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Survival Hatchet: A Lesson in Failure



Recently I ran across one of these “survival hatchets” at a flea market.

Have you ever seen them?

The concept seemed sound and I managed to negotiate the vendor down to half price.. after testing out the “hatchet” I think I overpaid..

I took it home and the first thing I had to do was give it an edge. To say the axe was dull would be an understatement.

I could tell when sharpening it that the metal had very poor craftsmanship. It took an edge fairly quickly but with my first few test strikes I could already see the axe head beginning to chip.


My particular model came with a wooden handle but after only 4 strikes, it shattered and fell off.

The pry bar and nail puller bent under only moderate pressure.

The  hammer was too light and had an exceedingly rounded face that caused it to glance off of most nails, leaving them bent and useless.

About the best thing I can say about this tool is that the concept is good, but this really goes to show that you get what you pay for.




survival hatchet


I am thinking of trying something a little more hefty like the truckers friend :


truckers friend

or the Dead On Annihilator :




I figured before I went out on a limb I would ask if any of you have used either of these or if you had any suggestions on a demo tool/wrecking bar that will fit in my go bag.

Leave your comments and suggestions below.

Want more? Check out these related articles from our site:

Pucker Up for This Surprisingly Useful Survival Tool

This Survival Tool Could Save Your Life

7 Urban Survival Tools You’ve GOT To See


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  1. G. Perkins

    February 25, 2013 at 6:43 AM

    Good Grief, just get a regular hatchet.
    All of them have flat backside faces
    that can be used as hammer for stakes
    or nails or anything. The cheapest acceptable hatchet is the one sold by
    Walmart for only 7 or 8 bucks. If you need a prybar, get a supplemental crowbar of the size you think is convenient and useful.

    • Terry Pepper

      February 26, 2013 at 3:15 PM

      why dont u get the hatchet that marines use ? ur saying u know other marines ask them . i know what they look like theyve been on other tv shows like discover channel & let me tell u this thing is awsome & not made 2 be a wall hanger .

      • J.N. Garinger

        February 26, 2013 at 8:52 PM

        I believe it is actually A roofing hammer . Used when Cedar shakes where popular. ..

        • J.N. Garinger

          February 26, 2013 at 8:54 PM

          P.S. I`ve had mine for decades!!!!

        • paul krawic

          February 27, 2013 at 2:10 AM

          actually that’s a falsehood.the hammer was/is used to remove cedar shakes with asphalt roofing on top of them,hence the multiple nail pullers.these are made with better stell and an overall better configuration now thatn the one described.a true cedar shake hatchet has a wide blade that is offset from the handle by @ 20% in order to cut new shakes from blocks of cedar.everyone is hung up on the cedar shake thing when this was simply a destruction tool to remove old roofing and changed a bit and sent to us from china made with our scrap metal they’ve been buying up for @ 10 years now.this tool does make a fine deer skinning/gutting/pelvis cracking tool when an edge is put on it and someone who knows how to handle a torch can heat treat it properly,but as an all around survival tool-useless unless you have nothing else and then you need to only use it to it’s limits just like any other tool.remember that a simple stone hand axe got our ancestors through most of their survival tasks.

  2. Gerry

    February 25, 2013 at 6:44 AM

    The so called survivor axe that the article was about is actually a tool for opening wooden crates. I had one when I was a kid. In fact I still have a scar on my left index finger from trying to chop wood with it. Thank god it wasn’t supposed to have a cutting edge on it. It was meant to pry with. This was back in about 1943 or 1944.And it was made in the U.S.A. And mine also had a wooden handle.

    • Terry

      February 25, 2013 at 10:39 AM

      Ditto. The prongs are for nails. The hammer for bashing things. And, the blade is for chopping. Any ones I’ve examined had badly fitted wooden handles and the cheapest possible steel. AVOID!

    • raysosc

      February 25, 2013 at 4:07 PM

      Well your getting warmer. These are chinese knock offs of roof hammers, used on wooden shake rooftops. You have a pry bar up top, nail puller lower center, a hammer and a hatchet blade to split, trim and remove shakes.These usually go for way under $10, try Harbor Freight.

