Wednesday, June 8, 2016

3lb True Temper Flint Edge Jersey Pattern Axe

Pic dump of a recent axe project. This is a True Temper Flint Edge Jersey coming in at three pounds. The axe head is basically the same size as a heavier head would be (as you'll see in the pics) but it has a thinner bit. The handle is a House Handle that I received in "first pass" condition, which is to say I got it as it came off the lathe. You've seen these handles many times in older posts.

vintage axe restoration
True Temper Flint Edge Jersey pattern - 3lbs

restoration, refurbished, bushcraft, hand tools

jersey pattern
Hung for life!

3lb Flint Edge in the center. 3-1/2lb heads on either side.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Budget Gear Initial Impressions: New UTG Low Profile Flip-Up Sights

I get it, back up sights, gotta have 'em. Or at least, that's what they say, but I think the sentiment really applies to serious defensive or fighting rifles primarily. So if what you're reading is; Chinese sights and a reviewer who doesn't wholeheartedly believe BUIS are absolutely necessary then you're probably already out the door. That's ok. The deal is, thousands of rifles are sold each year to people who don't train, have no intention of training, have no aspiration or delusions concerning their operator status, and just all around don't take the whole AR15 ownership as an obligation to conform to the pew-pew lifestyle. Far and away more cheap equipment is sold for them than expensive battle tested brands and it's likely these owners are perfectly content, and never find a reason to talk about their purchases. They aren't on forums, or youtube, and they aren't blogging.

Fact is, it's true that I'm not entirely convinced BUIS are compulsory equipment. Obvious examples are found in the competitive world. Sure lots of folks run them, and no doubt plenty of gamers consider them must-have, but if an electronic optic goes down and the shooter has a bad day, there will always be tomorrow.

The modern sporting rifle market is also full of "analog" sighting equipment that does not rely on electronic gizmos. I realize the argument is frequently that a bullet, or fall could potentially take your optic or electronic sighting system out of the fight. I agree entirely, however, I think the same could be said for any sighting system. One bonus benefit of folding irons is that they are compact and tucked in close to the rifle for just that much more protection. It's all true. I can't argue.

Many have said - and I find it to be another truth - they are able to use an optic as a large aiming aperture should the electronics fail. Center up the target in the tube, press trigger, proceed to combat accuracy. At living room distances, point shooting takes little to no practice to master and no sighting equipment is required at all.

Finally, just like with my other rifle, I'll probably never even use the BUIS and since "back-up" consumes fifty percent of this equation, it really boils down to odds. Back-up implies that they are secondary or just in case. When the wallet opens up, the mental gymnastics are as follows. How hard am I going to run this gun? The harder you are on your stuff, the likelier it is to get damaged. The more likely it is to get damaged, the likelier you are to need back-ups. Next, how vital to survival is my blaster? If an airplane part fails causing the plane to crash, everyone dies - ok back-ups are making sense real quick. I'm not saying it's right, I'm just saying it happens to us all when we start considering our budgets. Sights are expensive, bordering on overpriced in my opinion. They are simple machines, made of inexpensive materials. The brand laser etched on the side must be worth an awful lot to justify the prices we're seeing today.

And so, these ramblings bring me at long last to the point where you're free to draw your own conclusions. After laying out my own thoughts in neat little piles, I can only say that I fall somewhere in the middle apparently. In the end, here I am with BUIS on my gun.

Initial impressions go something like this. I saw that UTG put out these MNT 755 and 955 Low Profile Flip-Up Sights and they actually appeared to have departed from the typical hokey Chinese things we've seen in the past. Often times even the product shots can't mask the poor quality. UTG has also made an effort to bring work to America and produce quality products. While these sights are not US made, I think they do represent that effort toward a better product. They come in priced higher than typical Chinese sights, but still less than essentially everything else, including the budget king Magpul.

First ding is the nylon/plastic/polymer detent ball used to keep the sight up or down. However, the sight uses a locking pin which prevents the sight from folding down while in the up position. How tough it is remains to be seen. This pin must then be pressed in order to fold the sight down again.

Fit and finish is excellent. Are we getting the toughest anodizing on the planet? Probably not. Nonissue. I'll lump design into fit and finish because the design appears mostly original and less derived or straight up copied than other Chinese sights. Small details help give them an overall attractive and legitimate appearance. You'll also note that they are low to the rail and in fact, the rear sight sits on the rail when stowed. They are compact in width as well, without any extra buttons or levers or screws jutting in all directions. The rear windage adjustment knob is compact and neatly marked with an R and arrow.

