By Randy Frassetto
Published Monday, July 30, 2012
| From the September 2012 Issue of FireRescue
Although there have been many technological advancements with regard to firefighting tools in the past several years, the axe remains the most iconic and probably most basic of them all, yet still functional and practical. In this Gear Test, I evaluated a variety of different axes from Fire Axe Inc. Jason Knight, a fellow firefighter and the founder of Fire Axe, developed a product that carries on the tradition of the “Seagrave Axe,” but he’s put his own twist on the design to improve effectiveness and durability.
Knight also created a wide array of options that you can choose from when making your axe selection. Axe heads range from 4 to 8 lbs. and come in both pick- and flat-head styles. The heads can then be placed on top of your choice of either a fiberglass handle or the more traditional Tennessee hickory style, with lengths ranging from 28 to 36 inches.
For the purposes of this article, Fire Axe sent a couple of 8-lb. flat-head axes with fiberglass handles and a 6-lb. pick-head with a wood handle. Typically in the field, engine company firefighters carry a flat-head axe so they have both a cutting tool as well asa striking tool for forcible entry and exit. Firefighters on a ladder are often best suited for a pick-head, because it allows for footing, creating smoke indication holes, pulling materials, and of course cutting, in case you have problems with the chainsaw.
Right out of the box, all of the axes looked like they were ready to go to work, yet they were so nice looking, they could have also been mounted on a wall. Each one had an extremely good, balanced, solid feel to it.
Because the axe’s primary use is for cutting, the first tests were geared toward seeing how they performed in cutting materials most commonly found on rooftops, such as 7/16" and 5/8" OSB, half-inch plywood, and 1" x 4" boards used in skip sheathing. In all the cutting tests, each axe performed well and felt well-balanced while swinging. The extra 2-lb. weight on the head of the flat-head compared to the pick-head made for a more effective cut, but due to the versatility of the pick-head, for crews on the roof, I’d still carry a pick-head while performing roof operations.
One extremely nice feature of these axes is a 1½" extension of the axe head that comes down the front of the handle to protect it from overstrikes; it also protects the portion of the axe handle that’s often the weakest point of the tool.
During the cutting tests, the flat-head axe was used in the same manner that it would be used for conventional forcible entry techniques. The axe was used to strike a Halligan bar at various angles and a door at the locking mechanism. In all tests, the 8-lb. weight and sturdiness of the tool made it exceptional, while the balanced feel of the tool allowed for smooth swings.
Although the testing procedure for forcible exit was similar to the striking test, I wanted to see how the flat-head axe performed against materials that a firefighter trapped inside of a structure may be faced with. Again, the weight of the flat-head combined with the stout design allowed it to break studs, masonry blocks and solid bricks. (Note: Keep in mind that picking the proper forcible entry/exit tool is just as important as being proficient in the use of the tool, as well as the techniques used to breach walls.)
Often when operating on a roof, especially when it has a steeper pitch or when it’s raining, it’s necessary to use a tool for footing to prevent the sawyers from slipping. One of my favorite features about the pick-head axe is its narrow, 5" pick portion. For footing, I tested OSB, plywood and 1" sheathing, and in all tests, the pick went in with the first swing and remained there until it was pulled straight up.
During the tests, we used the axe to bear the sawyer’s weight, and we used it as an anchor point for a firefighter. In both cases, it remained securely in place; it didn’t budge once, which was impressive, since many axes have a shorter pick that flares out, preventing it from getting a good “bite” into the sheathing material.
Many times, particularly when attic vents aren’t present, ladder crews must rapidly create small openings in the roof so they can read the conditions that they’re operating on top of. We tested the pick-head for this purpose on a residential wood roof. During the residential test, the axe created a good smoke hole opening; I was able to get an adequate reading of the smoke. Important: Most residential insulation is laid on the bottom chords of the truss, but in many newer homes, foam insulation is being sprayed on the underside of the sheathing material. In this application, the pick portion of the axe would not be adequate to penetrate all the material and still get a good read on the smoke.
After all tests were completed, the axes were inspected for any kind of damage that would affect their integrity. The cutting portion of all axes had no chips or dings, and they maintained the same cutting edge that they came with. The handles on both the wood and synthetic were just as tight as they were when I pulled them out of the box. In short, these axes are stout tools that were obviously designed to take a beating on the fireground.
With new types of firefighting tools popping up every day, it was a treat to put one of the oldest types of tools to the test and prove that these well-built axes are still is an irreplaceable tool in the fire service. The quality and style of Fire Axe’s products will make firefighters want to carry their own axe over the one placed on the truck. In short, the company has developed tools that are simplistic, yet tough enough to be useful and well-engineered to maintain their reliability.
Sidebar 1: Flat-Head & Pick-Head Axes
- Solid, balanced, durable design
- Sleek appearance
- 1½" extended axe head for added protection
- Well-balanced swing
- Highly effective at cutting, opening roofing material
- Added weight for easier forcible entry
- Pick portion may not be adequate for foam insulation that’s sprayed on the underside of sheathing material.
Fire Axe Inc.
Comment Now: Post Your Thoughts & Comments on This Story