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Handtools for Trail Work

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Tools for Brushing, Continued

Bank Blades and Bush Hooks Continued

Image of a true-temper and council bank blades.
Bank blades are used for clearing thick undergrowth and brush.
The blade is sharpened on both sides. Blade lengths may be 12 or 16 inches.
Hickory handles are available in 36 or 42 inches. These tools weigh 1 to 5½ pounds.

Clearing Knives and Swedish Brush (Sandvik) Axes

These clearing tools work well in brushy thickets or when clearing in rocky or confined areas. Clearing knives look like small, short, brush hooks, so use, carry, and sharpen them accordingly. Handle length will determine if the tool is operated one- or two-handed. Use and carry a short-handled clearing knife like a machete.

Image of a long-handled clearing knife.

Brush axes have different blades than clearing knives. The replaceable Swedish steel blade has a 5½-inch cutting edge. The ax has a 27-inch long handle. It weighs about 2½ pounds. They have removable blades held in a C-shaped frame under tension. Tension may weaken and cause blades to pop out. Bend the frame outward slightly to increase tension. The blade can be removed for sharpening. Avoid overheating the blade and losing the temper. Replace badly damaged blades.

Image of a Swedish brush (Sandvik ax).
A Swedish brush ax cuts small saplings and brush easily, safely.
The replaceable Swedish steel blade has a 5½-inch cutting edge.
The hickory handle is 27 inches long overall, and weighs 2½ pounds.

Image of a brush ax.
Sharpening the brush ax.

Machetes and Woodsman's Pals

Machetes and Woodsman's Pals are used to clear weeds, brush, and small trees along a trail. Machetes became commonly used in Forest Service work after World War II when surplus knives were used extensively for brushing. Machetes have blades from 17 to 24 inches long and weigh up to 2 pounds. The Woodsman's Pal is shorter and sturdier than the machete and includes a cutting hook and a knuckle guard. It is used for cutting, chopping, digging, hacking, and pulling. It is 16 inches long and weighs about 1½ pounds.

Image of a machete and a woodsman's pal.

Because these are single-grip tools, a worker must always maintain a firm grip while swinging. Also, be aware of the location of fellow workers. The hook on the end of the Woodsman's Pal can slip as it is pulled toward you and cut legs or hands, or it may strike the back of an operator's head on the back swing. Both tools come with belt sheaths that make them easy and safe to carry.

When sharpening, use a mill bastard file or whetstone to maintain the factory edge bevel. Sharpen the hook of the Woodsman's Pal using the procedure described for the brush hook. Protect sharpened edges at all times.

Image of a Collins machete and a Barteaux and Sons machete.

Image of two lengths of Seymour machetes.
The Seymour machetes are for cutting heavy weeds, brush, vines, grass, and shrubs.
They have heavy-duty, hand-forged Swedish steel blades and polypropylene
safety handles that are 17 to 24 inches long. Weight is a few ounces to 2 pounds.

Image of a woodsman's pal with a hardwood handle and one with a hand guard and leather grip.
Woodsman's Pal axes are used for cutting, chopping, digging,
hacking, and pulling. They are 16 inches long and weigh 1½ pounds.


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Updated: 04/14/2014
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