  3. WW Rutland

    February 25, 2013 at 9:13 AM

    If you are talking about survival, then get a tomahawk with a spike on the back. A serious killing weapon, I carried one on my rucksack in Special forces, every one wanted borrow it when we made camp to pound stakes in the ground and use it to chop small trees down. AND WHEN YOU GET IN A HAND TO HAND FIGHT WITH THAT UGLY DUDE TRYING TO STEAL YOUR FOOD AND WOMEN TAKE HIM OUT WITH THE SPIKE THRU THE SKULL.

  4. Jean

    February 25, 2013 at 9:15 AM

    A Rosselli axe is invaluable well made and small

  5. Shortly

    February 25, 2013 at 9:35 AM

    Spoiler Alert!
    Isn’t that the bloody murder weapon Harrison Ford’s character found planted by his devious wife in that 90’s era movie… Above Suspicion?

  6. Dale

    February 25, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    Check garage sales, gunshows, and yard sales. Even old axes can be sharpened and you can save money on a used one. If you are really planning on chopping any amount, you want a full size axe.

  7. Breeze

    February 25, 2013 at 10:14 AM

    I have a SOG Tactical tomahawk. Good quality,lifetime warranty, about $30.00. Not only will it chop, it will hammer,has a spike on one end for smashing through things. It is also a great weapon.

  8. Chuck

    February 25, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    Your Survival Hatchet appears to be a piece of Chinese junk as sold on MANY eBay sites. And, yes, it’s worthless. I own one which is about seventy years old and made in the U.S.A. It is a GREAT, sturdy, sharp tool and an incredible weapon. Check junk stores and cluttered antique stores to locate a good one.

  9. Hastings Lamb

    February 25, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    It is a piece of junk and just toss it to be rid of it. I am a 66 year young hunter and black powder enthusiast. My so-called survival hatchett is one that has been battle tested, holds a good edge, is easy to sharpen, don’t cost much, has a removable handle so you can use it similar to an ulu and is readiy configurable back to basic format. It is a plain jane, nor frills tomahawk. I use a hickory handle on it and keep a few spares available just in case I get into a throwing contest. It chops wood, I can gut and clean any large game animal and by removing the handle can do the same with small game and even some fish. In a pinch, it is an excellent backup weapon to a gun and when combined with a good knife can do anything in the kitchen or camp. I carry mine on my side when hunting and when I was in vietnam, I saw some guys carrying a specialized hawk with a pointy end, I guess to hack thru helmets or thick clothing/gear on the enemy in a hand to hand. Didn’t like it much altho it did have some utiltiy. The old tomahawk has proven itself over the centuries and should definitely be considered!

  10. Ken Massey

    February 25, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    Depends on needs/constraints. While we all want multi-function equipment whenever possible, I view a hatchet much like a knife. The hollow-handle multi-function “survival knives” provide multi=function at the expense of strentgh/reliability, which in some measure defeats the purpose for the knife. Same with hatchets. I want a hatchet to serve 2 functions well: Chopping and hammering. I like 2 models for different reasons. I like the Timberline Bush Pilot hatchet for a small pack hatchet. I keep one in my car (in my “Get me home” bag. Great cutting tool for small jobs but head is too thin & hatchet too light to work effectively as a hammer. Still better for chopping & splitting than subjecting my knife to risk of chipping or breaking. Head/handle are one piece steel with handle riveted on. Curved blade also works well for skinning/fine chopping, when held and used like an Alaskan ulu knife.
    For heavier work I like a carpenters hatchet. Many hatchets warn user against using hatchet as a hammer. A carpenters hatchet has a real hammer head on the back side that is forged and tempered for that purpose. It also has a notch for use as a nail-puller. Plumb makes a good one. I have a Plumb that I’ve used and abused for over 20 years. But it is bigger and heavier, which means more weight to carry. I keep one of those with my BOB which is set up to sustain me for weeks if necessary.

    • paul krawic

      February 25, 2013 at 11:27 PM

      actually you’re describing a roofing hammer.there is no such thing as a carpenter’s hammer.the reason the hatchet is set up that way is to strip and prepare a roof for new shingles.the notch is for nails that are high enough to grab if not hammer them in.the hatchet blade is shaped to get under shingles and ywist and lift would be a very good multi use tool,but know what you’re looking for.

