The Gransfors Ray Mears Wilderness Axe is a new and exclusive collaboration between Ray and the Swedish company Gransfors Bruks. After many years of designing, testing and refining, Ray and the Woodlore team are extremely excited to unveil this brand new signature model:
Upon its release in December 2010, Ray sat down with us for an interview on this new axe, answering questions on its design, purpose and benefits over other models available today:
The Woodlore Team: What were your main goals when you set out to design your own axe?
Ray Mears: I thought long and hard about whether there was a need to design a new axe; I was asked to do so elsewhere a long time ago, and at first I thought there wasn’t. But I’ve thought very hard about it for a long time, and I felt there was something that could be done.
A good axe needs a combination of many features, but most importantly, it needs the right weight balanced with the right length of handle. There will always be a compromise between a small, portable hatchet and a large axe more suitable for felling; the Small Forest Axe is great, but it is lacking in weight and length for good splitting and chopping. I wanted an axe that was a little bit longer, better to swing with two hands, with a heavier head.
Why did you choose Gransfors to produce it?
I think Gransfors make extremely good axes; the steel they use is of a very high standard. Their axe heads are that bit harder than others, which means they take a fabulous edge with a sharpening stone that holds; there’s no need to sharpen them frequently. They also fit the head very well to the helve.
How far back does your relationship with Gransfors go?
I don’t know… I bought my first Gransfors axe in Stockholm, sometime in the early 90’s. They weren’t that well known in the UK at that point; they are now, which is fantastic.
How long has the design process taken?
A lifetime. Over the years I’ve used axes for very small work right up to large tasks, and from this I’ve been able to build up a great in-depth knowledge of using different axes, and I’ve used that knowledge to design this axe. It’s a mix between the Gransfors Scandinavian Axe and the Small Forest Axe, but there is real magic in it; anyone who uses it will see and feel the magic quality of weight and length – it makes it a very special axe.
So what’s special about the design of the head?
It’s been designed to give real bite. The weight of the head combined with its size makes it a little more potent to use – you can split wood with it one minute and then use it for carving the next.
And what’s special about the handle?
The length is different, which is critical to the functionality of the axe. The handle is long enough, and the head heavy enough, so that the head is doing all the work. This means that your muscles can instead focus on guiding the axe, making it a much safer axe to use. The length of the helve, in balance with the weight of the head, is designed to give perfect balance.
For many years you’ve heralded the Small Forest Axe as the number one choice for Bushcraft. How does the Wilderness Axe compare?
It’s important to get the right corrolation between the axe head and handle length. But it’s paramount to base your choice of axe on the experience of the person using the axe. You should never choose an axe simply because it’s been recommended. A smaller person with a weaker wrist may need a smaller, lighter axe, while someone of a larger build will need a larger axe… When you’re on the trail, your axe has to be small and light enough to carry with you, but man enough to do the jobs it’s needed for. The Small Forest Axe is the perfect starting place; further afield, the Wilderness Axe will fit the bill a little better. The Wilderness Axe is like a ‘Small Forest Axe Plus’ – it lets you do the bigger jobs more easily.
What would you say are the ideal uses of this axe?
Anything you have to be able to do in the woods – felling trees, chopping dead trees that have blocked a portage trail, splitting, carving, fashioning a canoe paddle – but it does require expertise to use it well and these things take a long time to learn.
Can it be used one-handed?
Yes; it’s designed to be used one- or two-handed, but it depends on the size of person using it and their knowledge and experience.
What would you recommend when it comes to looking after your axe?
The same as always – a good file and a stone to sharpen it, keep the head oiled occasionally to prevent rusting, and a spot of linseed oil on the handle to help preserve it. The best thing you could do though is to come on a course to learn how to use it properly. I don’t want to sound as though I’m selling, but a week spent learning how to use an axe is a very worthwhile investment.