jungle_axe_and_friends“He who sits in the shade won’t take an axe to the tree”

I watched a clip of Ed Stafford in the Discovery show ‘Naked and marooned’ where he finally managed to get a fire going after nearly two weeks on the island.  Why did it take him this long?  Well, a large part of the problem was that he had no knife and was forced to use shells to carve out the notches on the hearth boards – a single notch would take him something like 4 hours to carve!

In the seemingly endless debate over which cutting tool is best; carbon steel vs stainless; convex vs Scandi grind; axe vs parang vs saw etc it is easy to forget how lucky we are to have any sort of metal cutting tool in the first place (as Ed Stafford discovered).   In the same fashion there is a lot of debate over choice of axe and it is easy to get befuddled by the range of opinions out there and forget that an axe is simply a sharpened metal wedge on the end of a stick….the skill with which it is wielded is more important than the brand name.

As with any cutting tool the best choice is going to depend upon what sort of tasks you are going to use it for and, as such, the axe is not a good choice for the average jungle trekker: 1) it is too heavy and cumbersome, 2) it is rare that you have to cut down whole trees and 3) an axe is not suited to trail clearing of vines/rattans and the like.

So why, you might ask, did I go out and buy one?  Well, the answer to that I had been curious about the Jungle Axe since Baha mentioned the concept to me years ago – he remembered his grandfather making the handle from the exposed roots of the Simpoh tree and it had the unusual property of being flexible.   It took me a while to get my head around this….an axe with a bendy handle!?  It just sounded all sorts of wrong.  Baha’s explanation was that such a handle allowed people in the jungle to keep on working even when they were tired and hot.

This year I went to Bera with my friend Keong to meet up with an Orang Asli from the semelai tribe called Stem and there I saw (and purchased) just such a handle and Stem was kind enough to demonstrate it in action.  I found it fascinating that the Orang Asli had come up with a different approach both to axe design and use.

So in this video you can see the axe in action and I’ve also looked at some axe/saw techniques that can be applied to parang use.

One thing I have discovered when it comes to splitting wood is that being able to call on a range of techniques is a big advantage.  Some wood is beautifully straight grained and knot free and is almost effortless to split….but in the hardwood forests the available fire wood is often more tricky and requires more encouragement.  With just a parang difficult wood can be hard work to split but with a a couple of wedges (gluts) to help the parang you should be able to split just about any wood (check out this earlier article/video to see how).

For anyone interested in buying a jungle axe, please contact Keong at Sepuh Crafts and he should be able to arrange it.