Honshu Karito Battle Axe Video Review May 18, 2021 22:54:35 GMT
Post by Adventurer'sBlade on May 18, 2021 22:54:35 GMT
Haft to Blade Edge: 6"
Cutting Edge Length: 9.5"
Weight: 2 lbs, 10.5 oz
Weight with sheath: 3 lbs, 1.5 oz
POB: Just below the tip of the axe beard
Full Disclosure: I received this axe free from BudK in exchange for a review. BudK owns United Cutlery, the brand that produced this axe. The axe is made in China, like most United Cutlery blades.
Review video transcript:
So you’ve probably seen this new battle axe United Cutlery just put out. Big old bearded blade, synthetic handle. It’s got some holes in it. Looks pretty outrageous, like something a marauding Space Viking would brandish as he prepares to breach your airlock. They call it the Honshu Karito. It’s kind of a polarizing design, as far as aesthetics go. You probably either loved it or hated it the moment you saw it. I loved it. The only real question for me was how functional this axe would be for backyard cutting.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was sent this axe for free, in exchange for a review. I had just finished up my review of the Honshu Historic Single Handed Sword when my contact at BudK asked if there was anything else I wanted to review. I had seen this axe teased on the United Cutlery Facebook page, along with many of you, and I was curious to see if it would hold up to real use. I requested a review sample and was kindly obliged.
There’s a couple of things about the Karito that made me wonder if it would hold up to aggressive cutting. First, the synthetic handle. I’ve used a number of tomahawks and axes with synthetic handles and haven’t personally broken one, despite hard use. But I know that it does occasionally happen, and I had not yet tested any United Cutlery weapons with nylon handles.
Second, the blade is made of 7CR13 stainless steel, as opposed to the typical 1055 carbon steel blades or similar alloys on my other axes and tomahawks. It’s conventional sword collecting wisdom to avoid stainless steel weapons – stainless steel sword blades are for decorative pieces only and anything longer than 12” is considered likely to break under the shock of impact. Fine for pocket knives, not for swords. Many of us have had the learning experience of buying cheap 440 stainless swords from the mall, flea market, or online. These are usually made in Pakistan and have abysmal construction quality, typically left untempered or with an improper temper. These kinds of stainless steel weapons are definitely unsafe to actually use for cutting.
But the truth is, some grades of stainless steel, properly tempered, can absolutely make functional cutting tools meant to take significant impacts. The first one I ever encountered was a Camillus Carnivore machete. A short blade, about a foot long, made of 420 stainless. I tried my best to break it with impacts against trees and failed. Windlass Steelcrafts also makes a series of tactical short swords, the Cobra Steel line, out of X46Cr13 stainless steel. These are properly tempered and absolutely battle ready. I’ve never heard of one breaking and they’ve been around for years.
So the question, for me, was whether United Cutlery’s Honshu 7CR13 stainless blades were tempered properly and up to some serious cutting. The previous Honshu swords I reviewed were 1060 and 1065 carbon steel, respectively. But those were 30” sword blades. For this axe blade, with a much more stout shape which would require less ability to flex and return to true, I figured properly tempered stainless steel would probably work just fine. I wouldn’t expect it to have the same edge retention or flexibility as the high carbon blades should, but I did expect impact-resistant toughness and corrosion resistance.
The last item of concern for me was the series of holes milled in the Karito’s blade near the haft. I knew these were really just an aesthetic flair meant to set the blade apart visually. I think they do that job pretty well, but I wondered if their placement close to the haft and blade tang might introduce unnecessary stress points.
Let’s look at some specs on the axe before we get too deep into the woods. The haft is about 27 inches long. The distance from the edge of the blade to the haft is 6” , and the blade length is about 9.5”. The blade thickness is about 5mm, consistent throughout with the exception of the cutting bevels.
The weight of the axe is 2 lbs, 10.5 OZ. The point of balance is just below the tip of the axe beard.
