By Ian M.
I love Vikings and I “needed” an ax, as I was lacking a decent one. So after a little poking around, I settled on the Cold Steel Norse Hawk. Other options I considered were several of the Hanwei axes, but they were a little too large for comfortable camp use and too short to feasibly use for walking (I wanted one or the other). Thusly, I put the CSK Norse Hawk on my Christmas list this year.
When I opened the box on Christmas morning, I was unimpressed (although not discouraged). I had read in several reviews that people looking for an out-of-the-box tool should look elsewhere, and I was prepared and, to tell the truth, rather excited to begin work on this gem.
It was a long wait, as my hand was previously fractured and wrapped in a fiberglass yoke of oppression for the next few weeks. I managed to play around with it a little bit, but it would be a few weeks before I could even swing the ax.
The head features a four inch, curved cutting edge that arrived quite blunt (I was expecting shaving sharp, according to reviews). The shape of the axe is only vaguely reminiscent of a Petersen Type M Danish Axe, although the upper horn doesn’t protrude nearly far enough and the eye of the head is far from historical, among other things. This (relative) blade shape was common for fighting axes in most of Europe from around the 10th to 11th century.
The business end had the beginnings of a proper edge, but it just wasn’t quite there. A collective few hours spent with the belt sander and various sharpening stones brought the blade to a status with which I am comfortable- I can’t quite shave with it, but I can slice newsprint with ease (and even halve a freestanding pool noodle cleanly). Sharp enough for my needs. (Editor: We might have to add the pool noodle to the TTAK Testing Protocol)
The blade also features a differential temper, with the edge being harder than the rest of the ax. Once I stripped the finish, it became very noticeable, and I’m impressed with such a feature at this price.
The head also terminates in two very sharp “horns” that would facilitate throwing, hooking, or stabbing (indeed, if you hold any interest in Skaldic writings, these are parts of an ax that are just as important as the blade). It’s certainly not something I would want to catch a glancing blow from.
The head is secured partly by friction, and partly by a tiny (relative to its workload) hex screw. It sits, recessed in the rear of the head. I promptly threw it away, and intend to peen a brass rod or something similar into the hole once I get the haft properly set, which brings me to…
This turned out to be a disappointment. The finish was exceedingly rough (a forgivable offense, given my attitude towards this piece). However, something I cannot fix is the grain orientation. Properly constructed, a wooden ax handle should have the “points” in the grain on the sides of the haft, and not facing the blade or rear. The grain on my haft did not align properly. It’s a cumbersome idea to convey over this medium, and I will (hopefully) let the pictures speak for themselves.
The fit of the haft to the head was quite horrendous- gaps everywhere, and the swelling at the top of the haft was entirely too massive. As this type of ax is used, the head is supposed to snug up on a haft that slowly increases in circumference. Mine was a hopeless case from the start (at least where a “proper” fit is concerned). I eventually tightened it to a useable state using a vice, hammer, and several nails which functioned (rather poorly) as improvised widgets. I’m not proud of that last bit.
In addition to the work mentioned above, I also stripped the finish off of the head. It was actually a very good finish, especially over carbon steel, but I’m personally not a fan of the “shoe polish” effect that it evokes. I used a commercial paint stripper and after several applications, I had most of the finish removed. Afterwards, I applied several coats of gun blue. The finish darkened slightly, but it didn’t quite give me the well-worn, well-travelled look I was going for. It looks more ancient, like a well-cared for artifact, and the rough-forged, pitted finish adds to this. I think I’ll leave it for now, although I may attempt some filework down the road if I feel like it, but I will definitely procure, by hook or crook, a new haft to work with.
Pros: Great piece of steel for the head, very economical unit. I believe it was last going for about thirty dollars on Amazon. With some TLC, it can be transformed into a workhorse of a tool, and still look presentable.
Cons: Haft was goofed up, the cheesy setscrew in the head is kind of a turnoff, and it arrived quite blunt. It’s also not very “Norse”, but I wanted a tool first, and a cool thingy second.
All in all, I like this ax. At 22″ overall, it’s about the perfect size for belt carry. It’s a cool thing to have around, but you really get your money’s worth when you invest in a new handle and a little bit of time and energy into various small things that truly make it “yours”. I have no doubt that I will get a years of service from it. Ilook forward to bringing this tool to the field, alongside the Moras and the Single-Six.
In conclusion, it requires some effort to bring out its beauty and apex of functionality, but I personally wouldn’t have it any other way.