Axes, Hatchets, & Machetes

Blade Show 2014: CRKT Chop-Fest.

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The CRKT Chop-Fest was an off-site gathering of bloggers and CRKT reps. where we all had some hands-on time with the merchandise.

About a month shy of the Blade Show I received an email from Ben at CRKT. It was an invitation to a small gathering about a mile from the convention site in the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area – a surprisingly nice Urban Wilderness in the heart of the Convention District. The gathering is called “Chop-Fest” and took place on Saturday morning of the show.

The event was held on the banks of Rotten Creek (a misnomer, it was quite pretty for an urban stream), and when I arrived there was a suitcase full of knives, tomahawks, machetes, and a combination sharpener/ferro rod firestarter called a Spark-N-Sharp.

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The Chattahoochee National Recreation Area is obviously “Urban” wilderness, but is quite pretty despite the occasional sign of civilization.

Some of the other media types in attendance included YouTube video bloggers Tim Carpenter whose EverdayTacticalVideos channel is a treasure trove of knife and gear reviews, as well as tactical and survival techniques and Jeff Smith whose Cutlerylover channel hosts more than 3,000 videos covering a dizzying array of subjects. Also in attendance was Mike Gavac, knifemaker and owner of Gavko Custom Knives who brought his own sword with him.

Ben passed out the tools and we all began to turn large pieces of wood into little ones, chopping, shaving, carving, batoning, and basically going to town on anything that wasn’t still alive.

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I began by batoning a small branch with the MK6.

I started with the Doug Ritter designed MK6. I had big expectations for this little knife since David had already reviewed the knife for us. I won’t go into great detail here, but it was everything I expected after reading the review – a solid if not spectacular blade that would make a versatile backup blade that can be easily carried on a neck lanyard.

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The CRKT S.P.E.W. is a “medium-rare” sized fixed blade neck knife with a Wharncliffe geometry.

The next knife I played around with was the S.P.E.W. or Small Pocket Everyday Wharncliffe. This 3″ fixed blade was designed by Alan Folts and shaved wood like a demon. It is incredibly sharp out of the box, and shaved a 1″ stick to a fine point in no time flat. I am slowly warming to Wharncliffe blades, but their delicate tips do not lend themselves to batoning. Unfortunately, this is a requirement in a knife I would take to the woods.

I then tried my had at the Spark’N Sharp. This combination ferro-rod/carbide sharpener is a compact little unit which comes with its own lanyard, though it could be transferred over onto a neck knife lanyard if one wants a 3-piece survival package.

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The Spark’N Sharp is a combination ferro-rod and Carbide sharpener in one tiny package.

I am not a big fan of carbide sharpeners, I find them to be too aggressive and while they work in the short term, they tend to ruin a blade with repeated use. However, in an emergency situation they can be quite useful if you need to retouch an edge.

The ferro-rod is on the smallish side, but again, the Spark’N Sharp is an emergency tool that is easy and unobtrusive to carry. The easier to carry, the more likely you are to have it with you in case it is needed. After watching Mike Gavac make quick work of starting I fire, I am strongly considering adding one to my fishing lanyard. A ferro-rod, even a diminutive one such as this, is still quicker and easier than starting a fire with a drill and bow.

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Mike Gavac of Gavko Knives used the Spark’N Sharp to quickly start a fire on the bank of the river.

I then took a turn with the tomahawks. There were three of them, two traditional wood handled ‘hawks (a Chogan, and a Kangee), as well as an all metal Tactical Kangee. All three are designed by Ryan Johnson. The Chogan has a hammer-head opposite the blade while the two Kangees have a spike. My preference is for the Chogan, as “tactical” is not a typical application for my woods tools while I can think of uses for the hammer. If I need a spike, it is most likely going to be in a situation that calls for an ice axe. I do not have a lot of experience with tomahawks and after testing I find that they do not chop as well as an axe – or really even as well as the two Ken Onion designed machetes that I tested next.

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I am not a huge tomahawk fan, but if forced to chose, I would pick one with a hammer back (like the one found on the Chogan) as opposed to a spike like those on the Kangees.

Unlike my indifference to tomahawks, I admit to being a fan of the humble machete. I have used them for clearing brush, preparing firewood, and even digging geology test pits in Kenya. I own several relatively inexpensive ones, but the two Ken Onion designed ones that were there for us to demo are frankly pretty fantastic.

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The Ken Onion Halfachance is the grippiest, most effective machete I have ever used.

The grip is contoured and rubberized, and provides the most solid hold of any machete I have ever swung. My favorite of the two was the parang style Halfachance which has a more weight-forward feel and in my subjective opinion did a slightly quicker job chopping than the more traditionally shaped Chancinhell.

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Left to right: Chancinhell, Chogan, S.P.E.W., MK6, Halfachance, and Kangee tactical. Mike Gavac’s test fire is in the foreground.

Unlike my mystery metal/pakistani car bumper machetes, both CRKT examples are made from 65Mn powder coated carbon steel. Not spectacular, but quality, and perfectly suited to the purpose of the tool. The edge was easy to touch up with a streamside hunk of sandstone. I managed to remove a nick from a rock-strike with minimal effort. Ben gave me the Halfachance to take home and demo. I have played around with it some since my return from the show, easily cutting down several 4-5″ saplings.

I did have a chance to demo the Knife of the Year – the Hi Jinx. Unfortunately the pictures did not turn out, but I found it to be a solid blade. The German BUS steel held a razor edge, though this knife is by no stretch a woodsman’s knife. I couldn’t bring myself to baton it, though it would likely have done a passable job IMHO.

Finally, as we were winding down, Ben gave us each a couple of Minimalists to take home with us. This Alan Folts designed mini-neck knife is kind of cute, but has a seriously sharp blade. However, it is the laser etching of the Chop-Fest logo that sets this particular knife apart. It is always fun to have a commemorative knife. I have one for me, one for Chris, and one to give away to a reader in a future contest. Details to come.

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One of about 30 Chop-Fest 2014 etched Minimalists in existence.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself putting the new CRKT products through their paces. Many knife snobs overlook CRKT because their knives are imported from Asia. I understand that point of view, and to some degree subscribe to it myself. However, not all Asian made tools are junk. I can appreciate the company philosophy of CRKT – they want to bring American designed knives to market at a price point that the casual consumer can easily afford to acquire. In this mission they succeed.

Their tools are well thought out, and most are beyond purely serviceable/functional. Some, such as the Halfachance, are superlative. Others, such as the MK6 and Hi Jinx are extremely solid and will provide years of service. Some such as the Dogfish (which I bought and own but were not demoed at Chop-Fest) do fall a bit short. But as a general rule you are going to get a great bang-for-the-buck tool from CRKT.

I appreciate the invitation to this enjoyable event. It was nice to be able to do more than simply hold and photograph the knives. It was also fun to get away from the bustle of the show and into my natural habitat – a wooded stream. This was the 3rd annual Chop-Fest, and I look forward to future editions.

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