Sunday, March 20, 2011

Snow & Nealley Axes.......Are Like Whiskey

Today in the News:  I've been on a roll with war movies.  Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now.  Genius.

Bernard Ten Bears' Link of the Day:  - Mudcat cafe, lyrics to every folk song ever written about the woods or otherwise.

Snow & Nealley Axes.......Are Like Whiskey

I had a buddy who used to say, "Whiskey......I love it, but I hate it."  I'm finding the same true about my Snow & Nealley Hudson Bay camp axe.  Really, I don't hate it, I'm just having a few issues with it.  When I first got this axe at the Amish store in Smyrna, Maine, I was blinded with the fact of having a "real" axe.  I'd been working with a hatchet I picked up at Big Lots.  While it was a decent hatchet, it was still a cheapie. 

I tried to ignore some of the quality defects in the beginning.  Then I read Ross' review and, sure enough, Ross was right on.  Here is a picture of the poll on my axe.

Yeah, apparently, someone let Pablo Picasso at the helm for designing the forge for these things.

Beyond that, the metal is downright soft.  After a heavy day of use, I generally have to sharpen. I don't like that because, frankly, I'm lazy.  In discussing the issue with a few axe friends, one mentioned that he read somewhere that S&N purposely made the steel soft by customer request, so get this - it would be easier to sharpen.  I don't know about you, but I like my metal hard.  Here are a few pits after a moderate day of use:

Right.  Not happy about that.

But now, I digress.

In spite of the imperfections, this axe is still my go-to axe for crafting and projects. I still carry it on the trail in my pack basket.  There. I said it. I have issues with this axe, but it is still functional and dependable.  Does that make sense?  I didn't pay as much for it as I would for a Gransfors.  I paid less than half of what you would for a Gransfors.  Matter of fact, I paid about $20.00 less than you would online for this axe.

I thought about ripping S&N on this one and, I'm sure if someone from their organization reads this, they'll take it as a ripping, but it isn't.  Nothing is ever perfect.  My truck isn't perfect.  It has 250,000 miles, the shocks are shot and it burns a little oil.  Does that mean that I wouldn't hop in it right now and drive it cross-country?  No. The truck has proven itself up and down Colorado and never left me stranded.  If I drive it cross-country, it might break down.  I have the skills to repair it (for the most part), or the money to pay for a new one.  However, it is doing the job and I intend on keeping it until it fails me repeatedly.

The same goes for my axe.

Do I wish that S&N would lower their price by about $20.00 and axe?  Very yes.  I think lowering the price would make it more accessible to the beginning woodsman and also act as a bit of an apology for the quality defects.  For $40.00 retail, this, in my opinion, would be a good axe.  Are there alternatives out there in that price range?  Yes.  I can't speak for the quality, though.

Here are some pictures of the handy work I've done with this axe (pictured beside it is the 50's version of S&N's HB Axe) and why I'll continue to use it whilst I'm broke.

This is my axe. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. My axe is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my axe is useless. Without my axe, I am useless. I must swing my axe true. I must swing straighter than my tree, who is trying to chop me. I must chop him before he chops me. I will. Before God I swear this creed: my axe and myself are defenders of my forest, we are the masters of our woods, we are the saviors of my life. So be it, until there are no trees, but meadow. Amen

If you don't understand this creed, click here. :)

Pax Domini Sit Semper Vobiscum,

Mike, Oscar, Hotel.......out.


  1. If you know a good smith, just have the temper adjusted to your liking.

  2. Really? Never heard of anyone doing that. May be worth a try!

  3. Yes, I agree with Gorges. If it was me, I would be hardening that edge in the fire.

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  5. Why is tha handle backwards on the small axe? I saw Belt Axe, Part 2 where you put the handle on but was the handle made wrong or is there something you like about/advantage to a backwards handle?

  6. Couldn't find a decent 19" hatchet handle, so I used a hammer handle, which happens to be backwards to an axe.

  7. Its the same thing question I ran into making knives. Do I temper them softer so the flex a bit and are easier to sharpen or do I make them a bit harder so they hold an edge better and don't bend, but run the risk of them snapping. I decided I would prefer edge retention and a solid feel, seeing as how it would be pretty hard to snap 1/8in tool steel with proper use ... and I can also see that S&N would'nt want the bit chipping on people, but if it can't even do it's job then why bother.

    I agree that if your feeling up to it you could re-harden it. But I would try to find out what steel it is first. The general practice is to get steel cherry red, quench in motor oil, and throw it in the oven for about an hour at around 400f or 500f, but some steels have a different ( however rare) temp. range for tempering. Good luck and if you need any help just let me know

  8. Another thing to think about. A couple times in days of yore, when I actually made my living on the land, my dad and I had huge chunks pop out of the edge due to letting the axs-head get too cold in sub-freezing weather. (Build a fire and warm your axe occasionally in extremely cold weather!)A softer steel may not damage as easily, but I don't really know for sure.

  9. Just noticed that you said you are in Colo. What part? I am in Craig, CO. 1 hour west of Steamboat Springs, 1 hour east of Utah, and 20 minutes from Baggs, WY.

    Watch yer TopKnot
    Missouri Mule
    (In Colorado)

  10. I like what you did with the rifleman's creed... except for the bit at the end about "no forest, only meadow" I thought you said you were a defender of the forest.... I'm sure we can come up with a better ending...

    For the record, I am from Bangor so, I have a soft spot for Snow and Nealley axes. I love my camp axe, but it is a bit soft... I have flared the butt using it as a hammer on occasion. Still better than most Chinese-made stuff at the local hardware store. Still my go to axe. Maybe I will try heat tempering it....

    Peace all.

  11. Ha. Feels like I wrote this a hundred years ago. I've got a 50's S&N that's my go to. Pockmarked from years of rust. Every check out Best Made's stuff? Kitsch. Made from Council Tool axes. Still made in America!