Drop me in the middle of the wilderness and tell me I can only have one edged tool, I’ll probably grab the Wetterlings Bushcraft Axe. I call my Wetterlings Bushcraft Axe “the little axe that could” because this guy defies his size.
I’ve heard this axe referred to as a “rucksack axe” because you could slip it inside any pack and carry it at a fraction of the weight a full-sized axe would cost you. Small, light, nimble, but with a serious bite — read on to see why this is my favorite axe.
UPDATE: On March 10, 2017, Wetterlings discontinued the entire Wetterlings axe line. The Wetterlings forge will now produce axes for Gränsfors Bruk exclusively. So where do you get a Wetterlings Bushcraft Axe now? Or any other Wetterlings axe? Happily, there are alternatives. See my article, Swedish Axe Models Compared & Wetterlings Alternatives.
Get to Know the Wetterlings Outdoor/Bushcraft Axe
Unless you’ve actually handled a Wetterlings Outdoor/Bushcraft axe (more about the name below), you might experience the same thing I did the day mine arrived. I had heard/read great things about the Bushcraft axe, saw one for sale online for just $75 (a bargain these days), and bought it knowing intellectually that I was getting a 19″ axe. Then the package arrived and reality struck. Let me tell you, you cannot appreciate the reality of a nineteen-inch axe until you hold it in your hand.
This axe is small. For all intents and purposes, Wetterlings has made a long-handled hatchet. Here it is in comparison with a full-sized double-bit axe and a Fiskars X25 splitting axe:
The Bushcraft axe quite literally has the same lightweight head Wetterlings puts on its hatchets — a 1.5 lb head with a 3″ bit. The difference lies in the handle. Wetterlings put this head on a handle that lies midway between a hatchet and a full-sized axe: just a hair over 19″ long (19.25″).
But don’t let its size underwhelm your expectations. That extra handle length makes all the difference. Why? Because an axe’s power comes not just from the weight of its head, but also from its speed. Turbo-charging a hatchet head, in this case, produces impressive results. Maybe not the same kind of results you’d get from a full-sized felling axe, but more than adequate for simple wood processing around the campsite — and with a great deal more control. And yes, in a pinch the Bushcraft Axe can fell trees.
The Bushcraft axe is short enough that I can choke up and use the bit like a knife and long enough that I can do some serious axe work. But its sweet spot falls in the middle. This little guy was made to process firewood and build shelters. You’re not going to gut a fish very elegantly, but he’ll keep you warm and dry. He can handle everything from feather sticks through splitting and chopping 4-6″ wood.
For example, right after I bought my Wetterlings Bushcraft Axe a buddy of mine dropped a pile of 2×6 lumber scraps in my driveway — a gift for our troop’s winter campout. After using a circular saw to cut the boards down to 1′ lengths I went to work splitting them with the Bushcraft Axe. Where a full-sized splitting axe like my Fiskars X25 would have been overkill, a hatchet wouldn’t have been enough; either one would have made the job harder on me. The Bushcraft Axe, on the other hand, fit the job perfectly. I flew through those boards like Paul Bunyan slicing his way through the forests of the Great Northwest, easily swinging this agile little axe and sending pieces flying left and right.
Wetterlings Bushcraft Axe? Outdoor Axe? Large Hunter’s/Hunting Axe? Backcountry Axe?
We need to address a point of confusion. Wetterlings hasn’t figured out what to call this axe, but not for a lack of trying. Wetterlings has variously called it the Backcountry Axe, the Large Hunting/Hunter’s Axe 20H, the Bushcraft Axe, and currently the Outdoors Axe #118. I spent a couple of hours trying to figure out the evolution of names and, in the end, all I could decipher is that they are all exactly the same axe. This fact can work to your benefit because most of these names are retired. As a result, you might be able to pick up one of the “discontinued” axes cheaper than the current production axe.
We need to also note that Wetterlings has a new bushcraft axe called the Les Stroud Bushman Axe. This one is not the same axe. It has a different head and a different handle style. Even more important, it carries a significantly higher price tag — probably a premium for using the “Les Stroud” name. I have never tried this axe.
Alternatives to the Wetterlings Outdoor Axe
Wetterlings axes don’t come cheap. That’s because each axe is hand-forged by Swedish blacksmiths in what may be the oldest continuously-running axe forge in the world:
As a result, the heads look rough, but perform beautifully. To me, a Wetterlings axe commands the price; I’d pay for this axe again without hesitating. You have other options though. First a disclaimer: I have zero experience with any of the axes below.
If you like the hand-forged idea but want something prettier, look at the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe — also a hand-forged Swedish axe. It’s essentially the same axe with a slightly better handle and more finished head. Many consider Gransfors Bruks the world’s premier axe forge.
On the more affordable end of the scale, the following axes are similar to the Wetterlings Bushcraft axe in the sense that they pair a light head with a longer handle: