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Reviews > Knives > Axes and Tomahawks > Hults Bruk Tarnaby Hatchet > Test Report by Richard Lyon
HULTS BRUK TARNABY HATCHET
Test Series by Richard Lyon
Initial Report November 16, 2015
Field Report February 2, 2016
Long Term Report March 27, 2016
PERSONAL DETAILS and BACKPACKING BACKGROUND
Male, 69 years old
Height: 6' 4" (1.93 m)
Weight: 205 lb (91 kg)
Email address: Montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
Home: Bozeman, Montana USA
I've been backpacking for nearly half a century, most often in the Rockies. I do at least one weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500 - 3000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp. Though always looking to reduce pack weight, I still tend to include my favorite camp conveniences. I always sleep in a floored tent and like hot meals. Winter activities often involve telemark or touring skis.
INITIAL REPORT - November 16, 2015
A hatchet is a hatchet, right? Yes, but this one's got a history. Its Swedish manufacturer has been forging axes and hatchets since well before the existence of the United States of America. Now located in the Stockholm suburb of Norrkoping, the company has recently begun distributing its hatchets in the United States. Hults Bruk describes the Tarnaby as an "all-purpose hatchet for basic uses such as making kindling, doing light clearing and working in the garden."
Manufacturer: Hults Bruk
Website: hultsbruk1697.se Text in English when accessed from the U.S. While a U.S. resident can't purchase a product through this site there is a page for locating a local dealer and there appear to be quite a few here.
Weight: listed 2.2 lb (964 g) overall; 1.25 lb (567 g) head. Measured, 2 lb 4 oz (1021 g) overall; sheath 2.25 oz (64 g)
Handle length: listed and measured, 15 in (38 cm)
Head length: measured heel to blade down the center, 5.9 in (15 cm)
Blade length: measured, 3.25 in (8.25 cm)
Materials: Swedish steel blade, American hickory handle.
Includes: leather sheath; owner's manual (text in English); cardboard storage box
MSRP: $89 US
The Tarnaby is a handsome tool with several functional details readily apparent out of the box. The handle is curved to allow a full whack at the wood by a grip at the end or more nuanced tasks such as shaving or mincing kindling with a grip adjacent to the head. I'm not sure if "balance" is the proper word but the piece doesn't feel top heavy wherever I grip the handle. A couple of practice swings and a test converting a medium-sized log to kindling confirmed this feel. The blade is sharp, easily splitting a matchstick, and in my test converting a medium-sized log into kindling in short order. The sheath is easy to take off and put on and may be cinched firmly without making a knot in the tag end; simply pull the tag end until the sheath is firmly fitted. The instructions, which I'd call a small brochure rather than a manual, are easy to understand and mostly gentle but very useful reminders of basic care and safety precautions applicable to all well-made chopping or cutting tools and hatchets in particular. (For example, use only for wood and don't pound the hatchet with another tool.) The storage box is another nice touch. The sheathed hatchet fits exactly inside so there will be no bouncing or sliding around. As the Tarnaby, like all axes and hatchets, should be lightly oiled before storage, the box ought to keep excess oil off the shelf or other tools in the tool box. Overall I'd say a professional and functional package.
The sheathed hatchet fits nicely either into the shovit pocket or under the compression straps on the side of my winter touring pack (R2 Custom Pack, separately reviewed on this site).
I'm looking forward to using the Tarnaby this winter. One of my hiking companions has two youngish children, limiting our overnight winter trips to nearby Forest Service cabins. While these are stocked with wood we citizens must do the splitting and kindling-making, and it's common courtesy to the next user to replenish the supply if possible. Not every cabin includes an axe, maul, or hatchet. While gardening is out until spring, the Tarnaby may expect almost daily workouts here at home, as my home's principal source of heat is wood that also must be split and sometimes made into kindling.
FIELD REPORT - February 2, 2016
The Hults Bruk Tarnaby hatchet has served me well in the backcountry and at home. It's made me a believer in carrying a hatchet into the backcountry in colder temperatures whenever building a fire is a possibility.
I've packed the Tarnaby on two backpacking trips, each to a Forest Service cabin not far from my home in Montana. A New Year's Eve overnighter, wearing hiking crampons, saw temperatures of about 20 F (-7 C) under overcast skies when we started midafternoon, dropping to 8 F (-13 C) at night and early the next morning. I used the Tarnaby only to split a few smaller logs into kindling, as the Forest Service or a prior guest had stashed a long-handled axe with the firewood supply at this cabin. That served for the heavier work of splitting larger logs.
