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"Stay 'unreasonable.'  If you don't like the solutions [available to you], come up with your own." 
Dan Webre

The Martialist does not constitute legal advice.  It is for ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY.

Copyright 2003-2004 Phil Elmore, all rights reserved.

Woodman's Pal

A Product Review by Phil Elmore


Family-owned Pro Tool Industries is located not too far from me in Boyertown, PA.  Among the handmade tools they offer is the Woodman's Pal, an oddly shaped device I'd noticed in the ads of knife magazines but never had the chance to handle.  The Woodman's Pal has been around since 1941 and was previously made by the Victor Tool Company in Reading, PA.  Issued in Vietnam as the "Survival Tool, Type IV," this long-lived implement is still available to soldier and civilian alike.


The Woodman's Pal Model 284, the "deluxe" model.

Recently, the company sent The Martialist the deluxe version of the Woodman's Pal, a Model 284.  Appropriately, this is the style issued during WWII, complete with stacked leather handle and a substantial D-guard.  The tool also came equipped with a high-quality full-grained leather sheath.  Other models available include the "classic" version with a 6-inch ash wood grip, a junior version of my model 284 (it has a shorter blade), and a "long reach" tool with an extended wooden handle.  For those not keen to keep their tools in leather, the company offers Nylon pouches.


The Model 284 in its natural element -- the woods.

My model 284 is a formidable 16.5 inches overall with 5 inch handle.  Blade stock is 1/8-inch high-carbon tool steel, hardened to Rockwell C47 and differentially tempered.  Like a Japanese katana, the cutting edges of the Woodman's Pal are harder for performance, while outer case of the blade is softer to prevent cracking on impact or in severe cold.  The concave axe blade is convex ground, while the sickle hook is chisel ground.  The black powder coating is intended to prevent corrosion.


The leather sheath is a high-quality affair with two heavy snaps.

The sheath included with my deluxe Woodman's Pal is a rich, high-quality piece of stitched leather.  A retaining strap secures the handle and a secondary snap provides egress for the big, oddly shaped blade.  For daily use, if you're not a fan of leather or the maintenance it requires, I would recommend the Nylon model (I know I despise working in the rain while wearing leather sheaths).  If you're willing to invest the time and the wax, however, this is a fine-looking sheath that should hold up (and take on natural blemishes) over the long term. 

The same is true of the stacked leather handle.  If you're worried about the leather, go with the wooden handle on the classic model -- but be aware that there's little that could match the comfort of the stacked washers.  The handle is ergonomically curved, provides good traction (its grained surface feels almost soft), and is more than long enough for my big mitts.  The D-guard is oversized, so even the thickest gloves can be worn while wielding the tool.  I like having that guard over my hand when chopping.

Chop the Woodman's Pal does.  It is naturally top-heavy as you'd expect (and want) from such a tool, with a point of balance just at the left of the logo on the surface of the blade.  It cleaves naturally and easily, the axe edge chopping and slicing into the work in a very natural arc.  The tool feels heavier than a machete but less awkward than a standard camp hatchet.

I took the Woodman's Pal out into the woods and used it to clear brush and dying scrub.  I also used the chisel-ground sickle hook to pull roots, draw through smaller branches, and claw my way through some of the tangled weeds and shoots in the area.  The edges held up nicely (though they did dull with use).

 
The recessed sickle hook is chisel-ground and works well.

After coating the tool lightly with some Rem Oil I stored it in its sheath overnight.  The next day the the exposed edge had discolored in spots (as I knew it would) but cleaned up easily when I touched up the edge with a diamond rod.


The axe blade of the Woodman's Pal made short work of small brush.


The sickle hook provides great leverage.

I was impressed with the performance of the Woodman's Pal.  I'm more a city boy than an outdoorsman these days, but when I was younger I learned much from my father.  He was an avid outdoorsman (he still is, really) who enjoyed walking the woods with a shotgun and took us camping on many a weekend.  Every time I take to the woods, I remember some of the lessons he taught me, or the times we hunted together with .44 Magnum revolvers.  (One of my earliest memories is of driving through a field to reach a remote campsite, wondering why we'd left the road.  On that same trip, my father discovered a very large snake and drove it off by hurling rocks at it.  These images form my earliest memories of life in the outdoors.  There is also a picture of me at perhaps three or four years old proudly holding a fishing rod by the lake's edge.)


The author, a city boy back in the woods.

The tool cuts efficiently and (more importantly) comfortably.  The guard provides good protection, as does the design of the blade -- it has built-in dull areas to prevent accidental cuts from snap-back and deflection during pulling and chopping.

While utility and outdoors preparedness are reason enough to profile the Woodman's Pal here, I would be remiss if I did not comment on its rather wicked appearance and its potential as a weapon.  I took the tool to my Kali class the evening of my trip to the woods, where my fellow students and our instructor could not stop marveling over it.  "That is sick," was one comment.  "Imagine the disarm," was another, in reference to the sickle hook.  My friend Norm, an assistant instructor and passionate bladesman, whipped the tool in figure-eights and tight angles with absolute glee in his eyes.  This is not the tool's intended use, nor would I advocate applying it as some sort of machete on steroids -- but the fact is that it could be used for self-defense (to significant effect) if it was all you had.

Recently I've been feeling the urge to buy a new tent and go back to camping -- to escape the irritation and the noise of the city.  When I do, I'll be packing marshmallows, plenty of lighter fluid, and a Swiss Army Knife, among other things.  Thanks to the folks at Pro Tool, I can think of one more item to add to my list.

I won't be going camping without my Woodman's Pal.