. Government’s National Forest Service lists the axe as an essential part of the “Responsible Recreation” kit. But not all axes are the same. While a steel head is uniform across the axe platform, it all ends there. And even the steel has a host of variations from overseas iron that is soft and rusty, to finely crafted German blades polished and sharpened with the same attention as knives, to hand-forged Swedish steel that preserve the old ways of doing things right. Handles range from Ash, to Hickory, to fiberglass, to plastic, to nylon, to a continuous steel extension of the head. All have their disadvantages, but a few materials and designs have very distinct and important advantages. And Hickory is one of them.
In the case of the Stihl Pro Universal Forestry Axe, a high quality Hickory handle is used for durability, strength, power transfer, and shock reduction. However, wood is easily damaged by water, impacts, and time. Stihl addressed the impacts issue by adding a heavy steel collar around the neck of the axe to prevent overstrikes damaging the handle. And even more, the collar protects a super-thick neck that is a third more robust than traditional axe designs. And that’s on top of already being exceptionally hard Hickory with proper grain orientation.
With a length of just over 27 inches and a head weight of just under three pounds the Stihl Pro Universal Forestry Axe lands in the middle range of battleaxe demographics. And it looks the part. Compared to traditional axes you are likely to find around the woodpile, the Stihl Pro Universal Forestry Axe stands out as something different. And it is different.
Hang Your Head
In addition to the overbuilt handle and steel sleeve, the head of the Stihl Pro Universal Forestry Axe is manufactured by Germany’s oldest axe forge, the Ochsenkopf company. So with all this brute strength in components, Ochsenkopf designed a system to hang the head on the handle with more than the the usual flat or round wedges. The Stihl Pro Universal Forestry Axe head is literally bolted onto the handle with a long screw and additional metal wedge plug and steel endcap all securely attaching the axe head and collar to a fitted handle. Ochsenkopf calls this their Rotband-Plus system. So not only are the pieces ready for battle, but the entire mechanism is assembled to outlast axe traditions that usually outlast their owners anyway.
The head of the Stihl Pro Universal Forestry Axe is forged with the German equivalent of 1060 steel they call C60. The “C” stands for carbon, but a 1060 steel is on the low end of high carbon steels. Not low in quality, but in carbon content. This minimal amount of carbon is fine as long as the heat treatment is correct for the tool. Ax heads are often of variable heat treatment with a different hardness at the bit (cutting edge) end compared to the eye (handle hole). Ochsenkopf axes are known for moving the hardened heat treatment further back than the usual half-inch or so from the sharp end. The 1060 steel in the Stihl Pro Universal Forestry Axe bit area appears to have been heat treated a full inch-and-a-half from the edge as noted by the change in light reflection off the blade. The variability in hardness of an axe head is a dance between sharp and brittle. Too much and things chip and crack. Too little and they bend and deform. Further, shallow heat treatments are often ground off during the axe’s short life of sharpening. A downward sharpening spiral begins when softer metal becomes the blade.
…But Prepare for the Worst
It wasn’t just gunpowder that sent battle axes to the back of the line, but also their overall durability especially when encountering an armor-clad foe. Battle axes were fearsome but fragile. In proper hands, they were nothing short of harbingers of death and dismemberment. But swung wildly and with disregard for the landing zone, the axes broke with unnerving predictability. And the same can be said about today’s modern forest axes.
Double-duty is name of the preparedness game. Just as the ancient grindstone handle can be found in modern configuration as a side-handle police baton, the battle axe could be hiding in the woodpile or by the campfire. While any ax can be dangerous (including to its user), not all axes are the same. Survival requires an unbroken chain of good decisions, and with the Stihl Pro Universal Forestry Axe, we have an exceptional hard-use tool for the homestead, and a dangerously strong striking weapon for breaching, rescue, and obviously self defense.