My Favorite Gear: Knives, Saws & Axes

What’s your favorite blade? A big chopper? A nimble bushcrafter? A small axe? Or maybe you prefer a saw blade to a knife blade? Or a multitool to everything else?

In this article, I reveal my favorite blades and wood-processing tools, from small to large. These are the tools that my hand wants to grab, the ones that perform so well I look for excuses to use them. So if you’ve got a few minutes, step on in. I’d love to give you a tour.

Before We Begin …

Whenever you talk about blades, someone’s going to disagree with you. So I want to clarify my perspective from the get-go. It’s this: a blade is a blade is a blade. They’re all just sharp pieces of metal. You can make shavings with an axe and split wood with a knife — maybe not well, but you can do it. It matters that we acknowledge this reality. The blade in your hand will do the job if it’s all you’ve got.

I point out this perspective for two reasons:

Tools are Versatile. First, for the record, I believe in using the right tool for the job. Nothing beats a saw for cutting wood. Nothing beats an axe for splitting wood. Nothing beats a knife for slicing and shaving wood.

At the same time, let’s also acknowledge that many tools will multi-task. I’m not opposed to using a tool outside of its traditional role, even when it’s less than ideal. Why? Because sometimes other factors, like carrying less weight, justify it even if the tool won’t perform every task as well as the dedicated tool would. And that’s ok, because at the end of the day, a blade is a blade is a blade. Just wanted to get that out there.

Don’t Overthink the Nuances. Second, it’s easy for us to fall into quibbling over the tiniest differences between blades: length, steel, balance, thickness, point style, heat treat, edge geometry, etc. — to say nothing of handle styles — as if one little nuance somehow elevates our favorite knife or axe above everything else out there — the end-all-be-all of woods tools. It isn’t. A blade is a blade is a blade.

With that said, let’s acknowledge that we do have a lot of options — more than the outdoors-folk of a century ago could have dreamed of. And differences in our personalities, our techniques, and the way we approach tasks do affect which tools “feel good in the hand” and which ones don’t. And that is a highly personal and highly subjective thing. Since we have options, why not enjoy exploring them to find what works best for us. But let’s do it with perspective.

That said, these are the wood-processing tools I’m currently enjoying. Your mileage will vary.

Victorinox “Farmer” Swiss Army Knife

Who could even count the number of Swiss Army Knives in active use today? The original multitool, the Swiss Army Knife sprang to life over a century ago and since that watershed moment has evolved into every size and variant you can imagine, from the tiny, ubiquitous Classic SD to the chunky Swisschamp to the grand behemoth Swisschamp XAVT.

With the sheer number of models out there, picking one requires some serious introspection. It doesn’t help that we used to have two different companies competing to call themselves “the” Swiss army knife — Victorinox and Wenger — each with completely separate lines (Victorinox has now acquired Wenger and combined the lines). But amid all of this confusion, I’d be willing to bet that there’s a very specific model with a very specific set of tools that resonates with your sensibilities, if not your whole soul — whether you’ve found it yet or not.

For me, that model is the Victorinox Farmer in aluminum oxide scales, the perfect balance of size, functionality, and spartan simplicity. It has everything it needs and nothing it doesn’t. (For me at least).

Victorinox Farmer

When the family heads up the canyon for a mellow, evening picnic and an hour of relaxation around the fire, odds are that I’ve tossed this gem of a knife in my pocket. And odds are it will come out more than once.

My Mora Trio: HighQ Allround, Clipper/Companion, and Companion Heavy Duty/Robust

I have Moras scattered all over the place — a 711 in my backyard fire kit, a Robust in my FJ’s toolbox, a handful of 511s packed into the kit I use to teach scouts about fire building, and often one on my belt when I head into the hills, even if it’s just a day hike. A knife so light, so sturdy, and so capable deserves to explore the trails as much as I do.

My Favorite Mora Knives

Moras have cleared small limbs overgrowing the trail. They’ve gutted a trout dinner. They’ve made ad hoc walking sticks when somebody needed one. They’re as comfortable slicing food as making kindling. My Moras have sharpened and notched stakes, fashioned clothespins, carved pot hangers, and built many, many fires.

My boys each receive their own Mora when they’re ready to learn knife skills: always a Companion.

I have three Moras I cycle between. The one I grab most often is also the smallest: the HighQ Allround (discontinued). Pure elegance. If I want something a little bigger, it’s the Clipper (discontinued) or Companion. If I suspect I’ll have to process wood into kindling, it might be the Companion Heavy Duty, the Robust or …

Fallkniven F1

I first bought my Fallkniven F1 about four years ago, and now it almost always comes with me backpacking (along with a Mora as a spare; can’t ever be caught without a Mora).

Fallkniven F1

It’s a matter of personal preference. For hard use, I prefer a convex grind to a scandi grind. Here’s what I mean. All Moras feature a “scandi” grind that tapers directly into a point. The F1, on the other hand, has a “convex” grind which rounds to a point like an axe:

Scandi versus Convex Grind

That geometry puts a wide “shoulder” of metal behind the edge, giving you the toughest edge available on a knife. A convex edge will handle hard use without damage (as long as you do it right), especially when it’s on a thick, premium steel like the F1’s VG10. I’ve pounded the F1 laterally through a 2 x 2 then turned around and sliced paper. Incredible edge-holding ability.

When I go into the back country, I have to assume that I may end up with nothing but my knife. Granted, it will probably never happen, but a smart hiker should always have a contingency plan. If I find myself in that situation, my knife will have to take on the roles of knife, saw and axe (). And I trust the F1 to rise to those demands. Specs on the F1:

Steel: Laminated VG10 (stainless), full-tang
Total Length: 8.3″ (21 cm)
Blade Length: 3.8″ (9.7 cm)
Blade Thickness: .18″ (4.5 mm)
Weight: 5.3 oz (150 g) — knife only

Would a Mora Robust or Companion Heavy Duty do the job? Or maybe one of the high-end Moras? Sure. They’re great knives with a very thick profile. But at those thicknesses, I prefer a convex edge. And I love the F1’s geometry and full, exposed tang. Personal preference.