  11. Mark

    February 25, 2013 at 1:32 PM

    I don’t like to mix my bashing and cutting tools, seems inelligent. In my truck I cary a Stanley Fatmax Fubar for demo/smashing work, and a SOG tactical tomahawk for edgework. The Sven 21″ folding bow saw is for real cutting work. If I had to travel light I would take the Sven and the Hawk.

    • ChrisR

      February 25, 2013 at 8:15 PM

      Ditto on the fubar and sog. These are the two I carry also, and each is very profifient and indestructable for its given task.

  12. Edgar

    February 25, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    There are too many wannabes in this world. Id you have not been a victum of circumstances, check with the people who are. A true fighting/survival knife, for example,does not have a bunch of eye candy on it, no brass knuckle handle, no feel good slogans, ect. If you look at what the real fighters use look at a K-bar. Plain Jane, top quality steel,costs around $60. Or you can buy 2 for $9.99 Ninja Stealth Fighters – which won’t hold an edge, will bend under pressure, and get you a knowing smile from real warriors. Look at all outdoor equipment with the same eye.

  13. scott

    February 25, 2013 at 3:26 PM

    What you have here is a roofers hatchet for splitting wood shakes and then nailing them on. It’s an excellent tool for lite splitting, nail pulling and hammering. But your’s is a cheap ‘made in China’ model. Get a good one with a real hammer face, and it will be a handy, valuable tool. I carried one in my pack for most of my life.

  14. echinacea

    February 25, 2013 at 3:59 PM

    get a Cold Steel Pipe Tomahawk. the poll on it is great as a hammer and the blade can chop wood well, and you can slip it off and use it by hand.

  15. Bruce Wildman

    February 25, 2013 at 4:02 PM

    Try a Kukri, the Gurka fighting tool. Good for defence and can go thru a limb pretty good as well. I have 2

  16. bsteddom

    February 25, 2013 at 6:11 PM

    My choice would be to opt for two implements. I think combining a hachet and a pry bar would compromise both functions.

  17. ALBERT

    February 25, 2013 at 6:27 PM

    Buyer Beware, Ever hear of it? Your just one of millions that have tossed their money away on these Knock-offs & Lost!
    I Got my First one back in the early 60’s, it came with a LEATHER Sheath & Solid OAK Sides/Handles,With counter sunk Bolts. The coloring was a CASE-Harden Steel, The Blade could Peal the Hair off of my Dad’s Arm & Helped me Chop down Many Pine Trees before needing shaping.
    Like said, You got a Knock-OFF. But Don’t Worry, All is not lost, You can still use it to CRACK NUTS with it or even a few skulls, if need be.
    ON the other hand, MAKE your OWN!
    You’ll need a Flat Leaf-Spring from an old Junked Truck, A Cutting Torch or Someone that will cut it for you, The Next part if Hard Work, You’ll need a Very Good SMITH’S ANVIL, A Very Hot Fire a Ton of Elbow Grease & a Good, Solid Steel Hammer & A LOT of Time! That 18″ long piece of SPRING STEEL Should Weigh about 10 Plus pounds, Great if you have muscles like the HULK, But you really want to reduce it to 2 or 3 LBS. at the Most, Then you’ll need to take it to Someone who knows how to re-harden it for you!
    Is it worth it, NO You can find a Good one for far less, But by making your own, The Experience is Priceless.
    A Word of Advice, When looking for a COMBO AX, Take a MAGNET with you to test the Steel, DO NOT BUY HOLLOW HANDLED AXES They can be a Killer!Do you Know a Framer, Ask if He has any Broken Disk you can Buy 7 maybe he’ll give them to you free.
    A Disk Blade is a Hard Steel Blade & Can make a Great Ax, Curved Knife, Hide-Scrapper, Bark Peeler, Fish Scaler, Potato Baker, ETC…

  18. Chip

    February 25, 2013 at 6:33 PM

    What you have here is a shake/shingle tool. I’ve had mine for 50 years and it’s undamaged. Cedar shakes or shingles split with just a bump of the blade. It was never meant to be sharp. The nail removing end perfectly fits the thin nails used with shakes or shingles and the peen is perfectly suited for what it was designed for. Handy tool, but never as an axe or hammer. You’ve been had.

