Knives Illustrated - - Contents - STORY AND PHO­TOS BY REUBEN BOLIEU

Turn­ing back the hands of time, th­ese rus­tic camp axes and hawks are solid per­form­ers with a his­tor­i­cal look, qual­ity and feel. BY REUBEN BOLIEU


About two years ago I was on the search for a good bush axe. At that time, the pop­u­lar axes for camp­ing and bushcraft were the Wet­ter­ling's Large Hunter's Axe and the Grans­fors Bruks Small Forest Axe, which are made in Swe­den. I wanted an axe that was smaller than usual and easy to carry in the woods. It had to be well­made, hand-forged, and have a rus­tic look about it.

Also, I wanted it to be made in the USA. Even­tu­ally, I bought a sub-par axe and ex­pe­ri­enced the frus­tra­tion of the head loos­en­ing up and wob­bling around when be­ing used. The search was back on, and I found a place in Ohio that made small axes and tom­a­hawks—h & B Forge.

Fam­ily Owned & Op­er­ated Since ’65

I wasted no time in call­ing owner, Will Bar­ber. We had a brief con­ver­sa­tion about what I wanted for my wilder­ness out­ings, and I even­tu­ally had the plea­sure of talk­ing to his wife, Mary, and then Jar­rod, his son. Will and Mary Bar­ber were the own­ers of the H & B Forge Co., which be­gan in 1965 with Mary's father.

Mary told me, “My dad's name is Jim Hus­ton. His first partner was Til­ton Bowen, thus the H & B is for Hus­ton and Bowen. We al­ways laughed at the co­in­ci­dence that I would marry some­one whose last name started with a B and who would be in­ter­ested, and able, to make hawks!”

Will was a man of many trades when he took over as the main black­smith from Mary's father. Al­ways the per­fec­tion­ist, Will re­fused to make any­thing with his name on it that was not only a work of art, but func­tional and durable, as well. Over the years, H & B Forge has added many styles, in­clud­ing Naval Board­ing axes, Me­dieval and Nordic axes, as well as various styles of spiked and ham­mer poll axes. H & B Forge also wel­comes cus­tom or­ders.

Sadly, the world lost a fine craftsman, artist, pa­triot, and father, in late 2012. Will and Mary's son, Jar­rod, learned from the best, work­ing along­side his father in the shop for the last 10 years, and is now the main black­smith, and the driv­ing en­gine be­hind H & B Forge.

How They Are Made

In the spirit of early black­smiths, H & B Forge tom­a­hawks and axes are hand­made tools. The process is much like it was done hun­dreds of years ago, wrap­ping softer 1018 steel around a man­drill, then in­sert­ing a harder 1095 car­bon steel bit for the cutting por­tion of the head. Like axes and tom­a­hawks from that time, the han­dles are top-loaded through the eye and are fric­tion fit. They can't come off while chop­ping, but if they do loosen up, a sim­ple knock on the top of the han­dle against a stump will tighten it back up. If the han­dle breaks, it is easy to re­place it with a new han­dle by sim­ply in­sert­ing it, or fash­ion­ing one in the woods. H & B Forge uses hick­ory wood han­dles on all their axes and tom­a­hawks.

Camp Axes

My first axe from H & B Forge re­sem­bled an old “trade axe” with a ham­mer poll. I orig­i­nally or­dered it from Jar­rod with a longer, 22-inch han­dle in­stead of their stan­dard 19-inch han­dle. This was due to the amount of lever­age and reach I wanted. Af­ter over a year of hard use, I even­tu­ally cut the han­dle down to 20 inches long, mak­ing it more pack­able. The axes I re­ceived from H & B Forge were all ready to use as throw­ing tom­a­hawks or as chop­pers, but they all had a small sec­ondary bevel, which lim­its the tool's abil­ity to do fine tasks, like sharp­en­ing a stick or fine carv­ing. This is eas­ily fixed with a file and a di­a­mond stone or sharp­en­ing puck. Much like an axe from the old days, or a ma­chete, the edge can be al­tered by the end-user to best suit his or her needs. I used a bas­tard mill file and then a Lan­sky Puck (coarse/fine) to get the edge bevel thinned out to my lik­ing. Since I was go­ing to be us­ing it for chop­ping oak, maple and other hard woods, I didn't want some­thing too thin, just a work­ing/chop­ping edge.