Speaking of the windage knob, all the moving parts are positive and don't immediately scream cheap or poorly made. The knob has big, tight detents that don't feel like something you might accidentally move. Again, this is first impressions, but the elevation was correct out of the box and a slight windage adjustment got me dead on with my red dot which is at absolute co-witness height (though I'm not sure making a windage adjustment based on the red dot is worthwhile). The rear aperture has a metal detent ball and the tactile different between it and the main ball is noticeable. I have my doubts about the nylon ball.

The cross bar for the rail is a threaded screw, not a square bar, but there was little to no fore and aft movement and lockup was perfect. For an optic mount where you are dealing with a pound or a pound plus moving around under recoil, the square bars make a lot of sense. For an ounce and a half, not so much.

There is no spring flip-up feature which I am personally glad for. I think the focus may have been on simplicity which left more room for quality than gimmicks. There is a locking feature in the up position, as I mentioned before, which eliminates much of the perceived worry from the nylon main hinge detent balls.

So, the primary positive initial impressions are that the sights are cleanly made, were nearly correctly aligned out of the box, and are overall very compact in size. I think this product is worth an initial impression evaluation because I don't find any reviews out there for them right now, and poorly made sights in the cheap Chinese category are typically pretty easy to spot after giving them a once over. Eventually I will follow up after some real use. Pics!

utg sights, BUIS, iron sights,
Note the white detent ball for the main hinge.
BUIS, iron sights, flip up sights, UTG, low profile
Here you can see that they are compact in size.

UTG flip up sights review
Note the pin protruding slightly from the side - this locks the sight in the deployed postion.

Here you see that while stowed, the pin is withdrawn and little bulk is added around the charging handle.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Made from Scratch; Epic Axe Handle Project

It was inevitable. I have always known eventually no handle would really be good enough for me unless I had control over every step of the process. And, I haven't actually reached that point. I am not harvesting the wood myself just yet. Where I live, Hickory does not, or at least not in any abundance, and additionally, I still don't have a good supply for Hickory blanks. It's somewhat cost prohibitive to order them through the mail and for this reason I've come to a cross roads of sorts. I feel that ordering handles through the mail - in any configuration - is no longer a viable solution for my needs (read; wants) anymore. And at the same time I don't have a wood source. Does this mean my axe addiction has come to an end? It might. But not necessarily. I have a couple ideas for the future, and a possible source for wood, but the question remains; will it be a reliable source? Reliability is the word for consistency in the case of Hickory. Will I be able to get the grain orientation I want each time? Will I be able to get the thickness I want each time? These are the issues that have plagued this axe project from day one. I have never had a reliable source for handles or handle material - not as reliable as it should be. And as with any project, if you can't achieve efficiency as it progresses with time, then ultimately you can't continue. Unless of course, you enjoy frustration.

Interestingly, this project brought me to the cross roads I am talking about even though it brought a lot of satisfaction. I finally decided to make my own handles from scratch and the results were very good. However, you will see in the pictures a varying number of blanks and finished handles and in the end I had 5 blanks which resulted in 3 handles. You waste material any time you try something new, and I did here as well. What's more, moving forward there would be less and less waste. So it's not an entirely unfeasible prospect. But, one of the blanks was checked too badly for me to complete and seeing that put the final black mark on the gamble of ordering wood through the mail. Only time will tell the future of axes and O'Dell Studios.

Let's get to the good stuff. I made stop cuts, chiseled off the waste, used the draw knife to reduce the thickness and finished the handles on the belt sander as usual. Nothing fancy here. The hangs all came together nicely and all of these axes went off to their rightful owner, leaving only these pics in my possession. Let's do the pics - I've got lots.

made from scratch, how to make an axe handle

hickory handle stop cuts, hand saw, handmade

how to make an axe handle

This head is from Hoffman Blacksmithing.

custom axe, handemade, craftsman, imadethis

A True Temper 3-1/2lb Michigan pattern.

vintage axes, axe is back, project, wood chopping

A True Temper Red Warrior, marked Kelly Works Connecticut pattern.

hickory handles, bushcraft, axes, vintage, handmade, custom

refurbished axes, custom axe handles

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Video Share Time - AK Muzzle Device Testing

