Helko Werk Black Forest Pack Axe Review
Simple pack axe from the Helko traditional range
My collection of axes needs to be carefully monitored. If I don’t keep it in check they will spread out of the workshop and take over the rest of the house. There are a number brands in there – Gransfors, Hultafors and even a few Elwell hatchets that I keep meaning to rehandle. Do I need another axe? No. Do I want another axe? Well, I could follow the tried-and-tested n+1 rule, where ‘n‘ is the number of axes currently owned…
Helko UK offered the Black Forest Pack Axe for me to try out over the winter – will it make it into regular rotation or will it just become part of the collection?
Helko might not be as well known in British bushcraft and wilderness skills circles as the Swedish brands but they have actually been in the game since 1844. The German manufacturer is based in Wuppertal, not too far from the Rhein valley and have a range serving agriculture, forestry, industry and the outdoors.
The Black Forest Pack Axe certainly LOOKS the part, arriving with a leather mask and hickory handle. The edge is consistent and evenly ground, but like many axes from ‘industrial’ manufacturers the edge isn’t as razor-sharp as I would like. More on that later…
The shape of the head suits the varied use that somebody living or travelling through the woods might require it for. The heel (corner of cutting edge closest to ‘chopper’) hangs far enough down to make it useful for carving work, and the curve of the edge of the blade isn’t too extreme. The weight is around what you would expect for a 50cm axe at just over 900g. The head itself is around 700g.
In use I found it fairly comfortable, although I generally prefer a longer haft when chopping wood or felling. For careful carving work or delicate cuts (feathersticks etc) then the edge needs a little work but the weight and shape of the head doesn’t hold any unpleasant surprises.
The three things I am looking for in an axe are the shape, build quality and ability to hold an edge. I’m not too fussed if it doesn’t have the initials of whichever smith forged it on the handle, and I am also happy to NOT pay the premium for it. In this regard the Helko Werk Black Forest Pack axe ticks the boxes for short woodland trips. It’s a little too light and short for heavy felling work, and too narrow for processing large amounts of firewood – but that isn’t normally how it would be used. If I am walking or canoeing somewhere that I have decided an axe or hatchet will be useful then I a more likely to be doing small amounts of several different tasks – snedding branches from a saw-felled tree, splitting small logs to make kindling and processing green wood for a carving session.
The edge does need work straight out of the box, but 30 minutes of work with a file, stones and strop brought the edge to what I need it to be (shaving-sharp ideally). You can see our friend Doug Don do pretty much the same thing with a brand new Hultafors axe in the video below.
Edge retention is fine, the open die drop forged, heat treated, and oil-hardened C45 carbon steel doing what you would expect it to do and maintaining a sharp edge as long as I am careful with where I put it. The profile is fairly shallow, better for cutting and carving than splitting but I think I would pick a different axe for dedicated carving work.
It does lots of things very well for a reasonable price, and has a patina and styling that should keep those concerned with aesthetics happy. The price sits comfortably for premium cutting tool, and if you want to have one axe for general purpose work (felling, snedding, carving and cutting) then there isn’t really anything to push it down your shortlist.
The Black Forest Pack axe does need a little work to get it to a razor-sharp edge but once it’s there it should stay there for long enough.