The blade geometry consists of a flat 5mm blade with a deep, narrow hollow ground primary bevel. The secondary bevel is a knifelike 20 degrees, or close to it, and came just barely sharp enough to slice paper with a long strong.
This blade geometry is going to be what really sets the Honshu Karito apart from the other axes and tomahawks you might be looking at buying. United Cutlery is well known for using hollow ground primary bevels on their blades. I know Kit Rae designed many of United Cutlery’s Honshu and M48 tactical blades. I don’t know if the Karito Axe is also a Kit Rae design, but the milled blade holes, hollow grind and overall Space Viking look give off a classic Kit Rae vibe. He’s well known for dramatic hollow grinds, cut outs, and sweeping curves on his blades. The aggressive downswept beard allows for hooking motions that will rip an enemy’s shield forward or jab deep into his flesh. The horn of the axe isn’t upswept very far, but it still has enough of a point on it that a forward thrust will leave a nasty gash.
You’re probably wondering exactly how the blade is secured to the haft and whether or not it can be removed. There are three torx head bolts that go through the nylon haft and hold the tang of the axe head. When I asked Drew from BudK if the bolts could be removed, he told me they have a tendency to strip out and I should be prepared to drill them out and replace them if necessary. It turns out they came off just fine with two appropriately sized torx bits. I could see there was some glue on the threads, but they unscrewed just fine and went back on afterwards. The axe tang is healthy looking and strong, but not full in the sense of following the complete contour of the axe haft. I couldn’t see any faults with it. If anything, the haft is going to be the weak point of the weapon rather than the tang or axe blade, so I want as much solid nylon around that tang as possible. You can see the tang isn’t visible from the back side of the haft, only the front. I think the handle would probably be quite a bit weaker if it were completely forked to fit a full-width tang. This is the case with Cold Steel trench hawk handles.
The real question was whether solid impacts would break the nylon haft. Again, this axe isn’t a wood chopping tool, but solid hits are a possibility with fighting axes and the last thing you’d want is that axe head to go flying through the air while you’re left holding a broken plastic stick. So when I demonstrate wood chopping, bear in mind I’m doing this to stress test the axe for you and not to suggest this axe is a good choice for felling trees. The blade geometry is absolutely not optimized for wood chopping, but rather for cleaving through meat and bone. Or, you know, water bottles and pool noodles.
The Karito held up to impacts very well. I was wondering how the nylon handle would deal with impact shocks. Would it hurt my hands? Turns out that no, it has enough flex to absorb the impact pretty well and it was perfectly comfortable to hit stuff with.
So this tree is a large alder growing in a swamp. It’s maybe eight, nine inches wide. It’s a soft wood, comparatively easy to chop, but cutting down a tree this big with this hollow ground battle axe is still a little bit insane and should be considered a torture test. This went on for some time. The axe bit deep on each cut, but the hollow grind stuck in the wood and had to be pried free after every hit. I wondered if the haft would snap or the axe edge would end up with a massive chip, but once the tree fell and the dust settled, I found the axe was undamaged.
That wasn’t enough, so I flipped the axe around and smacked the butt end of the haft against a tree for a while. Still no damage.
This really, really isn’t a throwing axe. Handle breaks are common to the point of expected on throwing axes, so an irreplaceable nylon handled axe with a delicate hollow ground blade is exactly the last thing you’d want to throw. I threw it anyways, because it was just so hard to resist. Sometimes I stuck it in the target, sometimes I messed it up. The hits that stuck tested the strength of the blade edge, and the tests that messed up tested the strength of the handle. No damage.