I just stumbled upon this outfit today while trying to help a friend with his AK muzzle device choice and I tell you what, the content going on in this series of videos is pretty remarkable. So remarkable that I felt it was worth sharing. There are lots of folks making a living with youtube, but not everyone is providing content this informative. If you're an AK fan and drowning in the sea of muzzle devices, this video series is a must watch. Tons of data, concise and without the BS.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Walk by Faith Tomahawk - Value in Today's Market

walk by faith TTT through the top tomahawkThere are many tomahawk makers in the US and I think from a sales perspective there are a few primary reasons for it when compared to true American poll axes. That's poll, not pole. And, in fact, there are few small shops regularly making axes at all in the US, even with the popularity of Gransfors Bruk and others like them. For one thing, a real axe, particularly when you're talking 2lbs or more, uses a lot of steel - 2lbs or more I suppose. Of course that gets us into axes made from two types of metal, and the possibility that they are therefore more complex to make, but there are many hawks made in this fashion still today. I think it could simply be that people have fewer and fewer uses for an axe and so two pounds of iron - or more - just isn't something many people desire. When the largest use for an axe today is in the woods by campers, hikers, bushcrafters, and general outdoors enthusiasts, there isn't much a person can't do with a hand saw and a hatchet.

Welt tapers with the bit.
Hatchet is really the key. Hatchets aren't exciting. They are the most mundane in the edge tool category really. Axes are exciting because they built a nation of wooden homes, felling huge trees all along the way as America grew. They are iconic, often specialized to their task, and unique to their region, giving birth to a vast catalog of patterns. Tomahawks evoke images of early America as well, of woodsmen and trappers, combat, and the native people of the country. Today, they are wrecking tools, breaching tools, and fighting tools. But hatchets, they ride in the back of the station wagon for yuppie camping, or at the chopping block where chickens go to meet their makers. They are for making kindling - rectangular, wedge-shaped objects that aren't really good for much of anything else. They aren't purpose built, they are strictly utilitarian and really they only come in one pattern. Sure, there are a few hewing and carpentry hatchets, but that pretty much covers it. Estwing gave the world some nice curves, a sleek design, a stacked leather handle, and changed the face of the hatchet for a lot of people in the process. But there hasn't been anything since. At least, not in the hand hatchet category.

Gransfors Bruk realized the axe industry was a sinking ship in the 80s and if I can be allowed to speculate, took the most iconic American pattern, the Jersey, and shrunk it. By that time the Hudson Bay pattern already existed as the outdoorsman's axe, a light head on a mid-length handle - longer than a hatchet, shorter and lighter than a boy's axe. Gransfors, with their shrunken Jersey pattern breathed new life into the concept with something very similar to a Hudson Bay - the Small Forest Axe. I think the relatively recent rise in popularity of outdoor activities and in particular Bushcrafting, has driven the popularity of things referred to as axes, that are really modified, more attractive, and even more versatile hatchets.

Note the bit geometry similarities.
What does this have to do with tomahawks? Well, when you look at these "axes" you find that they are not much different from a tomahawk. While I do believe there is room for more of these modified hatchets in the US, they are somewhat limited to campsite duties. Or at least, Bushcrafting duties, which certainly can be a wide range of activities. However, tomahawks stretch into other arenas. They practically beg to be thrown, they can be historical or tactical, or even both with the LaGana Vietnam hawks. If you're into destruction and demolition, something about a tomahawk urges its wielder to smash. And, they are widely available in an almost endless combination of features and designs. While axes and tomahawks share many obvious similarities, its the presence in the hand where the differences are found.

To tie it all together we're going to look at the Walk by Faith Tomahawk today, and compare it to the Gransfors Bruk Wildlife Hatchet. I think it's more effective to do comparative reviews like this because more people can relate and mentally associate what I am talking about with their own experiences. I have chosen the Wildlife hatchet because it is ounce for ounce, the most similar to the Walk By Faith tomahawk, and tomahawks in general, and you will see the geometry is very similar as well.

First things first - value in today's market. $150. It's the magic number at the time of this writing. It seems the Gransfors products have risen somewhat in price, and I have heard (with zero effort on my part to confirm) that the Wildlife hatchet is or was difficult to get. Whatever the case, I spent two whole seconds checking Amazon for the price of a Wildlife hatchet and they wanted roughly $150. Now, Gransfors has its share of critics within the vintage axe community, but I personally believe they are unfounded. They are not drop forged, they are forged on what I understand are called open dies. The bottom line is, the dies (multiple) help shape the hot steel into the final shape as the power hammer strikes it. Dies are necessary (at the very least) for a consistent, high volume product in the 21st century. The point, they are handmade. Some people will argue the definition of handmade until they pass out, but a skilled person has to use his hands to control the process of taking a hunk of steel and beating it into an axe - in a production facility. It is not custom, it is not hammer forged on an anvil, it just is what it is and I respect their process. In many ways I can understand criticizing anything "boutique" but the use of that term has begun to aggravate me with respect to Gransfors Bruk. Take a look around you and ask yourself how many craftsman went to work with their hands and skills to create anything you own that cost $150. Most labor in production today involves unskilled assembly, packing and button pressing. So to be perfectly honest, I don't think $150 is especially expensive for a Gransfors axe. It's not cheap, it's just the price of a quality tool. Council Tool gets the same kind of money and while I can go buy the Black and Decker tool for half the money of a Makita, it's simply the difference between a quality tool and a throw away tool. There are axes hanging in most big box hardware stores for a fraction of Council or Gransfors, and they are a fraction of the quality. Boutique to me has to fall under the category of expensive for the sake of being expensive and that's simply not the case for GB or Council.