  19. Terry Rains

    February 25, 2013 at 7:28 PM

    Take a look at Marble’s Fireman & survival axe. It’s what I carry for camping & hiking and is a very durable and useful tool. Three tools in one; Axe, spike/pointed chopping blade, and also sized to open most fire hydrants for emergency water. I’ve had mine for almost 3 years now.

  20. Chuck

    February 25, 2013 at 8:55 PM

    I’m the other chuck and I agree with the first chuck to post. It is a box maker’s tool or a roofer’s tool. Both trades used light, multipurpose tools that were very similar. When made in the U.S. and Japan they had good steel in them. Now that they are made by the lowest bidder anywhere, they appear to be made out of old Coors cans. A timber saw will cut more wood, faster than any axe but doesn’t look as sexy. If you want a fighting instrument, get a ‘hawk. If you want to cut wood, get a saw. I am sure everyone has heard, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” It applies to tools too. Even though I love my Leatherman, it is a jack of all trades. If I have a lot of filing to do, I want a real file. If I have a lot of sawing to do, I want a real saw. If I need to tighten a bunch of screws or bolts, I want the dedicated tool to do the job. The Leatherman is great for a BOB, but not for any kind of real work. If you really want to gather wood, with a buck saw and a large rock you can produce firewood faster than Paul Bunyan.

  21. Chuck Teal

    February 26, 2013 at 6:34 AM

    I have one of those crappy Chinese “emergency hatchets” too, and I agree with you; they suck.

    My suggestion and personal preference is the Cold Steel Special Forces Shovel ( which is based on the old Russian Spetznaz (special forces) tool. While it doesn’t pull nails (although you could probably chew up the wood around the nail to get it out), it is a robust and practical emergency tool that can be sharpened and used as a very effective hatchet (I’ve done it). It can be thrown like one but is somewhat easier to control than a hatchet and has broader edges that cut deeply (watch the short video promo). It can be used as a flat-faced ‘hammer’ in a pinch for driving tent stakes or a wedge to split a stick. It can be a formidable defensive weapon when used as a short ‘sword’ (especially if you sharpen all edges) or even as a small buckler to protect against someone else’s club or slashing weapon – and use the handle end as a blunt weapon at the same time.

    Spend a little more money and get a lot more value than that Chinese crap tool. I don’t have anything to do with Cold Steel other than thoroughly enjoying their products, and I never venture into the wild without one or more of their blades, including this shovel.

  22. Raymond

    February 27, 2013 at 10:08 AM

    As chance would have it I have looked into both the IF-221 and the AN18 and wondered at their craftsmanship. I have found the AN18 at Lowe’s, purchased, tested and abused it. I will probably keep it for around-the-house duty though. For use in my go-bag, I feel better about the Stanley FatMax FUBAR. I feel the craftsmanship is a bit better overall. Also I found on an article & video of a diy modification to the FUBAR to make it more usable as a breaching tool for entering barricaded structures. While a police officer discovery of the modified tool may bring on a conversation leaning toward “burglary tools” that may be exciting to explain your way out of (lol), I believe this tool will have a better application in a TEOTWAWKI/SHTF scenario. IMHO.

  23. Fred

    March 4, 2013 at 10:13 AM

    The above tool (originally) was a wooden crate tool.
    The metal in the original one was very good quality.
    These have been reproduced in China by the millions.
    If the steel was no good, you probably got the one
    from China.

  24. Wayne

    April 23, 2013 at 3:20 PM

    Yeah, I got one of those dandy hatchets years ago for demolitions. It’s in the bottom of a tool box somewhere.

  25. Tara

    September 17, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    What a horrible story. Good thing you tested it at home and didn’t wait till you were in the field.

  26. Wesley Lane

    November 7, 2013 at 8:12 AM

    This is actually a good tool for setting and repairing barbed wire fences when used along with fencing pliers. It is only good as a survival tool if it is what you are stuck with when the time comes to survive.

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