My transition from full-on dirtbag to stand-up working man was a gradual one. After living in my truck and on couches for two years, I moved to my friend Margaret’s farm in Phoenix, Oregon, where I traded labor for housing in an aluminum trailer and as many eggs, vegetables, and raspberries as I could eat. Of all of the chores I took on, splitting wood was by far my favorite. It is repetitive while still requiring just enough athleticism to be stimulating. And there’s real incentive to pay attention, lest a glancing ax blade send you to the ER. It’s also a hell of a workout.
The one tool I bought during my time on the farm was an inexpensive maul from Home Depot. I left it with Margaret when my girlfriend (now wife) and I moved into an apartment with an electric fireplace. We’ve since upgraded to a house with central heating and air, but also—blessedly—a good old-fashioned wood-burning fireplace. I buy a half-cord of wood for it every year, which I tell myself is to minimize our heating bill in winter. But really, it’s so I can go out the yard, relive my farmhand days, and swing my Stihl Pro Universal Forestry Axe.
Over two years and thousands of swings, it has proven extremely resilient. I like to burn mainly madrone—an extremely tough wood to split—but I have yet to see any significant wear or tear. I thank the burly C60 steel head, hickory handle, and five points securing the two. That connection between head and handle is often the first thing to go in an ax, and makes for sketchy chopping (plus uneven pieces) when it does. Here, an extra-long steel sleeve affords added protection if I mis-swing and power the shaft directly into the wood.
The 2.8-pound head is hefty for the relatively short 27.5-inch ax. But that means the best of both worlds: weight to really drive the head down when hammering dense cuts—lending the Pro the power of a much larger ax—and close proximity to the wood for accuracy, even when I’m swinging as quickly as possible.
Finally, the cutting edge is excellent. It’s not the sharpest I’ve tested, but the extra-long blade has remained admirably keen through repeated use. The length also gives me a bigger sweet spot when making strikes. Single-swing splits aren’t uncommon. But the edge is also small and versatile enough to break down kindling to the width of a pencil.
Now, I’m not hacking up huge logs. The Pro Universal Forestry Axe is a just-right size for cutting down woodstove fuel, eliminating the need for a separate, larger maul and smaller hatchet that would clutter up my tool shed. For someone more dependent on timber for heat or who has to split massive rounds of wood, this ax likely won’t cut it. But after dozens of hours and plenty of swings getting into the groove like a batter in the midst of a hot streak, I can confidently say it’s the perfect ax for me.