Possible Replacement: Bark River Aurora LT

I’m putting a Bark River Aurora LT into rotation as a possible replacement for the Fallkniven F1. It comes in at essentially the same weight but has potential to be more versatile.

Bark River Aurora LT

The Aurora LT feels faster in the hand and more nimble than the F1 — a light, agile knife for its size. You’ll notice the long, tapered point — the Aurora’s distinguishing feature. This point allows the Aurora to do the same kind of fine cutting you’d normally get from a much smaller knife like my treasured Mora HighQ Allround, especially if you choke up on the blade (i.e. hold it on the spine).

At the same time, the Aurora LT has all the stoutness it needs to take a beating should the need arise. Not only is it thick, the steel (Crucible 3V) is . Literally. CPM 3V falls into the “super steel” category — a steel well beyond the strength of probably any tool at your local hardware store, wrenches and hammers included. And it uses the same convex edge that makes the Fallkniven F1 so strong. Specs:

Steel: CPM 3V, full-tang
Total Length: 9.5″ (24 cm)
Blade Length: 4.775″ (12 cm)
Blade Thickness: .15″ (3.8 mm)
Weight: 5.5 oz (156 g) – knife only

By the way, for those who haven’t heard of Bark River, this is a family-owned, US company which produces hand-made knives in a semi-production environment. In other words, every blade is ground and sharpened by hand. Bark River uses premium steels in all of their knives and extends a no-questions-asked, lifetime warranty on any knife they sell, which includes resharpening service for life (for the cost of postage).

You can often find the Aurora LT on Amazon, but you’re better off going through an authorized distributor. I recommend DLT Trading, a company I’ve used many times. They have have great customer service. They carry all of the latest Bark River Knives in many handle styles at a very competitive price and free shipping to boot. (Incidentally, they also carry Fallkniven knives including the F1).

Corona Folding Saw

When it comes to cutting wood, nothing beats a saw (except maybe on tiny branches, but we’ll get to that). I have a sweet little Corona folding saw that earned its spot in my pack over the very popular Bahco Laplander (see my review). It has a 6″ blade, weighs in at 5.2 ounces, and eats through soft wood with an appetite.

Corona 6" Folding Saw

For clearing smaller fallen trees from the trail or cutting deadfall down to a burnable size, the Corona folding saw does the job incredibly well for such a lightweight tool.

Possible Replacement: Chain-Mate Pocket Chainsaw

The Chain-Mate is a pocket chainsaw I just learned about. Imagine a section of chainsaw blade with hand straps on each end and teeth that cut both directions. You’re the engine: you pull the chain back and forth with a two-handed cutting motion, a technique that seems very easy and natural.

Chainmate Pocket Chainsaw

Three things intrigue me about the Chain-Mate. First, it weighs a full ounce less than my Corona folding saw (4.2 oz), even with its carry-case. Second, the compact size might put it on my belt instead of in my pack, keeping it handy as a trail-clearing tool. Third, the 24″ length can handle larger diameter material than a 6″ saw blade.

I haven’t put one through the paces yet. Check back later for my findings.

Bark River Golok

I don’t normally go for big knives, with one exception: the Bark River Golok. What a blade.

Bark River Golok

I fumbled trying to come up with a paragraph that would do it justice, gave up, and wrote a full review instead. Here’s a quick look at the specs:

Steel: A2 Tool Steel, full-tang
Total Length: 16.75″ (42.5 cm)
Blade Length: 11.125″ (28.3 cm)
Blade Thickness: .19″ (4.8 mm)
Weight: 17.125 oz (485 g) – knife only

Sadly, the Golok rarely comes with me on long backpacking trips because I have lighter options that will do the job (even if nowhere near as well) and, let’s be honest, for any wood over a few inches a saw still beats a chopper. The right tool for the job. Still, if I were alone in the wilderness and I could only have one tool to survive with, I would either reach for my Golok, or …

Wetterlings Bushcraft/Outdoor Axe

It’s twice the weight of the Golok, but man oh man do I love this axe. I call my Wetterlings Bushcraft Axe “the little axe that could” because this guy defies his size.

Wetterlings Bushcraft Axe

Like the Golok, I ended up writing a full review on it.

At 36 oz the Wetterlings Bushcraft Axe never comes with me backpacking. When I’m staying in a cabin, on the other hand, this little woods-bumming axe becomes my best buddy. Full specs:

Steel: Swedish hand-forged steel
Total Length: 19.25″ (49 cm)
Edge Length: 3.25″ (8 cm)
Head Weight: 1.5 lbs (700 g)
Total Weight: 36 oz (1.1 kg)

UPDATE:  On March 10, 2017, Wetterlings announced the discontinuation of not just the Bushcraft Axe, but the entire Wetterlings line. The Wetterlings forge will now produce axes for Gränsfors Bruk instead, the premiere Swedish axe maker. So what can you get instead of a Wetterlings? In truth, you’ve still got some great options. See my writeup of Swedish Axe Models Compared & Wetterlings Alternatives.

The Final Word

I’ll admit it: I love trying new blades and tools, and that’s not likely to change. So far, the tools on this page have won me over — and when I say “won me over” I mean that these are the tools I instinctively reach for over and over again, even though I have other options. But as you’ve already seen, I like to throw new contenders into the mix. Why? Because I’m always willing to find something better. So check back from time to time and see if anything has managed to de-throne my current favorites.