BUSHCRAFTING ON A BUDGET
Affordable and effective camp tools from UST
Ultimate Survival Technologies (UST) has been in continuous operation since 1936. Formerly a family-owned business, UST was purchased in 2016 by Battenfeld Technologies (a subsidiary of Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation), joining other well-known brands such as Schrade, Uncle Henry and Wheeler Engineering. UST continues to add to its line of popularly priced wilderness survival products that are easily accessible to the masses. When I was first asked to field-test the Heritage Camp Ax and Parasaw Pro, I was hesitant to accept the assignment. My job as an outdoor gear and skills writer has allowed me to have access to some of the finest tools and gear that money can buy, and I was concerned that these tools might not be up to the task. However, I quickly realized that my access to high-quality gear as a tester and evaluator is the exception and not the rule. The vast majority of people purchase their camping gear from one of many large retail chains and websites on which a wide selection of UST products is available at popular prices. It is to this huge group of camping enthusiasts and preppers that UST markets its products. I took this opportunity to combine my experience with these tools to provide solid information on what can be expected when you’re working with them.
THE UST HERITAGE CAMP AX
UST introduced its Heritage line to provide consumers with products that have a “vintage esthetic” but are still made from modern materials. The UST Heritage Camp Ax is delivered in the clear, plastic blister packaging we have come to expect from items sold at large retail stores. While this ensures that the contents are highly visible and well protected, it does not allow the potential purchaser to get a feel for the tool before using it. When I removed the Heritage Camp Ax from its packaging, I was struck with how light it is. This is not a heavy chopping tool. The Camp Ax is made from a solid piece of stainless steel. The grips are made from a light-colored hardwood that provides coverage about three-quarters of the way from the butt of the tang toward the head of the ax. The grips are well beveled, covered with a clear lacquer and affixed to the tang with four Torx screws. The grips weren’t what you’d expect on a $200 ax, but they did not produce any hotspots during use. The grip also incorporates a lanyard hole, and a small leather lanyard is included. Moving up from the grips, I saw that the ax had ergonomic cutouts in the tang just below the ax head. These are provided to allow the user to grip the ax high under the head, providing more control when using it for fine carving tasks. The ax head, itself, has a classic profile. The bit of the ax has a hollow-ground edge that came reasonably sharp. The butt of the ax head has been formed into a tapered wedge, which UST says can be used as a pry bar.
The Heritage Camp Ax was provided with a leather ax mask. The mask is a simple, two-piece design with an added belt loop. The seams are stitched and riveted, and a welt has been incorporated to prevent the edge from cutting into the stitching or coming into contact with the rivets. The mask gives full coverage to the head and is well secured with two snaps. With a proper application of some leather conditioner, I think this mask should last for the lifetime of the ax. Overall, my first impressions of the Heritage Camp Ax were that it was a solidly constructed, light-duty chopping tool that should perform reasonably well in the field.
PUTTING THE AX TO USE
I took the Heritage Camp Ax to one of my favorite hiking and camping areas to see how it performed doing real-world tasks. My first task was to remove branches from a deadfall hemlock tree. I confined my chopping to the area where the branches exit the main trunk of the tree. Chopping into this part of the tree can be hard on an edge, and I wanted to see how the thin-edge profile would hold up. After removing several of these branches from the tree trunk, I examined the edge and found no obvious damage. The thin-edge profile helped the ax bite deeply into the branches and made short work of removing them. The handle was reasonably comfortable throughout this task, although its lacquered finish made it a little slippery. I tried using the supplied lanyard to firm up my grip; unfortunately, the lanyard is too small to fit around my wrist. The Heritage Camp Ax would definitely benefit from a larger lanyard, but it’s easy enough to replace it with some paracord if you have the same issue. My next task was to use the ax to split some cut branches into smaller pieces of kindling for a campfire. Instead of relying on my poor aim to swing the ax and hit the branch in just the right spot to create a split, I chose a safer, more reliable method: By bracing the branch between the butt of the handle and edge of the ax, I could control exactly where I created the split. Swinging the wood and the ax together and striking them on the deadfall log split the wood efficiently and with little risk of injury. The Camp Ax did a great job with the splitting task. Next, I wanted to see if the Camp Ax could handle some larger splitting tasks. I used the Parasaw Pro to cut two sections of wood. I used the first section to create a baton. The
UST INTRODUCED ITS HERITAGE LINE TO PROVIDE CONSUMERS WITH PRODUCTS THAT HAVE A “VINTAGE ESTHETIC” BUT ARE STILL MADE FROM MODERN MATERIALS.
second section would be used for splitting. After cutting the wood for the baton, I used the Camp Ax to reduce part of its diameter to form a handle. Again, the ax did a good job. Its light weight and thin edge assisted in making precise, controlled chops and cuts. In addition, it had no issues with the green wood I had chosen. Due to the ax’s light weight and thin profile, I knew splitting a larger-diameter piece of wood would not be best accomplished by swinging the ax. With this in mind, I placed the edge of the ax directly against the wood and used the baton to drive the ax into the log. Using this technique, the Heritage Camp Ax could easily split larger-diameter wood. My final cutting task for the Heritage Camp Ax was to create a few feathersticks to help start my fire. The hollow grind and thin-edge profile should have made this an easy job. I chose some dry-split pieces of kindling from the hemlock, placed my hand up high under the ax head and got to work. While I could create feathersticks, the job was more difficult than I expected. The exposed metal edges around the ax head and tang are quite sharp, and this made gripping them very uncomfortable. Additionally, the edge of the ax, itself, had lost enough of its sharpness to hinder its ability to do fine cutting tasks. While I could get the job done, I cut this task short in favor of another fire-starting approach. My last test for the Camp Ax was to see how it struck a ferro rod. All of those same exposed sharp edges that made carving so uncomfortable allowed the Camp Ax to strike sparks like a pro!
