Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Tuatahi Work Axe Review

The Road to a Tuatahi
I ordered my Tuatahi Work axe 3 months ago and have been waiting very patiently for it to arrive on my front door. Since becoming interested in axe reprofiling and refurbishing years ago, I have dreamed of owning a racing axe. The truth is though, I probably wouldn't use it because the wood I cut is not as clean as it should be for such a performance axe. This is when I decided that a work axe would be the better option and set my mind on this:

The Tuatahi work axes and racing axes come from the same steel and are forged in the same manner. This is the information from Tuatahi's own site:

"At Tuatahi we also forge axes suitable for use as work axes. These axes are forged from the same high quality steel as the main tuatahi racing axe, but have a thicker edge"

This means that you are getting a quality work axe made by the same hands and steel stock that produce thoroughbred race axes. This to me was a no brainer considering there are numerous other companies making axes in the $150 - $170 price range which don't have such a rich history in the axe racing sport. Here is a price example:

GB American Felling Axe: $144.60 USD
Council Tool Velvicut: $169.95
Tuatahi Work Axe: $222.00 USD

Since there were no real reviews on the internet, I promised Jo I would do a detailed review of the Tuatahi Work Axe to help other folks interested in purchasing one.

Initial Impressions:
When the axe arrived, it was very well packaged. It was contained within a sturdy cardboard box filled with shredded paper. The edge had a protective plastic slip on it while the head of the axe itself was wrapped in New Zealand's finest newspaper, taped carefully and then secured in it's own cardboard box. The cardboard box itself was wrapped with 4 blue packing straps. There was no way this was going to get damaged in transit.

The Tuatahi Work Axe Head
Upon tearing the wrapping off the axe head, I was presented with a finely shaped axe smeared in a thick oil / grease. There was no rust on the head at all. When I cleaned it off I was gobsmacked. Jo at Tuatahi told me the guys were putting something special together for me and as such needed a little extra time. I was presented with a work axe that resembled their No. 1 grind which they had put a chisel grind on.

I was very impressed at the attention to detail and the craftsmanship. This axe is just lovely to look at. As a complete axe nerd though, I needed to give it a good look over. The profile looked very good.

The blade of the axe arrived extremely sharp and ready to use. I love how they just know people are going to want to try it right away.

The Tuatahi Work Axe Handle
When you handle one of these axes, you will notice just how nice it is to hold. The grip swells out to a large knob which assists with holding onto the axe while it is in full swing. When compared to a regular axe handle, the others seem anaemic in comparison.

What good is a great shaped axe handle though if the grain orientation is bad? Well let me assure anyone in doubt, all axe handles are carefully selected and only the best hickory is used. When I sighted mine up, I couldn't help but to smile! Below is one of the 2 rough turned blanks I ordered just in case. It was the worst of the three and even then, it was better than any of my "good" off the shelf handles I had previously bought for axe projects.
The handle fitted was extremely good. No irregularities in the wood and grain orientation was excellent.

The wood does not have the shiny finish that so many companies like. Instead, it has a rougher finish with slight rasp / sanding marks on the grip. This is not uncommon for felling axes and racing axes as it assists in gripping the handle, but also helps avoid blisters. It was finished in linseed oil.

The axe handles are 78cm / 30.7" unfitted, but when fitted to the head some wood is trimmed away, meaning the over all length is 75cm / 29.5" long and together with the head the axe weighs about 2.8 kg or 6.2 lbs.

The Human Touch
Tuatahi axes are hand made. Yes, machines are used in the process, but at each stage the axe is inspected and passes from one set of hands to another. Because of this you will no doubt see some irregularities that would otherwise be absent if the process was fully automated. I only found 1 flaw and it was only obvious because the finish on the axe was so good, it had nowhere to hide.
You can see that the roll pin was struck before it was properly aligned so there is a slight mark near the hole. Again, if Tuatahi were not so fussy with their shiny finish, I would have never known.

Tuatahi Work Axe Test
I was pretty keen to get out and put the axe to the test. It's one thing to look at an axe, it's another thing entirely to swing one. I went outside to my trusty old birch chopping block.
I took down some old, gnarled apple trees 2 summers ago. The wood was now extremely dry and despite being a soft wood, was giving my axes grief because of how twisted the grain was. I had trouble splitting and I had trouble chopping. I believe that if a person is going to spend $222 USD on an axe, it needs to be able to handle a variety of tasks, including splitting.

I put a 10 inch piece on the block. It was warped and twisted and the pieces before gave my other axe serious grief. I took a swing and the Tuatahi blew straight through it. The combination of the edge, the polished finish and the weight gave it the required "oomph" to blow the wood apart. I thought it was a fluke until I did it again, and again. I was grinning like a loon I moved onto a large apple wood log.

I took 6 chops at the log. Big pieces were hanging off and chips began to fly. I was having a great time.