Now, Walk by Faith gets $150 for their tomahawks. So we're talking about good steel, hand forged, sharpened, finished, hung, with an amazing sheath for essentially the same money. Regardless of my opinion of the production market price for Council or GB, it is the market price and so for a full step up in every check box, Walk by Faith is offering an excellent value by the market's standards. Let's get into the pics.

Check the fit of the handle to the head - flawless.

Smeared with goobers from some testing but a very neatly made hawk.

The Gransfors Bruk Wildlife Hatchet weighs a total of 1lb, 5oz. The Walk by Faith Tomahawk weighs 1lb, 9oz and finally the Cold Steel Pipe Hawk weighs 1lb, 11oz. When I look carefully at the WBF and the Wildlife hatchet, I can't help but wonder where those 4 ounces are exactly. There might be a couple ounces difference in the handle, but in the end, there just isn't much weight difference between the two. The biggest similarity in all GB axes is how tomahawk-like the bits are. They are concave or flat in the cheeks with a flat centerline and somewhat abrupt (for an axe) transition into the eye. This is the primary reason I don't really see GB tools as "true" axes in the sense of the American Poll axe. It is not to say they are unworthy though, it is to say they are a tool that evolved for specific uses from the American Poll Axe. They are their own sort of axe. It's because of these similarities in price and design that I think there is a noteworthy comparison to be made. They do very much the same work.

walk by faith 777
Note that the WBF in the center is very neat and tidy in design. Very angular and precise.

tomahawks bushcraft axes woodsmen outdoors
Cutting edge length is also similar.

cold steel pipehawk gransfors bruk wildlife hatchet

But, these tools are not the same. You can see in the pictures that the Walk by Faith hawk is very neat, angular and geometric in design. The bit ends very abruptly at the eye which indicates the cutting and chopping function of traditional tomahawks. The Cold Steel Pipe Hawk has a more gentle sweep from the cheeks into the eye almost identical to the Wildlife Hatchet. In splitting, this transition becomes apparent when the piece being split reaches it. The tool can bind or stop, and often the wood tends to glance away from the tool, pushing it out of the split. None of these are especially good splitting tools in the context of a top-down splitting technique. However, the relatively wide bit and long stick lend them to what you could call flat splitting or lever splitting where you strike the piece in a horizontal orientation rather than vertical.

While the GB is roughly the same weight, that weight is somehow much more compact and with a true poll the balance falls much closer to the center than a tomahawk. This isn't a positive or a negative in my view - they are just different. Tomahawks are bit heavy and historically had no poll at all, lending the design to throwing and simplistic construction. I admit that the balance difference is noticeable and takes some getting used to, but I feel either is perfectly useful.

These three tools all offer a nicely dropped heel which I find very useful for carving - making tool handles or utensils or traps. However, I especially like the Wildlife Hatchet for these kinds of tasks. It feels 100% right in the hand in both balance and ergonomics. An axe handle is a very well made thing with its swell and oval or egg shaped cross section, and in my view is a benefit over slip-fit tomahawk handles. Though they are tear-drop in cross section, they are very slim and by design cannot offer any swell. The hatchet is just more secure in the hand whether it is keeping the tool in hand, or controlling it against twisting. However, I think it's fair to say that we're not talking about an insurmountable problem when it comes to tomahawk handles. They work just fine, and no one ever said you couldn't hang a tomahawk exactly the same way you would hang an axe in order to enjoy a more hand fitting handle.

To wrap this thing up, the bottom line is that while exploring the many similarities of two tools with different names, I can't ignore the differences that define them. In the end, one tool can't be declared better than another because functional differences are just that - differences - not benefits or weaknesses. At the same time, tomahawks and the Swedish outdoors axes work well in similar environments, accomplishing very similar tasks. With any luck, seeing them side-by-side will help you decide which will work best for you if you are on the hunt for one. Thanks for reading!