This week, we launch into our first tools-of-prepping review. This one is an American classic, a tool I own and love: The Woodsman’s Pal—or as it was known to World War II aircrews in the Pacific theater, the LC-14-B /Type IV Survival Axe , NSN 8465-973-4807. The United States military used this handy tool as a standard-issue survival axe from its inception in 1941 through the end of the Vietnam War.
The idea behind the tool’s creation was, during combat operations over the vast Pacific Ocean during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, aircrews sometimes had to crash land, and would need a tool that was durable, strong, and hearty to hack through jungle terrain and make protective enclosures. The Woodsman’s Pal was perfect for the job: A product of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, the axe weighs in at 25 ounces and spans an impressive 16 1/2″ long. The 1/8″-thick blade features 10 1/2″ of cutting surface on the leading edge and an intimidating skinning-hook on the trailing edge. It easily could have been used in Braveheart or any other medieval setting; it’s part battle axe, part skinner, and all business.
You can see that it’s a no-nonsense cleaver for wood, branches, plastic, fingers, meat, or just about anything else you can think of. Now that you know a bit of the tool’s backstory, let’s get to why I recommend this as part of your prepping gear. First, it can be used for camping or around the house if you have a fireplace or wood-burning stove.
Second, it’s heavy. I won’t launch into a “weight causes fatigue” debate; in my experience, tools that feel heavy and well-built in the hand tend to help inspire confidence, which leads to a calm demeanor. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rifle, an axe, or a screwdriver, when quality meets your hands, you can recognize it.
Third, its cutting edge is honestly one of the best I have been around for something smaller than a traditional axe. Its long, arched cutting surface allows an average person to quickly chop through a 1.5″-diameter (38mm) tree branch. That’s some serious force without fatiguing your back, and a tired person in a disaster situation is much less effective.
Fourth, the Woodsman’s Pal can be used to split smaller pieces of wood into kindling (with the help of a large piece of wood) without needing to worry about the tool warping or being damaged. In the images below you can get an idea of how best to do this.
People may read this and think that a machete-style knife will do the same thing. They would be wrong. Safety with the Woodsman’s Pal and all bladed tools is of high importance, and it’s in this realm that the “Pal” surpasses the machete. Most machete-style knives will wobble and flex like a long piece of spring steel, and have a plastic grip with no guard near the heal. The Woodsman’s Pal has a steel guard that extends over the entire grip and is welded to the butt end of the handle, making it difficult if not impossible to have your hand slide up the grip and onto the cutting edge. The guard also protects your knuckles and the top of your hand from brush and undergrowth when clearing foliage.
One final feature that I love about this tool is the cut hook/skinner on the back edge of the blade. Anyone who has been out camping or making a fire knows it’s all about the smaller pieces of wood and bark that get a fire to grow—an ideal use for the hook. You can also use it to rip and grab weeds and undergrowth you have already cut down, and drag them out of the way.
The Woodsman’s Pal was unknown to me until I found it in a magazine. Once I tried it, I was hooked. My family and I like it so much, we’ve purchased one for each of us, and it’s part of our bug-in/bug-out gear. It also gets abused all winter while making kindling.
The Woodsman Pal is available on Amazon.