Size- and weight-wise, I con­sid­ered the Large Camp Axe to be the Amer­i­can equiv­a­lent of the pop­u­lar, Small Forest Axe and Large Hunter's Axe made in Swe­den. The Large Camp Axe is suit­able for most of the typ­i­cal wood pro­cess­ing tasks re­quired for camp­ing, woodcraft and sur­vival. I consider it my “Win­ter Hawk.” Easy to trans­port, lighter than a full-blown axe, and with an easy-to-re­place han­dle, it's the per­fect camp axe for es­tab­lished camps or trekking.

One sum­mer in Ge­or­gia, I did a headto-head “axe-off” with a Coun­cil Tool Hud­son Bay axe, with a 17-inch-long

han­dle, but a heav­ier 1 3/4-pound head. I was sur­prised to see the H & B Large Camp Axe out-class the Hud­son Bay Axe—not only at the brute force work on hard­woods, but fine feather sticks as well. I have used it to split and chop all kinds of wood, without any worry of the head get­ting loose or com­ing off al­to­gether af­ter hours of work in many different cli­mates, which even­tu­ally loosen a con­ven­tional axe.

The H & B Forge Medium Camp Axe is a slightly scaled-down ver­sion of the Large Camp Axe. The length of the han­dle is 17 inches, and the over­all weight is 1.5 pounds rather than 2 pounds for the Large. The lead in­struc­tor for Ran­dall's Ad­ven­ture & Train­ing uses the Medium Camp Axe as his go-to tool in classes and around the prop­erty. It has yet to let him down af­ter years of hard service. It's def­i­nitely the lit­tle brother to the Large Camp Axe, but not by much.


H & B Forge's Shawnee Throw­ing Tom­a­hawk is said to be the most pop­u­lar throw­ing hawk in the coun­try. Eas­ily their most pop­u­lar tom­a­hawk yet, with the Bushcraft crowd, not to men­tion award-win­ning com­pe­ti­tion tom­a­hawk throw­ing. Count­less com­pe­ti­tions have been won with this hawk. When I first saw the Shawnee, I saw a possible woodcraft and camp axe, de­spite the smaller di­men­sions and weight. Af­ter two years and run­ning, I still consider it my fa­vorite chop­per and all-around wilder­ness tool.

The stan­dard han­dle length seems to be 19 inches at H & B Forge, which is about right. It can be used with a two-handed grip or com­fort­ably with one hand around the mid­dle of the han­dle. This style of tom­a­hawk does not have a ham­mer poll, but driv­ing wooden stakes into the ground with the rounded back is fine with the Shawnee. The round­ness of the poll ac­tu­ally pre­vents split­ting and crack­ing on the wooden stakes, which is a plus in my book.

Hav­ing no prob­lem keep­ing up an all-night fire, split­ting kin­dling, craft­ing, or ham­mer­ing wooden stakes into the ground, the Shawnee is a leg­end.

Boy’s Hawk

I first saw this hawk as a smaller, kid brother to the famed Shawnee, and it is. The blade is about 3.5 inches and the head length is about 5 inches. The head weight is only 3/4 pound for an over­all weight of 1.25 pounds, which is per­fect for one-handed chop­ping, as well as long distance car­ry­ing. I car­ried this all through spring, sum­mer and fall sea­sons. I used the large buck saw, small axe/hawk combo and never felt the Boy's Hawk to be “too lit­tle.” If I needed to split larger wood, I would use a big wooden mal­let along with the small hawk. It is the per­fect carry size for onthe-go type of wilder­ness travel. I can do just about every­thing with it that I do with my Shawnee, but just on a smaller scale. The shorter han­dle makes this a one-han­der all the way. It seems to do best at split­ting kin­dling and finer carv­ing than out­right chop­ping. I like how compact and ca­pa­ble it is for my style of wilder­ness travel.

Add One To Your Kit

H & B Forge of­fers heavy-duty leather sheaths to com­ple­ment their pe­ri­od­piece tom­a­hawks with the same high qual­ity you'd ex­pect from a U.S. com­pany like H & B Forge. Give Mary and Jar­rod a call and see what they have cook­ing up. KI


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