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The Axe Debate

The day one of the young male campers in our group wacked his groin with a hatchet was the day I decided never to bring an axe on a canoe trip again. It seemed to me, after flipping through my old journal entries, that the majority of real nasty injuries while on trip were connected to poor axe (or especially hatchet) handling. It therefore seemed logical to never pack one and go completely dependant on using a camp saw. And since that decision was made, I've had endless traditional paddlers say that leaving the axe at home is not the answer; showing the campers the right way to wield an axe in the woods is the best way to deal with injury.

The traditional paddlers do have a valid point. The axe is a crucial tool, especially when you need to get at the inner dry wood of a log when it's rained solid for days. Problem is, the axe in the groin incident was a horrific event; it was an injury which required a detailed rescue involving a government helicopter and every strip of gauze available from my first-aid kit to slow down the bleeding while we waited for the chopper. So I kept to my guns and kept using a saw - until this year, however.

The decision to go back to using an axe had more to do with having a high quality axe given to me for my birthday by a canoe buddy. He bought me a beautifully crafted Gransfors Bruk small forest camping axe (check out for details). On top of it being a great birthday gift, my canoe mate also kept asking if I had given the axe a try every time he saw me. 

So, to simply appease him, I took it out on my first trip of the season a week back. And boy, did it rain! In fact, it down-poured, hailed and snowed continuously for three days. And the worse part about it, is that I also brought along my five year-old daughter on the trip with me. Needless to say, using the axe to get at dry wood and keep a warm fire going, saved my trip (and my daughter's view of early season canoe tripping).

Yes, I've switched views now. I pack an axe along with a camp saw on my trips. And rather then forcing all young males to wear groin protectors while swinging an axe around camp, I go over the proper way to cut wood.

To safely split wood with a camp axe I begin by sawing sections of a log. Anything smaller in diameter then my forearm I simply throw in the fire, but any piece bigger is split with the axe. I set the piece of wood upright, place the blade of the axe across the center of the log, and then strike the top of the axe head with another piece of wood. The axe works as an effective slitting edge rather then a cutting tool. No swinging is involved, which greatly decreases the chance of injury - especially to one's groin area!

Kevin Callan is the author of 11 books including "Wilderness Pleasures" and "The Happy Camper." A regular keynote speaker at major North American canoeing and camping expos for over 20 years, he has received three National Magazine Awards and four film awards, including top award at the prestigious Waterwalker Film Festival. Callan lives in Peterborough, Ontario, birthplace of the modern-day canoe.

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