My second trip was a three-day, two-night excursion on telemark skis to a different cabin in late January. Conditions were mixed, from a few snowstorms to bright blue skies, at temperatures from 18 F (-8 C) to about freezing. Here I used the Tarnaby both to split large logs into woodstove-sized pieces (perhaps the diameter of my arm) and to make kindling.
Most of my use of the Tarnaby has been at home, where I must split wood daily for fuel to keep the house warm, as my main heating source of is a large Finnish soapstone stove. In the fall I purchased a large supply of properly-sized pre-split logs; thanks to a severe windstorm in December this I supplemented with blown-down trees that I cut to the proper length (14 in / 36 cm) with a chain saw and pre-split with a borrowed splitter. Most of the wood from either source needs further splitting to get the diameter of the wood to ideal size, about 4-8 in / 10-20 cm. That's my morning exercise. Ordinarily I do this work with a long-handled splitting axe but I have on occasion used the Tarnaby as a test, and I use it every other day or so to cut smaller pieces for kindling. (See "before" and "after" photos below.)
Ease of use. The heft of the blade and overall feel of the handle seem to be perfectly matched. I haven't really thought about the grip because its dimensions are just right. I simply pick it up, remove the sheath, grip at the throat of the handle, just above the end, and whack away. This fact alone distinguishes the Tarnaby from its predecessor in my woodshed, whose handle I often have to grip closer to the blade to ensure accurate strokes. With leather-palmed gloves I've had no slippage while splitting. The sheath is easy to remove and re-attach.
I've found it easier to stash the Tarnaby in the shovit pocket of my touring pack, with one of the pack straps under the rawhide strap on the hatchet's sheath. A side compression strap will work also but requires a loop to secure the hatchet handle.
Functionality. Almost all of the Tarnaby's victims have been seasoned (aged before pre-splitting) white pine, lodgepole pine, or Douglas fir - lightweights in the firewood world. Hardwood logs are difficult to find here in Montana and highly prized. That's certainly made my chopping jobs easier. That said, I've been thoroughly impressed with the Tarnaby's woodcutting ability. While not as efficient as my splitting axe because of its shorter handle (less leverage) this hatchet is perfectly capable of splitting larger logs into fireplace-sized pieces without undue effort. Use of the shorter handle has sharpened my batting eye, to the point where my accuracy at striking on the grain has improved considerably. At shaving into kindling its performance has been excellent, thanks to a sharp edge and immovable blade. Based upon a visual inspection of the small bit of handle above the blade and "feel" when chopping I don't think the blade has moved a millimeter up or down the handle shaft despite frequent use. Truly outstanding performance.
Durability and Care. This has been great too. I haven't noticed any dings on the blade edge and it continues to hew very well. The sheath has collected a few scrapes and scratches from hiking through the trees but a small application of leather treatment has almost hidden them from view. I wipe dirt from the blade after each use, and rub on a few drops of oil every couple of weeks. I have stored the sheathed hatchet in the cabin on overnights and in my woodshed (covered) at home, to minimize exposure to moisture. I recently treated the edge with a few scrapes on a whetstone, but I don't really think that was necessary.
LONG TERM REPORT - March 27, 2016
I have little new to report. Until a knee injury earlier this month ended my hiking and firewood-splitting the Tarnaby performed very much as described in my Field Report - that is to say, extremely well. I did complete one more three-day, two-night backpack to a nearby Forest Service cabin, carrying the Tarnaby for splitting and kindling duty. A warm February - temperatures down only to about 25 F (-4 C) at night - meant less firewood was needed, but I'm still glad I packed the Tarnaby.
Around here, in the Northern Rockies, a hatchet might be considered unnecessary weight in traditional three-season (spring, summer, fall) backpacking. Unless camping above tree line, where there's no wood to cut, there's almost always an abundance of kindling-sized sticks or slash lying around to start a fire and larger branches to keep it fed. And in the summer the authorities discourage or sometimes ban outright open flames, definitely including camp and cooking fires, for forest fire prevention. I think the Tarnaby will be reassigned to household and gardening duties until the snow falls next winter. As noted above that's in fact what Hults Bruk cites as its intended use. If its stellar performance this past winter is a guide, I have no doubt I'll be reaching for it often.
What I Like
Top-flight materials and construction
Ease of use. It's just got a great heft and feel.
Storage box. Keeps the oiled blade from staining my garage, and it's easy to spot.
Durability. It really looks as good as new, blade included.
A longer handle would help with splitting larger logs. I'm pleased to report that at the recent Outdoor Retailer Show Hults Bruk had just such a hatchet on display.
My Test Report ends here. Tack sa mycket (that's "thank you" in Swedish) to Hults Bruk and BackpackGearTest.org for the chance to test this fine hatchet.
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