I also performed a 2x4 chop test. The drier, harder wood posed a little more of a challenge. The axe worked its way through. Once I was done, I noticed a section of the edge had rolled over. This tends to happen with softer steels and narrower edges. I hadn’t had any rolling performing similar tests with the Honshu 1060 carbon steel or the APOC Yataghan’s 9260 spring steel. So it seems I’ve discovered the limits of the Honshu 7CR13 stainless blades. It took impact stress well, but the edge is softer and the fine edge rolled while chopping several trees and a 2x4. This doesn’t bother me too much. I was able to fix the rolled edge in about five minutes with a whetstone. I was far more worried about losing huge chips of the thin hollow-ground edge while chopping wood. I can deal with periodic resharpening. I consider this axe meant for things like water bottles and tatami, not trees, so I can live with mediocre edge retention as long as it’s durable enough for real use. That being said, I’d love to see this axe in D2 tool steel in the future.
The stainless also had a distinct advantage in terms of corrosion resistance, of course. I was able to cut fruit, water bottles, soda, trees and throw it in the dirt before simply washing it off. No stains or rust were left behind. Any carbon steel blade would have gone home covered in ugly blotches of rust staining that would have been a pain to polish out.
The durability testing also assuaged my doubts about the holes drilled in the axe head. Once I saw them in person I realized there’s actually quite a bit of steel around them and that whole fuller/holes section could have just been a cut out slot without really affecting the axe’s durability. It didn’t break.
The hollow grind makes the blade considerably thinner behind the edge. It facilitates easy slicing through soft materials, but has a tendency to stick in green wood if you try to use it for chopping. Moreover, there’s a potential danger of serious chipping due to the bevel being so thin behind the cutting edge, if the axe is used on hard targets.
Here I’m holding the Karito up to a Cold Steel spike hawk so you can see how their edge geometry compares. The tomahawk is much, much thicker with a wide convex primary bevel and a more obtuse secondary bevel than the Karito. I could chop hardwood all day with the tomahawk or throw it countless times into logs and the only damage I’d be worried about is gradual blunting of the edge. I’d have to strike rock or metal to even worry about chipping. I know that because I’ve done it.
On the other hand, the tomahawk won’t slice nearly as effectively. It’ll cut bare flesh if you keep a decent level of sharpness on it and swing it fast enough, or bury itself in a hard target like the skull or ribcage, but it doesn’t have the capacity to leave deep slices or completely dismember targets the way the Karito would.
The Karito can function almost more like a sword, given how much edge length it has and how narrow the edge is. You can draw the edge across the target in a slicing motion and get very clean, deep cuts. This makes it perfect for cutting water bottles and other soft targets. Most axes don’t work very well for this kind of cutting practice. They tend to tear targets up and knock them around.
The sheath that came with the Karito is thick, stitched leather with a belt loop and a two-button retention strap that goes around the axe haft. The axe blade drops in from the top and is drawn by unsnapping the strap, grabbing the haft and lifting straight up. It’s an easy, intuitive draw. I previously made some negative observations about the design of the sheath for the Honshu Grosse Messer. I’m happy to say this sheath is pretty well designed and functional. It’s convenient to carry, protects the blade well and has a quick, easy draw. It’s hard to design a good axe sheath. This is about as good as it gets.
I was worried that walking around with a 27” axe hanging off my belt would be too annoying to actually do. I went for a five mile hike with this axe strapped on my belt and I have to say, it wasn’t bad. It helps that the axe haft is lightweight nylon. When I positioned the axe at about 3’o clock on my belt, it didn’t bang on my legs or trip me up. Every so often I took a moment to practice drawing the axe and resheathing it. Now, I did consider hanging the sheath from a shoulder strap like a baldric instead of hanging it low on my belt. The problem with this is that the belt is what keeps the sheath in place while you pull the axe up to draw it. With a baldric, the sheath would follow the axe up as you attempt to draw.
Just about the only thing missing here is lash points to tie the scabbard off to MOLLE webbing on a backpack. Four D-rings around the edge of the sheath would have sufficed, or alternatively a kydex scabbard with eyelet holes. Still, this is a field-functional sheath that you can actually use to tote the axe around and draw it from fairly quickly.
