> TEOTWAWKI Blog: Prepping on $40 a Week: Choppers!



Prepping on $40 a Week: Choppers!

When we chose our budget survival knife I mentioned that we'd be picking up several tools instead of trying to use a big, do it all Rambo knife. When you try to have one tool that does it all, you end up with compromised performance. A fixed blade knife can do a lot, but it can't do everything, and it can't do everything well. So, we'll be adding a bigger tool for serious cutting/chopping work to our budget survival kit.

Instead of recommending a specific tool, I'm going to run through several excellent choices that fall within our $40 price range. This tool choice is more dependent on your area of operations--where you live. Someone who lives in an urban center will have different needs then someone who lives in the middle of a forest, and someone who lives in the desert or swamp will again have different needs.

The Urban Survivor
If you're unfortunate enough to get stuck surviving in an urban environment, bushcrafting tools are only going to get you so far. You may find yourself dealing with wreckage, blocked doors or need to smash your way out of (or into) a building or vehicle.

Tomahawks have become very popular on the front lines of the war on terror for this very purpose. Our guys aren't typically using 'hawks for hand to hand, they're using them for breaching, smashing and prying. A high end tactical hawk will run around $500, but Cold Steel makes several serviceable hawks that cost around the $30 price point.

I have a Cold Steel Trail Hawk that I like quite a bit--expect to put in a bit of work refinishing it if you want it to look nice, but they're a great platform for customizing. The factory edge is so-so and the steel is not the best, but they're very handy tools to have around. I like the size on these hawks - -- 22" gives you some good length for swinging, and you can choke up very easily if needed.

For urban survival, I would choose the spike poll over the hammer--the spike is largely what makes a 'hawk so handy for breaching into stuff. Cold Steel makes the nice spiked hawk similar to the Trail Hawk, the Spike Hawk The Spike Hawk's spike is a great shape for doing the breaching/puncturing stuff - curved for ripping and prying, and tapered such that it will punch through materials with ease and withdraw without too much trouble. Using the spike for really destructive work will also preserve the edge on the hawk face, which will get destroyed once you start smashing through a car door, brick wall, etc.
Spike hawk. Image via ColdSteel.com
A 'hawk also makes a great weapon in a pinch, useful at a variety of ranges - choke up close to the head and you can box with it, a bit more length and you can swing it baseball bat style, etc.  The Spike Hawk's curved beard is also useful for combat purposes--sharpen it up a but, and it's very good for trapping/hooking and tearing.

If you want a hammer, I would get the Cold Steel Pipe Hawk over the Trail Hawk that I have - better blade shape, better hammer. 

You will need a sheath - eBay has a bunch if you don't want the crappy Cold Steel ones. 

General Woodlands
For forest/bushcrafty type uses, I like a saw and a small-ish axe. A decent saw and an axe will pretty much blow our budget, so you're probably going to need to pick one or the other. I'd personally pick an axe before a saw, but your mileage will vary.

Your multitool should have some kind of saw that we can use for a things like notching, which makes a saw a bit less of a necessity. For a small folding saw though, the consensus is the Bahco Laplander is the best of the best. If you want cheaper and bigger, pick up a bow saw blade like this one a couple screws/wingnuts - with these, a serviceable bow saw is not too difficult to make in the bush. You're out around $10 for saw blade and hardware.

For an axe, I like around 20-24" in length. Plenty packable while still being of useable size.

Why an axe and not just a tomahawk? While a hawk is good enough for light chopping, they just do not have the weight or geometry to do a good job doing more serious work with wood. Not a big deal for small stuff, but if you're up north, it's winter and you're splitting wood to survive, it's a bigger deal.

Gerber Camp Axe II - image via Gerber.com. A solid performer.
There are several good axes that will work here. We've had a Gerber Camp axe (made by Fiskars) for several years, and it's held up well to chopping duties on camping trips. Nothing to write home about, but it's worked well enough. They have a newer/upgraded generation out now that looks better - the Camp Axe II (the revenge of Camp Axe!).

 The nylon handle is supposedly indestructible, but it's not as good - in my opinion - as a solid wood handle for actual work. On the old generation, some had problems with wood slivers getting under the joint between the head and the handle, but the new version has a ridge where the handle/head meet that is said to resolve that.

Pretty good axe though for around our $40 price. The sheath that it comes with is pretty good as far as axe sheaths go, too. It's a little on the short side at 18" - really more of a long hatchet - but plenty useable with two hands and one.

For a more traditional axe, I would look at the Cold Steel Trail Boss. I don't have any personal time with one, but they typically get good reviews and run under $35 shipped (no sheath though). Condor makes some nice looking axes for just over our budget, too. If anyone has first hand time with either of these, let us know your thoughts in the comments. Both will require some work out of the box, but should be solid performers.

Finally, the machete excels in jungle/tropical environments, and it can also do pretty well in some desert environments, too (long blade = better for hacking cactus). Machetes will also do decently in the woods, and of the various choices, I'd prefer to use a machete in a fight, if it came down to it.

 Cold Steel (again) has a pretty varied line of machetes, most under $20.
A Condor Golok. Might need to pick one of these up.

I have a Cold Steel Panga that I bought several years ago for under $20, and it's survived several camping trips and much abuse around the house. The grip is lousy - I trimmed off excess molding and slipped a piece of inner tube over it to add better grip, and I'd recommend a wrist lanyard if you're doing serious work. A sheath will need to be DIY'd or can be purchased separately. I made one out of cardboard and duct tape...not exactly apocalypse-proof, but it works. The edge will need some work out of box, too. For what I've paid and what I've put it through, though, I've been very happy with the machete's performance.

I'll dig it out and post some pictures...maybe time for a decent sheath, too.

Condor makes some very nice and well reviewed machetes for just over our budget. If you're in for a machete, I'd take a serious look at these...I might need to add one to my collection here in the near future.

Budget: Because we're laying out a variety of options, we'll figure on spending the entire $40 this week. If you've got leftover, roll that into the bank!

If you already have a chopper...
Get out and do some work with it, then perform some maintenance - sharpen the edge and oil it up!