Short Story: The Harbor Freight Fireman’s Hatchet is a “fixer upper”. Long Story: Here it goes.
This tool has the potential to be a low dollar high value asset. It definitely gets the low dollar part right. It retails for 20 USD minus 20% with the Harbor Freight coupon that is so common it is a given.
But is it a 16 dollar piece of crap? No, but you’ve got to do your part.
For starters, you have to be selective in the hatchet you buy. I had three to choose from and one had some wood peeling near the head. You got to do your own quality control.
Next, you have to decide if you are keeping the handle or just buying the ax for the head. BTW, the head is advertised as “carbon steel” but the kind is not stated nor is the specie of wood for the handle.
If you go with another handle you can bypass many of the “issues” surrounding this hatchet. The low down is the head is too heavy for the philosophy of use (2 1/4 pounds is stamped on the head itself). It seems like a break/split waiting to happen.
If you keep the handle you are going to have to get the weight down. The easiest way is too cut the spike off. Many guys online have done that and it seems to work for them. I elected to keep the spike. I had the spike and blade aggressively sharpened to mitigate this “issue”. The spike looks cool, helps balance, makes a great weapon, and you can use it like a pickaroon.
Aggressive sharpening helped alot but the thing is still on the heavy side. If you are not ready to re-handle it, cut the spike, or get real aggressive with taking away metal then this ax might not be for you.
Let me alleviate some concerns you do reader may have about this ax as I had before I purchased it (there is alot online about it). The head is on tight. Many reviews online stated this was an issue and I think Harbor Freight has taken steps to improve this ax over the years.
The head is set with two circular wedges on the top. There is also a pin on the side. It looks like a solid set up and I have yet to experience any wobble. I did take the extra precaution of applying gorilla glue and nail polish at the base of the of the head where it meets the handle.
The handle is the weakest part of this tool and if you have the time and talent you may want to replace it. I believe this is another area where the ax has improved. I read online that there was a heavy varnish on the handle. Not so on the batch I had to choose from. It seemed like there was none at all which was good as I did not want to sand away too much material as I felt it would weaken the handle. There is the cheap paint on the bottom of the handle which is the same on the head (which came off very easily on branches I swung at).
I ended up sanding the handle down slightly. I textured it with my ghetto fabulous “X’s” (hey the work) and then stained it. I also embedded fishing weights at the bottom to change the point of balance. If I planned on hiking with this ax I might not have done that.
This hatchet performed well on the branches in my yard. If you get it right this can be that uncommon hand-and-a-half hatchet that actually works. I was regularly taking swings with one and two hands. I can twirl the thing, and while it provided more power than normal for a hatchet, it did not feel like it was going to snap. Not to be forgotten, it comes with a cheap yet functional sheath.
Early on, the top of the blade chipped. I consider that a good problem as it means the steel is not so soft to merely deform.
Bottom Line: If you want something ready to go right away then this is a no go. If you don’t mind a small project on an ax THAT COSTS 16 DOLLARS then go for it!
Ratings (out of five stars)
Larger than normal hatchet with an “old school” look.
Well fitted but heavy and not sharp.
The head is on solid but the handle is wood (specie unknown). Cracks and splits might be issues.
Out of the box I would give this hatchet a three star rating but it jumps up to a four with some work. At 16 U.S. dollars it is definitely worth it.