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.


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  2. Fantastic! Congratulations for treating yourself to such a terrific axe. I will be interested to see the sheath you craft for it.

    (Sorry, double tap)

  3. Heard shipping was an issue for these axes. Did you have any issues? I'm thinking customs problems.

  4. Thanks brionic. Cooperhill, customs was no problem nor was the postal service. You might have to check with local laws though. I will be updating this review with more pictures too so stay posted.

  5. That thing is a BEAST full of BEAUTY!

  6. hi.
    was the price 222 $ inkluded shipping to norway.
    im thinking about ordering one myself:)
    thanks for the review


  7. Hello Halvor,

    The price was 222 NZ Dollars and about 50 dollars freight. Bear in mind I bought 2 extra handles too. This was not bad though considering a Fiskars axe cost nearly the same. Be aware though that this is a heavy axe and will take some practice.

  8. Axeman,
    I am absolutely going to order one of these axes in the near future. I only want to know your opinion on the grind you received. you mention that they made you "something special", and then refer to the grind. do you think the chisel grind you ended up with is better, worse, or just different than whatever the standard grind is? I deal mostly in hardwood.

  9. G'day MervMaster. I am not sure what the "something special" was, but the axe did very well and is their more robust edge. Depending on what woods you will cut, you will want a tougher edge, especially if you can't guarantee that there is no grit in the wood or bark. The edge on my axe will suit hard wood since it is not thin enough to be damaged. In my opinion it would do better in softer woods but hard will pose no problem at all. The reason I say softwood is better is simply because it is easier to chop with just about any axe. Go for it and give me ashout when you do!

  10. "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. "

    Thats the problem these days, people want one tool to do everything. Theres a reason there are felling axes and there are splitting axes/mauls. What works best for one does not work best for the other.

  11. I might have come off a bit mean in my post, sorry! I do get the sense though that a lot of people disregard the differences in the physics between felling/chopping and splitting. A splitting axe or maul is going to be more wedge shaped as thats its job, to wedge through wood. Sure, you CAN use a felling axe to split, but its not designed for that and might cause unnecessary damage to the bit.

  12. G'day Greg. You didn't come off mean. My point is that most people don't do this for a living so a tool that can handle multiple roles is more likely to be purchased by the consumer. I understand the difference in the edge geometries and physics as I have repaired, reprofiled or rehandled most types of axes. It's always a compromise when you want the tool to handle multiple roles as it will excel at one and be compromise in others.

  13. Looks beautiful. You said they did something special for you? I was wondering if you think they could build me one without the roll pin hole?

  14. Hi there wandering axeman, I am making some short 5min approx. historical films here in New Zealand about some AXEMEN LEGENDS, and I would like to use a couple of your Tuatahi axehead photos.

    The films will be online for general viewing later this year and also on display in the Kauri Museum, Matakohe, Northland, New Zealand. The films are non profit. Would that be OK?

    Best, Kawowski

    1. Hello Kawowski, sure, that'd be no problem. Feel free to use the pictures.

    2. Thanks very much, I'll keep that in mind for future AXEMEN projects! The previous films are all completed now, ( I had one of the axemen legends take photos of their Tuatahi racing AXEMEN for me). You can view the films here Best KAWOWSKI

    3. Kawowski, if you are looking for legendary axemen look for Basques,
      Here you have a bit of information about them,

  15. Hello, how did you get the axe just for 222 USD
    I see that now is significantly more expensive?

  16. My weapon of choice for any wilderness and survival activities is and will always be an axe. You will all agree with me that this is one hell of a weapon. I like your talk on axes; it’s very informative, thanks for sharing. I similarly went through the following post:

    Hello i have been told by a reliable source that Brute Forge racing axes ore just cheap Chinese axes purchased from Tuatahi in NZ for around the$70 mark, then reshaped, re tempered, stamped with the Brute Forge logo then sold at a very inflated price, if you thinking of buying one of these axes, you should ask the question, is this a cheap Chinese axe

  18. Update, i have been told by Tuatahi, that if you buy 10 or more of the Chinese axes, you can get them for $65 plus postage and handling

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