At this point I can only emphasize how impressed I am at the workmanship and quality of the Tuatahi Work Axe. Jo at Tuatahi was in contact with me while I waited and any details or delays were communicated to me. I was never left in the dark and believe that this is a huge advantage Tuatahi have over large companies making premium axes.

So who would this axe suit?
This axe is for those more practiced with axes. You need to know how to look after an axe, and, how to use one safely. You need to have good technique and be strong enough to use a 6.2 lb axe. Due to a length of 29.5 inches, one needs to be aware of what they are doing. This size may seem strang to many but it's the standard for the racing axe. The longer the handle, the higher the velocity of the head and the harder it is to control. On this weight head, the handle length makes it feel right when in use.

Final thoughts and Comments
I would like to say thankyou to the folks at Tuatahi, and especially Jo. They went above and beyond and what I bought from them will become an heirloom. I am very happy with my purchase and would not hesitate in dealing with Tuatahi again. I think when it comes to axes, a person never really knows what they are missing until they use a high quality axe. And really, when you think about it, you can't get much better than a Tuatahi.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Black Diamond Speed 40 Review

After 3 years of faithful service as a teacher, upon my resignation I was awarded a 500 Norwegian Kroner gift certificate to a sports store. I really don't need anything because the way I see it, I have a pretty good selection and system for each season. I wandered from product shelf to clothing rack to see what caught my eye. I am a bargain hunter so I was trying to find something on sale that I could get even cheaper because of the certificate. No luck. I walked to the backpack section and started looking at the Black Diamond bags. With my new job I train at the gym from 0600 - 0700 and that means I need to store all my work clothes, towel and odds and ends in a bag. My current bag gets stuck in the turnstile at work and it drives me mad. I happened across the Black Diamond Speed 40 and took a shine to it.

The Black Diamond Speed 40 cost 1199 NOK, which equates to 219 USD. A complete rip off considering the RRP in the USA is 129.95 USD, and can be bought directly from the website for 89 USD at the moment. Anyway, I digress. With my voucher I got a mustard colored Speed 40 for 126 USD which is expensive still, but bearable. So lets get some initial impressions.

The Standard
I compare any bag I buy to my Haglöfs Climber 40. The reason I do this is because the Haglöfs is such a high quality bag with regards to fit / finish and materials and is also very well thought out. It is water proof, has excellent quality zips and is constructed of Cordura. This bag has served me very well but is a little too hardcore to use as a work bag. So here are the two, side by side.

As you can see, the two back packs are very similar in size. The specs for the Black Diamond Speed 40 are as follows:

Volume :

40 L, 2,441 cu in (M/L)
38 L, 2,319 cu in (S/M)

Average Stock Weight :
1.17 kg, 2 lb 9 oz (M/L)
1.14 kg, 2 lb 8 oz (S/M)
Average Stripped Weight :

690 g, 1 lb 8 oz (M/L)
680 g, 1 lb 8 oz (S/M)
Materials :

Tough 420d nylon and lightweight 210d nylon ripstop

They are both technical bags, used by rock and ice climbers. They have an array of compression straps and allow for a large degree of body movement. At this point in time it is also worth noting the relatively low weight of the Speed 40. It comes in at 1.17 kg for the M/L size. That is really light, however the weight saving does come at a cost. What you save in weight, you often lose in rigidity and durability when carrying heavier loads. I am an advocate of carrying a larger pack and having it half full than trying to pack too much into a small pack.This rule applies to the Speed 40. The bag is made of Nylon, not Cordura. This means that it is going to be more fragile. I would NOT recommend loading this thing with more than 10kg of equipment because:
  1. The bag is made of such thin material that you will start to tear it
  2. Weight is also saved on the padding. This bag will start to get uncomfortable if you exceed 10kg (IMO)
  3. You will start to get a loss of rigidity because of the design of the V-lite suspension sytem and lightweight frame
If you understand the Speed 40's limitations and intended use, then this weight limit won't be an issue. This is not a pack-mule bag. This is a lightweight, technical bag designed for good range of movement while still providing some comfort. Moving on...

Fit and Finish
The Speed 40 seems to be well made. I looked closely at the seams and aside from the very occasional protruding loose thread, there was nothing shonky about it's stitching. Good quality zippers and clasps are standard as is a chest clasp with whistle.

I make mention of this feature because I believe this should be made standard on all bags. The whistle is a proven life saver when people don't have the strength to call out. All the straps were well stitched and also of high quality.

Compared to my Haglöfs Climber 40 though, the shoulder strap seemed a little anaemic. This is to be expected on a light weight climbing bag though.

The Black Diamond Speed 40 is not really a feature rich bag. It's goal is to provide a basic bag for storing climbing related impliments at as low weight penalty as possible. That said, it does have some features worth mentioning.