THE UST PARASAW PRO
Folding saws have long been a staple of most experienced woodsmen’s outdoor kits. They are lightweight, compact and effective enough to accomplish most of the tasks typical outdoorsman need to do. In my experience, I have found that a good-quality saw is of much greater value to me than an ax or other heavy chopping tool. Outdoorsmen in colder climates will quite likely have a different opinion, but I live in a temperate climate, so a good saw is an invaluable woods tool. The Parasaw Pro is a kit that, like the Camp Ax, comes in a clear blister package. Included in the kit is the Parasaw, a nylon sheath, a length of Paratinder paracord and a ferrocerium rod with an attached whistle. The Parasaw is a compact, lightweight tool that can ride, virtually unnoticed, on a belt using the supplied sheath. The handle of the saw is made from plastic with a section of rubber overmolding included to provide additional grip. The grip initially feels good in the hand and gives the impression of being solidly constructed. The blackened, stainless steel saw blade does not lock in the closed position and is easily deployed by grasping the blade and swinging it open. The blade locks in the open position using a large liner lock that is similar to those found on many pocket knives.
PUTTING THE PARASAW PRO TO USE
I used the Parasaw to cut a variety of different types of wood. When cutting dry, small-diameter wood, it did well enough. It could cut through some small hemlock branches up to about half the diameter of my wrist with no issues. However, when trying to cut larger pieces and/or
wet wood, the saw blade had a tendency to bind. This binding not only made cutting inefficient, it also made the handle uncomfortable. Trying to use the Parasaw Pro to cut green wood was frustrating, because the wet wood quickly clogged the teeth, forcing me to continuously remove the saw from the cut to clear them. The supplied ferrocerium rod is glued into a plastic handle and includes a short length of Paratinder to attach a small, plastic whistle. The whistle is loud and will make a good signaling device. The ferrocerium rod, itself, is of the softer variety. This allows the user to gently scrape off a pile of shavings without creating a spark. The ability to do this can be of great help when trying to ignite marginal tinder. I tried to use the back of the saw blade to strike the ferro rod, but the edges on the spine were not sharp enough to create enough sparks. The Paratinder is a fairly useful item to have around. It not only functions as any other paracord would, it also contains a single strand of flammable tinder. To test how well it worked, I cut off a 3-inch piece and removed the single, red tinder cord from the paracord. I set the paracord aside for another project, as you will see in the images at the bottom of this page, and used my fingers to “fluff up” an end of the tinder cord to increase its surface area, making it easier to ignite. After gathering a tinder bundle full of tiny, dry hemlock branches, I used the Camp Ax to scrape off a pile of material from the ferrocerium rod. I placed the prepared end of the tinder cord into the pile of shavings and used the ax to throw a spark from the ferro rod. One strike was all it took to ignite the shavings and the tinder cord. The tinder cord burned long and hot enough to easily ignite my tinder bundle. After a pleasant day in the woods testing these products from UST, I came away with a few conclusions: The first was that you need not spend a lot of money to have fun in the woods. I could accomplish everything I set out to do with these tools that virtually anyone can afford. I could easily learn to work with their limitations, and they would be a good choice for first-time campers. The second was that budget-priced gear will force you to focus more on your skills and less on your gear. In my estimation, skill trumps equipment every time!
Below, left: The ax makes quick work of de-limbing this deadfall hemlock tree.
Left: The Heritage Camp Ax is designed to look like the classic camping tools of yesteryear.
Bottom, left: The edge of the Camp Ax is thin enough to do some fine carving.
Bottom, right: With the help of a baton, the ax is capable of splitting some larger pieces of wood.
Below, right: After the Parasaw Pro cut a branch to size, the Camp Ax did a good job making kindling for a fire.
Far right: The Parasaw utilizes a liner lock to prevent the blade from closing on the user’s hand.
Near right: The Parasaw Pro is delivered with an ergonomic, high-visibility orange plastic handle and a blackened stainless steel blade.
The Parasaw is delivered with a simple, nylon belt sheath.
The saw was used to make two cuts on opposite sides of this branch. Each cut stops halfway through the wood and will assist in splitting the wood without an ax or knife.
The end result of splitting wood using only a folding saw
The remaining piece of paracord, with the Paratinder removed, can easily be used to create an effective fishing lure.
The Paratinder paracord contains an eighth (red) strand that is impregnated with wax to make it useful for starting a fire.
Finish your paracord lure by melting the cord around the front of the hook and fraying loose ends at the back.
Here, the author is shown separating the individual strands of the Paratinder to make it easier to catch a spark.
The Parasaw Pro arrives with a ferrocerium rod and an emergency whistle.
A piece of prepared Paratinder is ready to accept a spark from a ferro rod.
As always, having a well-prepared tinder bundle is the key to success when using Paratinder to start your fire.
By scraping some material from the ferro rod onto the Paratinder, it caught fire easily with a single strike.