The haft of the axe is injection-molded nylon. Not only does it have checkering and grooves to help keep your grip secure, but the lower section is curved forward so that the blade of the axe is slanted forward in relation to the grip of your bottom hand. This positions the blade at about the same angle a kukri has. Forward-curved blades impart more impact force into a target and just generally feel snappier when you cut with them. It helps you shear through tough targets. The downside is that a forward curved blade is a little less forgiving of imperfect edge alignment and it is a little more awkward to rotate the blade 180 degrees at the end of a cut to set up for a return stroke.
Cutting with axes is more difficult than swords in general because a very slight rotation of your hand has a very noticeable effect on edge alignment when the edge of the blade is farther forward of your grip. With six inches between the Karito’s haft and its edge, you need to be very cognizant of alignment in order to cut cleanly. I messed up several water bottle cuts due to improper edge alignment. I’m leaving those botched cuts in the video just to make my point. That’s actually one of the reasons I love cutting water bottles – they give you very useful feedback about your edge alignment. The good thing about this is that once you’ve mastered edge alignment and follow-up cuts with an axe, it’ll only seem that much easier with a sword.
And here I’ve got a number of other axes I’ve collected over the years, so you can compare them to the Honshu Karito. In particular we’re going to look at how thin the blade and cutting bevel of the Karito are in comparison, and what I use each type of axe for.
First is the Fiskars chopping axe. It is almost exactly the same length as the Karito at 28”, and has a handle made of similar nylon material. The head of the Fiskars is massively thick in comparison, clearly meant as a chopping and splitting tool. The Fiskars actually has a hollow tube for a handle, while the Karito has a solid, but smaller-diameter haft. The Fiskars is very unwieldy compared to the Karito for use as a cutting weapon, but you could still sling it around if needed. The balance is extremely head-heavy. This is a passable camp axe.
Next is the Estwing 26” Camper’s Axe. This one is about half a pound heavier than the Karito, but has a fully steel handle with a rubber grip on the bottom half. The head has a slightly concave profile but overall it is much thicker and stouter than the Karito. The edge is a thick convex. It can chop and split reasonably well. It is surprisingly wieldable as a weapon, almost as agile as the Karito thanks to more weight being distributed further down by your hands, but it doesn’t have the same slicing power due to its thick, short edge. I highly recommend this one if you want an axe that is a tool first and a weapon second, but capable of both. It also has a hammer poll on the back of the head, something missing from the Karito.
If you want a lighter, shorter version of the same axe, there’s an Estwing 16” Camper’s Axe. This one has had its steel haft sprayed with rubberized underbody paint and then the rubber grip was wrapped with green hockey tape to give it a more subdued look than the bright blue factory coloring. Just about the only advantage this has is that it’ll fit in a backpack – the 26” Camper’s Axe is only slightly heavier and is much more useful.
Next is a Cold Steel Viking Battle Axe. That’s not the factory haft. I mounted the axe head on a 36” sledgehammer handle from the hardware store and wedged it in place with a steel round wedge. It has held up pretty well so far and is a big improvement over the factory handle, which seemed ridiculously short and thin for the size of the head. Compared to the Karito, it has a shorter blade with a much thicker edge. I actually ground this one down to be more convex, but the factory bevel was a very thick, short saber grind like the ones on their machetes. It’s a durable edge, but not nearly as capable of deep, clean cuts as the Karito. Other than that, I really like this axe. It can be rehung on a new handle of my choice should I happen to break it. The extra eight inches of handle length I gave it over the Karito would make it a more practical choice as a two-handed weapon in actual combat, because the extra reach would matter more to me than the Karito’s superior slicing ability.
Next is a Cold Steel Norse Tomahawk mounted on a 30” hickory handle. It’s actually the same handle that came with the Viking Battle Axe. I’ve had this Tomahawk head for a full decade now and have used and abused it extensively. It’s a keeper. On this handle, it makes an incredibly agile and hard-hitting single-handed fighting axe. This is the axe I’d prefer to use paired with a shield. The Karito CAN be swung with one hand, but this Norse hawk is less fatiguing, faster, and can be used in a more deceptive and cunning manner with feints and directional changes. The Norse Hawk is almost as thin as the Karito through most of the blade, but still has a much thicker convex edge than the Karito’s thin concave bevel. The Norse Hawk can be used for throwing and chopping all day. I think most real Viking battle axes probably looked a lot more like the little Norse Hawk than the massive Karito.
