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Gränsfors Bruk Small Forest Axe review: a serious tool for serious bushcrafters

The Gränsfors Bruk Small Forest Axe is a superlative tool for demanding users who need a versatile and capable but reasonably compact axe for outdoor living

Gränsfors Bruk Small Forest Axe
(Image: © Matthew Jones)

Our Verdict

There’s a reason so many foresters, bushcrafters and serious outdoor users love the Small Forest Axe. This handsome hand-forged axe is a versatile tool that straddles the line between hand axe and felling axe. Though it might be overkill for many weekend campers, if you need the extra capabilities of a slightly longer axe, this is a classic choice.

For

  • Premium hand-forged steel head
  • Hickory handle
  • Supplied with high-quality leather head mask
  • Versatile size and weight

Against

  • Overkill for many campers
  • Price

Gränsfors Bruk Small Forest Axe: first impressions

The Gränsfors Bruk Small Forest Axe hails from one of the most highly regarded axemakers in Sweden, Europe and indeed throughout the world. With a history that dates back to the mid-19th century, the company has serious heritage and world-class expertise in the complex hand-forging process. They’re so confident in the quality of their products that all their axes come with a 20-year guarantee. 

And like many Scandinavian brands, sustainability is at the heart of operations too. Heads are forged from recycled steel, while the leather used to make sheaths and masks is vegetable tanned (and therefore chromium-free). Wooden handles are made of responsibly sourced hickory. These materials are all renewable, since at the end of the axe’s life the steel can be recycled, while the leather and wood will decompose, eliminating waste.

Moreover, Gränsfors Bruk minimize unnecessary grinding and polishing to consume less energy in the forge and use up less abrasive material, ultimately reducing carbon emissions. The heads and handles are also left unpainted, since paint can be harmful to the environment and adds another costly but unnecessary step in the manufacturing process, in terms of both resources and impact. We can happily add Gränsfors Bruk to our list of the best eco-friendly outdoor brands.

Gränsfors Bruk Small Forest Axe

The 19.5in handle has tapered shoulders and slim throat so that this axe can be used with one hand or two (Image credit: Matthew Jones)

For outdoorsy types who care about the planet – which should be all of us – these commitments are laudable and worth supporting. It also results in a simple, elegant and handsome finished product – and the Small Forest Axe is certainly all of those things. That’s why it features in our best camping axe buying guide.

The hand-forged head is stamped not only with the Gränsfors Bruk name and crown, but also with the individual maker’s initials. It’s a useful and practical shape, with a long, thin bit and slender cheeks that ensures excellent bite when cutting across the grain. The convex profile enables greater precision, as does the bevelled cutting edge. The blade space is smaller and flatter than is typical of many modern axes and hatchets, but still has a slight curve to ensure improved penetration.

The head is well seated on the hickory handle, with plenty of crown above the eye – a nice touch. It is hafted with a wooden wedge and a single metal pin that is well finished, demonstrating the manufacturer’s commitment to quality. In our experience, this approach also makes rehandling easier compared to a circular pin, which usually needs drilling out.

The 19.5in handle is a versatile length, while the tapered shoulders and slim throat ensure this axe can be used with one hand or two. A pronounced palm swell and a squared butt offer a secure, comfortable grip. The handle is natural wood, left unvarnished and unpainted. This offers both warmth and tactility, while also absorbing moisture from sweaty palms. Give it a coat of boiled linseed oil every few months and it will last a very long time indeed.

The handle is finished with a lanyard hole and the axe is supplied with a high-quality leather head guard or mask that protects the bit effectively.

Specifications

• RRP: £132 (UK) / €152 (EU)
• Weight: 975g / 2lb 2oz
• Blade length: 8cm / 3in
• Overall length: 50cm / 19.5in
• Head: Hand-forged carbon steel
• Handle: Hickory
• Head guard: Heavy duty leather

Gränsfors Bruk Small Forest Axe: in the field

Gränsfors Bruk Small Forest Axe

The hand-forged head is stamped not only with the Gränsfors Bruk crest, but also with the initials of that head’s individual maker (Image credit: Matthew Jones)

The Small Forest Axe is the axe of choice for many bushcrafters and outdoors folk, whether for weekend adventures or more extended outdoor living. Admittedly, that’s partly because it has developed a reputation as being “the best”, recommended by noted experts like Ray Mears, amongst many others. But there’s no denying it is the ideal size and weight to straddle the divide between a small hand axe and a more heavy-duty felling or limbing axe. With an overall length of 19.5 inches, it combines practicality with power and can be used with one hand or two, particularly if you choke down on the slender haft. This enables you to use it for light splitting work or even close carving and whittling.

Still, as the long, thin head shape suggests, this is an axe that is really designed for efficiency when cutting across the grain, as when limbing logs, snedding branches or felling trees. In that capacity it is excellent, and on test it made short order of a standing dead ash that had succumbed to dieback. It’s a fantastic axe for processing small and medium-sized trees, especially when used in conjunction with a good camping saw (do you know the best trees for firewood?).

The hand-forged steel head is of extremely high quality and the axe came with a keen edge. The bit has an excellent balance of edge retention, strength and toughness. Of course, like all tools, for optimum performance, it requires fairly regular TLC – this isn’t an axe to use and abuse – but if cared for, it will last a lifetime.

Gränsfors Bruk Small Forest Axe

The head is well seated on the hickory handle, with plenty of crown above the eye (Image credit: Matthew Jones)

It is also light and compact enough to carry in a hiking backpack, or at least strapped to the outside of a decent-sized rucksack. The total weight is a fraction under a kilogram – just over two pounds – which isn’t much heavier than many of the more robust hatchets out there. In contrast to a hatchet, however, you get an extremely versatile and capable axe with considerable chopping and felling power.

Of course, these uses might be overkill for many campers, particularly if you’re just splitting small logs or chopping kindling. And even if you still want a hand-forged tool from the Gränsfors Bruk stable, you might be better served by the Small Hatchet, Wildlife Hatchet (another bushcrafters’ favorite) or the Splitting Hatchet.

But despite the fact that not everybody needs a premium, artisan-made axe, plenty of people like the idea of a hand-forged tool that can be traced right back to its individual maker. If that’s you, you’ll undoubtedly appreciate this finely crafted axe, which will no doubt become a prized possession.

An outdoors writer and editor, Matt Jones has been testing kit in the field for nearly a decade. Having worked for both the Ramblers and the Scouts, he knows one or two things about walking and camping, and loves all things adventure, particularly long-distance backpacking, wild camping and climbing mountains – especially in Wales. He’s based in Snowdonia and last year thru-hiked the Cambrian Way, which runs for 298 miles from Cardiff to Conwy, with a total ascent of 73,700 feet – that’s nearly 2½ times the height of Everest. Follow Matt on Instagram and Twitter.