Ladder Design Top Pocket
There are times when you fill up your bag and your top pouch ends up forcing your head forward because it rides so high. This is a serious annoyance, especially when skiing. The Speed 40 uses a ladder design with hooks to adjust where the pouch sits. At this point a picture or two is worth a thousand words:

This is becoming a standard feature on climbing bags because it shaves off weight and functions well. I isn't as strong as a dedicated buckle, but I wouldn't be swinging my bag around by the top pocket anyway.

3 Storage Pockets in Hood / Top Pocket
Most bags I have owned and used have 2 pockets in the top section. The speed 40 has 3.

This is nice to have as it allows better organisation of the smaller, easier to lose items like keys, wallet, headlamp etc...

Ice Tool Loops / Crampon Patch / 3-Point Haul System
For those interested in this bag for climbing, there are some features aimed at you. These can be adapted for the non climbers too. For example, the ice axe holders could be used to hold walking poles or even ski poles. These can be taken off where you will find 2 of the 3 points for hauling.

The crampon patch is just a tougher piece of fabric that saves your bag from the sharp crampons. There are no bungee straps or straps of any kind for that matter. I guess this was a weight saving feature from Black Diamond? Below you see the rudimentary patch and the loops that you can use after you buy some straps.

Although I didn't mention them in the sub title, the bag features zed-compression straps.

These are a faster and easier method of securing the load as you only need to pull one strap and it compresses a greater portion of the bag. These are a good addition.

Packing and Comfort
Whenever I read complaints about back pack, it's usually because they are over-loaded. 40L does not mean 40L of water and therefore 40kg. Low weight bags needs some assistance in maintaining their rigidity and this can be done in several ways.
  1. Carefully plan where you store your heavier items. Store them close to your back and as close to your center of gravity as possible.
  2. Help the bag out by packing clothes in a way that they support the back plate. If you have water proof bags and you have some extra space that the compression straps can't take care of, inflate the bag enough to sort out this problem.
  3. Adjust your straps correctly.
  4. Don't overload the bag.
I am not a climber. I won't be using this bag for it's intended purpose but I will be using it for over night or 2 day trips in late Spring, Summer and early Autumn. This is the typical gear I would take:
We have:
  1. A summer sleeping bag
  2. Bivvy bag
  3. Inflatable pillow
  4. First aid kit in ziplock bag
  5. Co-tima waterporrof bag with food
  6. Sleeping bag liner
  7. Cook set, utensils, Platy Bag
  8. Toiletries / Hygiene items
  9. Rain pants
  1. Headlamp (in jacket pocket)
  2. Lighter (jacket pocket)
  3. Beanie (pants pocket)
  4. Pocket knife (pants pocket or belt)
This is all the equipment packed:

And on my back:

I am 6'2" and the Speed 40 fits my back very well. It seems extremely comfortable although you need to be careful not to overload it. I had about 7kg in the pictures and it felt right when I moved and articulated my arms and legs.

Early Days Yet
The Black Diamont Speed 40 seems like a decent, well thought out bag. It's not feature ritch nor a trojan work bag but it has never been advertised as that. For a lightweight bag designed around the needs of climbers, I think it would function well. For the hiker and backpacker the Speed 40 could also be a decent little pack. I am heading off to Sweden this coming weekend to catch up with friends and I will be taking the Speed 40 with me to try it out. Everything I have written up until now is based on initial impressions and could change when it is put through some decent use. Stay posted for an update when I get back.

Friday, 6 May 2011

The axeman has a new job

Well folks it's official. I have a new job. I went back to an old vocation of mine and am now training adults rather than teaching teenagers. The change had a lot of benefits but also came with some sacrifices. One of which is that I have no internet access where I live during the week. This means I am limited to blogging during the weekend and this has become tougher since I want to spend as much time with my wife and kids as possible. Rest assured though, this is only a temporary setback and I will be putting out reviews and articles when I can.

My new home is a cabin in the woods surrounded by small creeks and pines. It used to have quite a few birch trees around it until the resident beavers decided that they had to come down. I don't mind. Beavers are nifty critters and I admire any animal that can gnaw through a log for kicks. I have access to an outdoor toilet and for the most part spend my afternoons in the bedroom because we have had a cold snap. I don't have the time to wait until the rest of the cabin warms up because I get home late, and am exhausted when I arrive. My typical day consists of getting up at 0530, and getting home at 1830. This has also left little time for bushcrafting but it's only temporary as I need to spend some extra hours to get my head around the job.

I will be participating in a Bushcraft USA meet next weekend. The Bushcraft USA members in Scandinavia have decided to get together and swap some gear, eat some food and just generally chew the fat for a weekend. I have been waiting for about 6 months for this, eagerly going over a gear list in my head. We are a pretty small group, but consist of some quality individuals who enjoy the outdoors. There will be loads of photos and a run down of activities in my TRIPS section.

Well folks, thats it from me for now. I hope you have all been keeping well and enjoying the outdoors. Stay tuned for some more posts from me, including my Tuatahi work axe review when I get my eager hands on it.