Behold The Awesome Woodman's Pal

woodmanspal.jpgEver wonder what would you get if you crossed the awesome brush-clearing power of a machete with the serious tree-hacking force of an axe? Probably not; but fortunately, way back in the 1930s, a Swiss architect named Frederick Ehrsam answered the question for us. His
Woodman’s Pal” tool has been used by everyone from fire-fighting crews on up to Vietnam War-era grunts (where it was part of the standard issue survival kit).
The secret to the Woodman’s Palis its incredible, high-carbon steel, and considerable heft. Machetes are often too lightweight to do more than bounce off a tree of any size, while axes are poor brush-clearers and often won’t hold much of an edge. The Woodman’s Pal, on the other hand, can keep an edge even after heavy use for years (seriously!) and has enough weight to hack through just about any tree under 6″ thick. We recently used a friend’s Woodman’s Pal on a camping trip to cut firewood into burnable sections. It performed essentially as well as a high-quality hand axe, while the bladed hook was useful for trimming branches and hacking our way through rubber-like rhododendron thickets.
You can order the Woodman’s Pal from Cabelas, but the manufacturer’s website offers much more info on its history as well as some upgraded models.
Have you used a Woodman’s Pal to survive in the wilderness — or shorten branches for trash pickup? Let us know in the Comments section!

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  • Tyler

    Zach, What’s up with hacking through rhododendron thickets? The beauty of a wild Southern trout stream comes from more than the stream itself–these stream exist within a glorious natural context, of which the rhododendron thickets play a leading part. Those that follow you don’t want to see evidence of your intrusion.

  • Zach Matthews

    Tyler –
    Not all trails are as well-maintained as we might like. I’m well aware of the principles of leave no trace, and I follow them closely, but I also fish in remote areas with few or no trail volunteers to keep pathways clear.

  • Tyler

    Zach,
    I admire your work and what you do for our sport, and being especially fond of the little streams that crease the southern highlands, our paths have crossed, separated by weeks, days or perhaps merely hours. Only once, in all my years plying the trade of my leisure, have I ever broken a rhododendron limb, and then only by accident when trying to escape a sudden swarm of yellow jackets I disturbed along the Noontootla.
    I felt vile for not having been more thoughtful, for not have taken even more stings, for not doing what I should have done in preserving that rhododendron’s dignity. As I drive the Forest Service road along the Noontoola this weekend on my way to fish Stover Creek I’ll pass the rhododendron I maligned years ago, indistinguishable now from all the others that embrace that stream. I’ll take a moment to regret the selfishness of my actions and plead not only for my forgiveness but for all that might yet occur.

  • Brian

    A Woodsman’s Pal, and even its humble cousin the machete are perhaps THE most useful cutting tools in camp or when on the trail. Far more useful, in fact, than an axe. A sturdy machete (the US military surplus version is a great example) can cut small trees, trim branches, chop kindling, clear undergrowth and do perhaps a dozen other useful chores far better than an axe. In a pinch the back of the blade can even be used as a light hammer to drive tent stakes. I consider a machete a vital survival tool. Waaay up north one winter I even used one to chop a hole in the ice rim around Lake Huron to rescue my bottles of wine that had become frozen-in when we used the lake as a giant cooler – THAT was a lifesaver!