Gear & Equipment

This Is The Axe My Wife Bought: Snow & Nealley U.S.A. Made Camping Axe

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snow nealley ax hudson camping axeSnow & Nealley Hudson Bay Camping Axe

I'm 35 years old and I've never owned an axe until June of this year. Here's why. Last September, my dad and I road tripped to Moab, Utah and once we were there he decided he needed to get a new axe to dedicate to his Land Rover. For better or worse, we're kind of like this in our family: a set of tools goes in the garage, another set goes in the truck. It's a concept that will forever evade our eye-rolling wives.

We stopped first at the hardware store. And I knew my dad would say what he did as we walked toward the door: "I'm not going to find what I want here. But we're going anyway."  I've been down this path before. Obviously, so had he. Any hardware store has a yellow plastic-handled, shipped-by-container-load-from-China axe for an unblinking $9.99. The cost is only a symbol of what's been left out of the manufacturing process because, my goodness, at that amount of money what could have gone into it?

If I know anything about my dad, it's that he believes that the least expensive tool is the most disappointing one. Which is kind of funny when you put that in context with a previous fact I handed you for free: he owns a 1995 Land Rover. Excuse me, I should be more specific.  That's a dark green, leaky, creaky 1995 Range Rover Classic with a couple of electrical gremlins who seem to be procreating, and hardly anything left connecting the chassis to the axles that originated in the plant at Solihull. Smile and nod.

"I don't want a cheap axe, but I don't want an exorbitant one, either. I just want a good one."At the hardware store, Dad hardly gave the selection of axes a glance. "Where else can we go?" He asked the clerk.

"I don't want a cheap axe but I don't want an exorbitant one, either. I just want a good one."

That's it right there. Finding a nice axe that's not cheap, but not the top of the scale either, proves harder to find than you might realize.

On Father's Day, my wife presented me with this Snow & Nealley Hudson Bay camping axe. Right about now you might be expecting me to pontificate on the axe's unequaled quality, or how the head is hand-shaped by specially trained eunuchs in the Austrian Alps, and the handle is harvested only from the finest hickory trees found in Middle Earth. But it's not. Compared to Jonathan Hanson's Gränsfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe, mine, quite frankly, is just better than mediocre. At least if the measure is strictly in the materials, fit, and finish. His is nearly flawless. Mine is not, but few would notice. And millions more are far worse than what's in my paws.

You can find reassuringly expensive axes, like the Gränsfors Bruks, that set you back $130 or so because the Swedish maker puts in the time by hand to shape and set it. A Snow & Nealley is about half of that, likely because it's not entirely hand crafted. But it is made in the U.S.A. in Bangor, Maine. At least that's the overview of the differences. It's not a cheap axe, it's not an exorbitant one either. And this isn't a product review.

Perhaps you're wondering what else there is to measure? It's in my wife. She knew, somehow, that I wanted an axe and believed an appropriate one would at least have a hickory handle. It might have to do with this one night she and I camped alone outside of Flagstaff, Arizona and I built a fire, and kept it going, on just the twigs and branches I could separate and break with my hands. She knew it was part necessity that a man should own an axe. But she also knows me. She knew that a bottom-of-the-barrel chopping thing from the hardware store doesn't make a gift. She knew I wanted a touch of romance with the tool. Snow & Nealley company has been making - and guaranteeing - axes and mauls since 1864 right here in the U.S.A. They may not be flawless, but they have a long American history, are attractive and perform respectably.

My wife bought it for me. I may never fully understand the implications of her romantic gesture.

 

This comes partly inspired by Jonathan at Overland Expo: Sweedish Steel Meets English Wood

 

Comments   

 
b.d.d.
+1 / 0
# b.d.d. 2011-08-16 10:02
I have the same one ax and I think it's pretty dang nice. Your wife did a good job!
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Lindsey Wilson
+6 / 0
# Lindsey Wilson 2011-08-18 21:27
Thank you wife! I'm often wondering what to get my husband for gift giving holidays, well, I'm tired of getting him bike parts. He could use an ax...
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Mark Stephens
+4 / 0
# Mark Stephens 2011-08-18 22:43
He deserves both . . .
:-)
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Jack McCallister
+1 / 0
# Jack McCallister 2011-09-02 11:25
Snow and Neally axes are actually made in China... I noticed that you mentioned that it was made in Maine. The company is based in Maine but they have outsourced their production to China for some time. They don't disclose this on their web site.
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Mark Stephens
0 / 0
# Mark Stephens 2011-09-12 14:47
Thank you, Jack.
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catherine Zub
0 / 0
# catherine Zub 2013-01-25 11:33
Snow & Nealley axes were made in Bangor Maine, hand forged, and hand assembled by Nealleys and other Mainers until Chris Hutchins bought the company around 1998 and had the axes made in China and shipped back to Bangor for assembly. It was travesty that this happened to a good solid company and family. If you find any for sale, pre-1998 you can be sure they were made in Maine!
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Bill Murray
+1 / 0
# Bill Murray 2012-07-17 10:06
I tryed to sent splitting maul back to them & it was returned saying company had closed. I can't find anything on web with new return address. Anyone know if this is true
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Wade Bullard
+1 / 0
# Wade Bullard 2012-09-06 08:27
Heres the skinny on Snow & neally, these axes are not forged in usa. all their axe heads are made in china,than shipped here to be assembled with ash handles. they are heated in a tiny forge to get the bluish look, than sharpened. I have personally seen this process. the "production facility" was a 2 bay garage in Brewer ,Maine. Do not be fooled by "Made in USA"
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catherine Zub
0 / 0
# catherine Zub 2013-01-25 11:36
Yes, this is true since 2000. See my earlier post. The original manufacturing plant was on the Hampden/Bangor town line. The factory had a huge forge to shape the steel. The handles were hand turned and finished on the premises.
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Ed_B
0 / 0
# Ed_B 2013-09-11 13:38
A recent update. The Snow and Neally name was sold to an Amish community in Smyrna, Maine. They still use made in China steel and finish it here so they can call it Made in Maine and I believe they intend to continue selling axes under that name. They buy Chinese steel because they can't get US steel makers to sell them small quantities without paying huge fees. I don't agree with it, but just letting you know. The phone # listed for them is disconnected but a friend of mine visited them recently to confirm the story. However, Council Tool in NC makes 100% made in the USA axes and other tools if anyone is looking.
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K McDonald
0 / 0
# K McDonald 2013-08-17 11:56
I have recently been following youtube posts by "Wranglerstar" and watched a lengthy review of axes for the bushcrafter type. He did not touch on the Snow & Nealley tools at all - since I have a splitting maul by them, I looked them up again to see what they have for other axes - and saw the Hudson bay camp axe. In short, aside from the Husqvarna version, the Snow & Nealley is an impressive find and very thoughtful gift from a super wife! Well done!
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