The Large Splitting Axe by Gränsfors Bruk is forged by hand, each of them by one out of twelve master axe smiths, in a factory in the small village of Gränsfors in the middle of Sweden.
Each approved axe head is stamped with the initials of the individual axe smith, and my Large Splitting Axe happen to be made by axe smith MB, Mattias Blixt-Pettersson.
As the name implies, this axe is designed for splitting wood along the grain of the wood fibres, rather than cutting across the grain as with a felling axe.
Performance – 8
The magic of a splitting axe does not lie in being able to power through a piece of wood all the way, but in being able to force the two pieces of wood apart just after it has entered the wood. If this was not the case you might as well use a samurai sword to split firewood.
And the shape of this axe does a good job of forcing the pieces apart. Here you see the head of the Large Splitting Axe (left) compared to the Small Forest Axe (right):
You can see that there’s a drastic difference in thickness between the two axe heads, and the thick shape really does do a god job at forcing the fibres apart.
Here’s a comparison in size as well:
Birch and other straight grained wood will pretty much explode when you hit it with this axe.
Tougher and more gnarly woods are no problem either up to a certain size, but I’ve tried some massive pieces of woods as well and those required plenty of strikes to split apart. For those really big pieces you’re better off using wedges and a sledge hammer, or better yet an electric log splitter.
So how does this axe compare to other splitting axes? I’m going to find out starting with the #1 bestseller on Amazon, the Fiskars X27 splitting axe. Stay tuned for that test report.
Construction Quality – 10
For the full rundown on how Gränsfors Bruks axes are made, see my previous review of their Small Forest Axe. Short version: It’s quality stuff that’s built to last.
A special feature on their range of splitting axes is the protective steel collar on the handle right below the axe head (below image) that protects the handle in case you accidentally overstretch your swing and strike the log with the handle.
The axe also comes with a vegetable-tanned leather sheath:
Ease of Use – 7
At a weight of 2,3 kg (5.1 lb) this is quite a heavy axe, so you need some strength to be able to wield it effectively for longer periods of time. Weight is not everything. Speed is a force multiplier, so a lighter axe can very well deliver more force if the speed right before impact is faster.
Gränsfors Bruk also has a lighter axe, the Small Splitting Axe that weights 1,6 kg (3.5 lb), which might be a better fit if you’re of smaller stature. I might end up getting that axe for my woman for christmas.
I found that the handle gives a great grip, even in wet conditions, partly thanks to the circular groves towards the end of the handle:
The only other thing you have to keep in mind is to keep the axe sharp and dry, because a dull axe is a dangerous axe, and a wet axe rusts. More on that in the next section.
Maintenance – 8
You don’t have to do much to keep this axe in good shape year after year, but the few simple steps you should take are important.
First off, you should store the Large Splitting Axe (and your other axes) in a cool and dry spot, because if it’s too warm the handle can shrink in the axe head.
Second, to prevent the axe head from rusting you can apply a thin coat of oil on the head after use. I use camellia oil myself, a japanese oil-blend used for centuries to keep Samurai swords in pristine shape. WD40 oil is a common choice of oil, but really any oil will do, even cooking oil or motor oil.
Third, to give the handle some love you can also apply a thin coat of boiled linseed oil (not the processed kind!) diluted with turpentine.
Fourth, keep it sharp. I’ll say it again, a dull axe is a dangerous axe. Check out the sharpening guide on Gränsfors Bruk’s website for starters.
Brand Reputation – 9
Gränsfors Bruk was founded in 1902 and in the 1920’s they started exporting axes all over the world, mostly to North and South America as well as Finland. Today their axes are sold in over 30 countries.
But interestingly enough, regarding brand reputation, from around the time of the oil crisis in the 1970’ and towards the end of the 1980’s many axe manufacturers focused on mass producing cheap axes, and the result was poor quality. Gränsfors Bruk was also guilty of that.
It wasn’t until the end of the 1980’s that the company decided to take a step back towards an older and more artful way of producing axes. You could say they decided to put more love into the making of their axes, and it paid off.
Other swedish axe manufactures such as Wetterlings and Hultafors followed suit, but Gränsfors Bruk was supposedly the first in once again placing quality before quantity. Kudos to them.
Guarantee – 9
Since 1995 Gränsfors Bruk has offered a 20 year guarantee on all of their axes, although it only applies to the axe head itself and not the Hickory handle or the leather sheath.
Furthermore, they have a disclaimer that the guarantee only applies as long as the axe is used and cared for properly… meaning if you leave your axe outside over the winter and it gets rusty and damaged then it’s your own fault. Makes sense.
Every axe is quality controlled by hand before it leaves the forge to make sure that there are no defects, so you can be fairly certain that your axe will live up to its promise. If not, a 20 year guarantee does give me comfort.
Sustainability – 7
Axe production requires quite a bit of energy, which is why swedish forges have usually been located along rivers to make use of abundant hydropower.
Gränsfors Bruk gets all their steel from swedish steel manufacturer Ovako that produce their steel solely from recycled steel scrap.
Steel as a material can be reused any number of times without deterioration in its properties, and using recycled steel scrap means no new iron ore has to be mined for Ovako’s steel production.
While Ovako still relies on a rather wasteful industry for its one million tonnes of scrap every year they still get a gold star from me because of their relatively lower environmental impact.
Cheap oil is not a necessity in axe production, in fact as seen during the oil crisis in the 1970’s the demand for axes rose sharply and it became very profitable to manufacture and sell axes.
Burning wood is and will continue to be among the most sustainable and cheap ways to heat your home, so the bottom line is that axes will be around for a long time to come regardless of what happens to the oil price, and it’s a relatively sustainable tool compared to the chainsaw.
Self-Reliance – 7
Couple this axe with a good saw and sharpening kit and you have everything you need to provide firewood for years and years ahead. So if you heat your home with wood then this axe scores high on the self-reliance scale.
If you have a small house then this axe might be all you need, but if you have a bigger house and a higher annual wood consumption you’ll likely want an electric wood splitter as well to help you out. Either way, a splitting axe is a good addition to any toolshed for those who heat their home with wood.
Value – 7
I paid the equivalent of $137 for my axe in Sweden, and in the US it currently sells for $158 on Amazon. So this is a relatively expensive splitting axe.
Especially so compared to the #1 bestseller, the 36 inch Fiskars X27 Splitting Axe that you can get for only $48. And at twice the price of the Gränsfors Bruks axe you can get a basic electric log splitter (for example this one).
So if you just occasionally plan to split wood then you might find more value in the Fiskars X27 axe at roughly one third of the price. But if you want to buy an axe that will possibly outlast you, and this Gränsfors Bruks axe very well might, then $158 doesn’t feel that expensive in my mind.
Excitement – 7
Taking the first swing with this axe and feeling the log almost explode feels amazing. Taking the second swing feels even better. But after taking the hundredth swing that initial excitement is long gone.
This axe is my go-to axe for splitting firewood and I don’t regret the investment, but it won’t be the only tool I use to process my annual consumption of firewood (15+ cubic meters / 4+ cords.
Length with handle: 70 cm (27.55”)
Weight: 2.3 kg (5.1 lb)
Axe head: High carbon steel
Handle: American Hickory
Sheath: Vegetable-tanned leather