Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Cool tools #1: DeWalt Log-Splitting Axe

     Spring just won't arrive. Oh, it's here, technically, according to the calendar, though that usually trustworthy grid has taken on a slightly disreputable air, more akin to a mimeographed sheet of lucky policy wheel numbers than a reliable guide to what part of the year we find ourselves in.
     Though the weather did cooperate enough last week for me to try out my latest tool, and since we need something positive to remind us that the season of building and repairing and doing outside is nearly upon us, I thought, until the temperatures get back into the 60s, I would inaugurate a new occasional series I am dubbing "Cool Tools."      

      For a half dozen years now, I've had the good fortune to spend a weekend every autumn in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, at my buddy Rick's sprawling compound—a big main house, barn, sauna, and cabins—seven hours due north in Ontonagon.
     The place is on the sandy shore of Lake Superior, but woodsy in the extreme. Once I've gotten settled in my cabin—"Squirrel,” meticulously crafted by the inimitable Moonshine Mike Guzek—and admired the views, and chatted with the other guys, I'll slip on a pair of J. Edwards elk skin linesman's gloves and go split wood.
It doesn't split itself
     Why? Why go to the effort? Why not just sit on the porch and admire the thin blue of the lake and wait for dinner?
     That's complicated. A variety of reasons, I suppose. It's good exercise, yes, and Rick has a lot of logs that need splitting—split wood dries better and burns better, for you city folk. 
      But that isn't quite why I do it. It isn't as if Rick is expecting me to put in sweat equity, though I like doing that. 
    There is something manly and Reaganesque about splitting wood, and immensely satisfying. You take a section of log, about two foot long, set it on a solid base—a tree stump is perfect. Then line up your axe, holding it with both hands, draw it way back behind you, then bring it down fast and hard, as hard as you can, on the circular top of the log. If all goes well, the log explodes into two halves. If it doesn't, the axe impacts into the wood and you need to lift the entire heavy conjoined thing, the log with the axe embedded, and bring it down until it splits. Graceless.
     Split a dozen logs with an axe and you feel like you've accomplished something.
     "Axe" isn't exactly the proper term. I'd never use my Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe for splitting wood—too light and delicate; that would be like using a surgeon's scalpel to cut a hole in a galvanized steel tub. Rather I use one of Rick's mauls—he has a few. 
    If you don't have an mental image of what a "maul" is, don't feel bad.  Most people are familiar with "maul" as a verb, as what bears and pit bulls do to you, if you're not lucky, or what various sports teams do to each other, metaphorically. 
     But the verb "maul" is several hundred years newer than the noun, which were used to describe various big hammers, and now are used primarily for a tool that is like the love child of an axe and a sledgehammer—the blade to split the wood, and the heft to push it apart.
     I'd always had what I thought of as "maul envy." But I couldn't bring myself to go out and buy one. Yes, I chop trees on my property, but logs will burn with the bark on them, particularly if you use enough gasoline, and I try not to get more tools than what I absolutely need. The time never came when I headed to Home Depot thinking, "Better pick up that maul."
     Then the good people at DeWalt sent an email. If I read every bit of corporate puffery to land in my in box that's all I'd ever do. But I have Big Love for DeWalt, as the proud owner of one of their compound mitre saws, though I think of it, incorrectly, as a "chop saw," perhaps the most useful power tool I own other than a cordless drill. I used it to build a cedar play fort for the boys, and a magnificent piece of equipment it is, having stood up to 15 years of hard use.
     So my interest was perked when the DeWalt people sent an email, almost like a birth announcement, ballyhooing the arrival of a new addition to the family:
     DEWALT® ExoCore™ Axes are available in 20 oz. with a 12” handle and 3.5 single bit and 4.5-pound log splitter with a 32” handle. All DEWALT® ExoCore™ Axes feature a scalloped cutting edge, which ensure a deep cut and improved release from material, and carbon fiber composite handles for overstrike protection. The durable rubber over-mold on the grip provides comfort.
     Available now where DEWALT products are sold, the ExoCore™ Sledge Hammers and Axes will come with a limited lifetime warranty for $29.99-$54.97 MSRP.
    I don't think they actually expect journalists to reply to these emails—they're probably designed for jaded professionals in the hardware industry media, God help them. But I was overcome with enthusiasm, and wrote back the following slightly-embarrassing reply:
 Ooo, I might have to pick up your log splitter. I already have the best light axe made. But I use a maul a lot when I'm up at Lake Superior, and have been in the market for a really good one. 
     That was not disingenuous. I was not trying to lure the DeWalt people into sending me their new log-splitting axe. But send it they did—respect for the media has not died entirely, I'm happy to report. 
     It took a week, maybe 10 days, to arrive. Long enough that I had just about given up hope. Companies say things all the time and never follow through. I've talked to the Pendleton people twice since November, when I foolheartedly ordered a wool blanket and thought that simply because I had selected it and paid for it that meant I could, in reasonable span of months, expect a Pendleton wool blanket to arrive at my home.
     No such luck. I phoned Pendleton in January—it was supposed to be my wife's Hanukkah gift for me—and again in early April. To be honest, I was just curious, as to what the hold-up was. Factory burn down? An invasion of moths? Sudden global run on green heather Yakima camp throws? Just tell me. I spoke to a variety of people there, some charged exclusively with talking to the media, and ended up with nothing but a bad taste in my mouth. They would neither explain what the problem is or acknowledge that they were not explaining it. Maddening. I came close to cancelling the order, but it really was my wife's order, her gift to me, and I didn't want to make her feel bad—the Kindle I bought her is one of her favorite toys—just because the Pendleton Woolen Mills of Portland, Oregon doesn't know how to handle would-be customers whose only crime is trying to purchase one of their products.
   The DeWalt folks are much more on the ball. A big cardboard box arrived. Perhaps I overreacted, but I ripped the box open on the spot, took the axe onto the couch and watched television with the tool, its 4.5 pound head—with, I will point out, a rubber guard protecting its razor-like edge—cradled lovingly against my chest. 
     My wife, who is used to this kind of thing, and in fact finds it an appealing boyish enthusiasm, or so she claims and I choose to believe, suppressed concern. "The Shining" sort of ruined the idea of a husband with an axe.
     On that one single, precious day last week when suddenly the weather became nice, and it seemed like spring was finally here, I ran outside with my new DeWalt to put it through its paces.
     Well, first I put on my pair of Red Wing steel-toed boots—a certain amount of force, quickness and aim is required when splitting wood, and the chance of the maul skittering off the target and ending up planted in your foot needs to be kept in mind at all times.
     The DeWalt log-splitting axe was all it was advertised. Solid hardwood logs fell apart at a stroke. Easy to grip, light to swing yet the 4.5 pound head delivering the force where it's needed. I feel a little sorry they don't call it a "maul"—trying not to confuse the tool-buying public, I suppose. But it's mine now, and I plan to call it a maul, and don't expect anyone to contradict me on the matter.    