Finally, there’s the Cold Steel Recon Hawk. This one is a full tang, tactical tomahawk with plastic scales over the steel tang. It is much shorter and lighter overall – a true one-handed weapon. And it is definitely designed as a weapon, not a tool. It actually has a hollow ground bevel itself, although not as deep and thin as the Karito’s edge. It will slash as well as its short edge allows, and the back spike will penetrate viciously. It’s also a ton of fun to throw. Really, though, it’s a totally different beast compared to the Karito. It doesn’t have the reach or anything close to the cutting power. This recon hawk is to a dagger what the Karito is to a sword. So… buy them both. Throw the recon hawk at stuff and use the Karito to cut water bottles. You’re never going to get the chance to kill zombies with either.
So compared to most of these other axes, the Karito is more of a refined slicing weapon meant to be treated like a sword, rather than a bushcraft tool. It’s not a little hand axe like the tomahawks, but lighter and handier than the tool axes. The ergonomics of the handle are better than any of the other axes, and in my opinion it looks a lot cooler.
As far as durability goes, I was satisfied with the strength of both the nylon haft and the stainless blade. Like I said before, all you should need to worry about is periodic resharpening, as long as you’re using it on the kinds of targets that would be okay for a normal sword. If you choose to throw it, know that you’re running a highly increased risk of snapping the handle in half on a bad hit. If you chop hardwood, know that you’re running a highly increased risk of chipping the blade or at least rolling the edge.
Let’s talk price and value. The Honshu Karito will cost about $150 shipped, at least right now. By comparison, you can get the Cold Steel Viking Battle Axe for under $70. There are other historical axe replicas by Hanwei and Windlass for $100 or less. The Estwing Camper’s Axe is only $40. There are more expensive axes than the Karito, for sure, like the Arms and Armor ones or anything custom made. But there are tons of cheaper axes than the Karito.
So why pay $150 for the Karito? Well, because it’s different. It’s got a modern look, it’s got great ergonomics, and it slices light targets like a sword would. None of the other axes on the market are like that. It also has that leather belt sheath. That’s a big chunk of the production expense and none of the other axes come with a useable sheath like that. Some of them have blade covers, none have functional belt sheaths.
I’d be excited to see this axe made in D2 tool steel, the way United Cutlery has been doing with a lot of the other Honshu weapons. The extra edge retention and toughness would take this axe to the next level. But I expect that would probably increase its cost by at least 50%.
I’d also be excited to see United Cutlery offer spare handles for this axe as an aftermarket purchase. That way I could get a spare and not be so worried about breaking mine and being left axeless. Like I demonstrated, the bolts seem to come off fine with the right torx head bits, and changing handles should be easy. You could even do it out in the field if the spare came with a little set of extra bolts and two little torx head wrenches. This is something I’d especially want if I had a D2 version of the axe, because the axe blade itself would be that much more durable and valuable. It would be worth buying a replacement handle.
So buy the Karito if you like the way it looks and you want it for its awesome backyard cutting potential. I think you’ll be happy with it. And yeah, it’d make a great backup weapon for the average zombie hunter zipping across the postapocalyptic wasteland, taking heads like a weed whacker knocking down daisies. But you’re going to cut water bottles with it.
If you want something tougher to hit trees and rocks with, get the Estwing or one of the Cold Steel axes. Got a few more hundred dollars to burn? There’s a nice Zombie Tools axe that weighs almost twice as much as the Karito, costs more than twice as much and can probably take about ten times the punishment.
But with all this in mind, the Honshu Karito battle axe is indeed an adventurer’s blade.