In addition to building some of the world’s best chainsaws, the Stihl company also makes…or at least brands some wonderful axes and in particular a tremendous splitting hatchet. At less than 20” long but with a 2.75 pound head, the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet and it’s monstrous Ash handle with thick neck make short work of splitting tasks and pile up the campfire-sized kindling like crazy.
The Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet is known as the PA20 and retails for about $55 which feels like a screaming deal given my preference for handmade Swedish axes and hatchets that cost two to four times more than the Stihl. Of course large Stihl Splitting Mauls do command three-digit prices, but that just makes the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet seem a better deal.
The first time you get your hands on a Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet you will know this is not your grandpa’s hatchet. I’m not sure which you will notice first. It will eight be massive head or massive neck on the handle. My guess is the neck will give it away. As a splitting hatchet, the Stihl Pro is designed for little big jobs. From the head’s bit to butt, the giant iron triangle makes short order of the cellulose bonds of wood.
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The physics of using the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet is two-fold. The first is that aggressive wedge that pushes apart any wood that comes in contact with the sharp bit. And second, the excessive weight of the head in motion (force = mass x acceleration) compared to a common hatchet makes plowing the head into the workpiece a decisive and final action. Unless working with a hardwood or trying to blast your way through a tough knot, the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet will send wood flying east and west when you have the sun to your back.
Stihl builds chainsaws. It does not manufacture its own axes. Instead it uses the services of the oldest axe forge in Germany, the Ochsenkopf Corporation. Had Ochsenkopf branded this Splitting Axe itself, it would easily have entered the rarified pricing of the handmade Swedish variety. But instead the Stihl marketing makes this a highly affordable forestry tool that anyone planning to live off fire for a while should own.
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The Stihl Company traces its roots to the shallow side of the last century. The year 1926 marks the beginning of the Stihl chainsaw, an electric model of all things, and a mere 30 years before Andreas Stihl was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1896. Prior saw machines such as those crazy bicycle/rowing machine contraptions appeared earlier than 1900, but had few recognizable features in common with even the most primitive of chainsaws.
In 1929, a gas-powered tree felling machine appeared with the Stihl name. The 101 pound six-horsepower monster marked a turning point in wood cutting tools, and is considered Stihl’s first chainsaw. Do note however, that even though considered massive by today’s two-handed standards, the tree felling machine was a good five pounds lighter than its electricity-powered older brother.
Can You Handle It?
Hickory is the go-to wood for most high end axes and hatchets. So why would the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet have a grip made of Ash? Simple. Ash is a less-brittle choice for harder hitting axes and special purpose hatchets such as the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet. For comparison, baseball bats often use ash over hickory due to the violence of their use. Perhaps if the baseball bat was wrapped in padding it would then make sense to use hickory. But when it comes to axes and hatchets, while hickory is king, ash is the General of the military. Either works fine, but when splitting the hairs of a splitting axe, both will work, and ash is less expensive. Due note that the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet has been found for $49 and change in local hardware stores so arguing the nuances between hickory and ash is purely for fun.
But while we discuss the handle of the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet, there is no arguing about how overbuilt it is. From the moment your hands wrap around it (assuming they can), to your first swing into wood, you will be amazed at the brute force the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet brings to the campfire. I’ve used plenty of camp axes and hatchets, but the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet is in a class by itself. It’s like bringing a tank to a gunfight, or a machine gun to a knife fight. The way the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet blasts through western pinewoods is so fast and so fun that your pile of kindling will grow to epic proportions as you share it around camp.
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Some features to note besides the thick neck are the accented toe of the handle (the lower portion of the grip on the cutting edge side, and the heel (the grip part opposite of the toe). There is a definitive swell on the toe side and plenty of rise on the heel side to keep the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet in your hand even after a powerful single handed swing. Stihl brands the Pro Splitting Hatchet with characteristic Stihl orange paint on the lower portion of the handle, and on the majority of the axe head from cheek to butt. And if that weren’t enough Stihl for you, in large bold black capital letters 3/4ths of an inch tall is STIHL prominently printed on the left side of the handle.
Kindling the Amazon
There are two highly functional ways to use the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet including slamming the Stihl into the workpiece, and holding the Stihl still and pounding the workpiece onto the bit similar to many modern hydraulic wood splitters that keep the wedge stationary and move the wood. So effective is the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet that I’ve let some younger users apply their trade with the hatchet even though they were both barefoot and not of the skill level I would want swinging an axe. And given the fun of reverse splitting, kids around the campfire will be fighting over who gets to baton the firewood next.
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Compared to a full-sized forest axe or a 30” four-pound splitting maul, this Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet is a lightweight, but the same way an armored Hummer is a lightweight compared to an MRAT or Bradley. It’s all a matter of perspective and nimbleness. The biggest difference between the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet and it’s full-sized relatives is that the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet works fine in one hand or two. But running a bigger tool in one hand is dangerous at best. Way too much can go wrong when doing medium and small tasks with a large, long, unbalanced tool.
On softer woods, the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet can literally be dropped onto the work piece slicing it down the middle. And since there is so much mass in the equation, a little added force is all that’s needed if the bit fails to cut all the way through on a drop. For bigger or tougher jobs, a mild swing vastly amplifies the splitting force and one must be careful to avoid driving the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet into the ground after the wood goes flying apart. Most often, when a new user of the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet takes it for a test drive, they overpower it instantly splitting wood and then doing a little gardening on the side. I suggest using a horizontally grained backstop to keep the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet from dulling in the dirt.
When not in use, a fairly feeble bit cover is included that barely hangs onto the head with a touch of velcro. The blade cover works, but has no class or panache. It is a vinyl-like material with a single patch of velcro to snug it to the tool. It will stay on, but hardly provide any confidence while sitting there. On my list today is a new cover for this splitter. There are some aftermarket leather axe sheaths that will fit this Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet, but I’m stumbling over the idea of spending more on a blade cover than for the hatchet in the first place. We’ll have to see.
Many splitting hatchets and axes have a metal collar that protects the handle neck just below the head. The steel ringing the wood will take blows much better than the wood alone. It’s understandable that this Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet would not have the added cost of the collar, but if I can find an aftermarket solution I might try it out. Sure, perfect accuracy during chopping would be the perfect solution, but other than that, a metal collar is the next best thing.
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One other small negative is that the finish work on the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet is not to the highest of standards. Plenty good for anything this hatchet is used for, but a close inspection will detect very minor imperfections on the head that indicate a few cut corners during manufacture. Additionally, the grain pattern is many degrees off ideal although the “massivity” of the handle more than makes up for any grain rotation. But again, at fifty bucks, this is a good deal from any angle.
The Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet is on my Bug In list since unless I can make a couple trips to my bug out location, or in my case, one Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet already lives in my bug out cabin next to my emergency freeze dried food storage stock pile and another lives at my city house. That said, the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet at the top of my grab-and-go list. It has a very limited but very important duties that will keep it handy but not absolutely essential. While it does make short order of larger rounds, and churns out the kindling like no tomorrow, it won’t fell trees efficiently, nor will it do fine work without significant muscle fatigue due to the its aggressive mass.
In the end, the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet is an amazing camp tool that certainly earns its keep due to the efficiency it reduces the size of wood rounds and quarters. And it quickly becomes the go-to tool when maintaining the fuel supply for your campfire. In its reverse configuration, the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet is a safe tool for even the youngest of the fire maintainers, and when launched at wood with the speed and control of adult arm muscles, the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet blasts its way through with the precision of a squad of Marines. In other words, when you need your rounds blown apart and kindling piled up right now, the Stihl Pro Splitting Hatchet is your best friend.