  1. My wife will be attending a conference in Portland this summer and I'll probably make the trip with her. If you want to tag along, we can drop by Pendelton Mills and see about that blanket. Bring your maul.

  2. safety glasses of some sort would complete your ensemble

  3. For God's sake don't ever buy a Filson product. Your penchant for quality outdoors accoutrements could lead to your ruin if you go down the Filson path. Don't even look at the website. You soon will be writing for the National Enquirer to be able to afford their wool, canvas and leather products. My children had to forgo college when I when I discovered Filson.

    1. Oh, I love my Filson rucksack. It was soooooo hard to stop at only one of their products. Even now, reading your comment is making me feel the lure of their wares. Must. Resist.

    2. I looked at the web site and was not entranced. $45 for a t-shirt? $24 for a pair of white socks? What am I missing/

    3. Filson bags are extremely durable, heavy canvas, saddle leather straps, brass zippers. I don't get it about the shirts and socks, the place for those is Duluth Trading.

    4. Filson products are of remarkably high quality and will last a lifetime. The look good, they smell good, and they exude functionality. Visited the factory on a trip to Seattle and came away even more impressed.

      The problem, of course, is the expense. If you give up things like medicine and send the kids to a community college instead of university, you can own some of their products.

  4. You’ll be happy to know this blog entry is the second google result for “DeWalt Log-Splitting Axe”, after the DeWalt corporate site.

  5. I agree about wood splitting Neil, I would say there’s something primordial about it. After all, you are storing away resources for the “winter”, like a squirrel. And I do mean primordial, after all, even Ozzy the Iceman had an axe with him.

  6. Men and their tools ...
    So, Home Depot and Loewe's are Fantasylands for the common man.
    DeWalt: High-end only.
    Got it.


    1. Oh, Sandy, you make us sound so shallow. We also love Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain.

    2. The common man has other options than Home Depot and Lowe's, especially the poorer common man. Habitat for Humanity has perfectly good, recycled, usable tools at its resale stores. You can buy stuff there for a fraction of what you'd pay online or retail. Perfectly good items that come out of someone's basement or garage or workshop--after they retired or died or downsized. And some of it is quite high-end, if you get lucky on the day that you shop there. Prices are half of what you'll pay online or at a brick-and-mortar retail outlet. Sometimes even less. And it's all tested before it's put out for sale. Such a deal! Ask the man who knows.

    3. LOL Tony -- I know all about Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain; my husband and son visit often, seeking out the latest lures and other fishing equipment.

  7. It's technique more than power, if you have a proper axe, well maintained. Felling a tree and reducing it to a cord of firewood satisfies a basic male instinct. A chainsaw to buck the the trunk is allowed but a power splitter should be used only when it is a commercial rather than a personal endeavor. Don't know about Filson, but if I want Duluth Trading no-stink underwear, one pair is all I can afford.

  8. "... took the axe onto the couch and watched television with it."
    I thought I was the only one who did stuff like that.


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