For every chopping discipline in the STIHL® TIMBERSPORTS® Series, a competitor cuts thousands of practice logs to be sure they are presenting the axe properly and effectively. After all of that preparation, there is another important piece of the chopping equation; what axe to use.
Although the axes may look the same to the casual observer - wooden handle with shiny steel head - they are very different. That’s why for three chopping disciplines in the Series, a competitor may bring six to 10 different axes to the contest while owning another dozen, or as many as a few hundred, depending on the competitor and where they travel. So, what IS actually different between the different axes?
Check out the Flygt Facts Video on Axes
The axes used on the Series do not come off the shelf at your local hardware store. They are purpose-built, racing-tuned axes made to cut fresh, soft, knot-free wood in a racing environment. The majority of the axes come from the Mecca woodchopping in Australia and New Zealand - either Brute Forge or Tuatahi. Despite being halfway around the world, both companies do make and ship axes to the United States. If you have the $500 or more per head and a few months to wait, you too can own a chopping axe.
Axes also differ in both the grind on the face of the axe as well as the total thickness of the axe head. Depending on wood species and chopping event, competitors choose a different grind from the basic Chisel, which can be short, measuring 1/4 inch long, or occasionally measuring more than one inch deep on the axe face. The more complicated Supergrind may contain different length chisels in addition to different depths of the second bust in the axe. Within these grinds, the axes may be thicker or thinner measured on the sharpened edge, sometimes as thin as 13 degrees or less and as thick as 17 or 18 degrees on an axe used in harder wood.
The axe grinds are applied by an experienced axe finisher who has a recipe of grind and overall thickness for the preferred wood species. Using grinders, belt sanders, stones, and measuring guides, axe grinders take a blank steel head and turn it into a “cutting machine” - an axe that cuts deeply into the log and does not stick. This information is usually kept fairly tightly locked and learned though years of watching, adjusting and careful testing.
After the grind and the thickness are chosen, the final component of the cutting equation is the cutting edge. Depending on wood species being chopped, an axe may have a finely stoned, diamond stoned or filed edge. It is not uncommon to see competitors testing axes in previously chopped blocks or their underhand chopping block footholds and then adjusting the edge of the axe with a stone they pull from their pocket. The stone is slid on the radius of the axe head edge at different angles to smooth, lengthen or shorten the cutting edge of the axe. All of this work combines to make a five to seven-pound razor blade that could shave off a competitor's whiskers if it gets too close to his face.
To successfully compete in the Series, a competitor must use his axes to chop in three different events, of three different logs in three different settings. Standing on a springboard almost seven feet in the air often requires a smaller, lighter axe than when standing comfortably on the underhand log or on the stage during a standing block chop. Axe size selection is ultimately competitor choice based on what the individual is comfortable with. This could vary from axes as small as seven inches wide, or narrower, and seven inches or less deep in the springboard, to axes in the eight inch and eight inches deep in either the standing block or the underhand.
An often underappreciated but invaluable component of the chopping equation is the axe handle. Without the handle, the axe is just a very sharp paperweight. Shape and length of the handle is up to each competitor, some choosing thinner or narrower handles and then trying to make the shape even among their different chopping axes. In addition to suiting the handle to the competitor, the competitor has to spend time fitting the axe handle to the head. Using a farrier's rasp, the end of the handle that goes into the axe is shaved down and driven into the axe head before a wedge and safety pin are installed to keep the axe head secured on the handle. Care is taken to squarely align the bit of the axe with the handle. If this is not done correctly and carefully, a perfectly good, sharp axe, will not cut effectively.
Between the different chopping disciplines and different wood species, a competitor needs to keep his stable of axes well stocked with different grinds and sizes. This is why it is not uncommon to see a competitor bring a few boxes of axes before a contest, and always fibbing a bit about the total number he has stashed away at home.