Fiskars Norden N7 | Expert Review by Padraig Croke
The axe is one of humanity’s oldest tools. We have been sharpening rocks for thousands of years, and around 6000BC we started adding a handle for increased cutting power. Our human ancestors used these implements to dig up roots, cut wood and butcher animals, and for war. Fast forward a couple of thousand years and the axe remains a vital and steadfast tool in the history of humans. For some cultures (the Vikings in particular), the axe is even an integral part of their national heritage and culture, and plays a vital role in the historical narrative of their ancestry.
The modern axe, as we know it today, came into full effect during the industrial era, and with it came a wave of consumers and companies using the axe for large scale forestry to meet the need for timber in building our ever expanding towns and cities. Axes became standardised, mass produced and built to perform to the demands of industry.
To today’s modern outdoorsman, it is an absolutely essential tool. Revered and fetishised, as well as utilised and hard-worked, the humble axe is as useful today as it was to our ancestors 10 thousand years ago.
Back to their Roots
According to the company, the design of the Norden series embodies Fiskars long heritage of axe craftsmanship, a tradition that dates back to the 17th century. Fiskars have been around a long time, and know what they’re up to when it comes to tool making. From garden tools, to crafts, and of course axes, they have established themselves as a company dedicated to producing affordable quality tools for everybody.
The existing Fiskars range of axes are well respected and trusted in their own right, finding their home primarily in fans of steel axes such as Estwings and modern Husqvarnas, and the X series have been a staple for people who want ‘nothing fancy’ woodworking and processing tools.
Departing from their signature style with this new range however, the award-winning design opts instead to incorporate a hickory handle in place of the usual hollow fibre, giving the Norden a beautiful look of traditional meets modern. So how does it feel?
The handle is constructed in two parts. The first 1/3 from the axe head down is the same signature durable FiberComp mould that Fiskars are synonymous for. Moulded over the head itself, it feels solid as a rock. Fiskars claim this material is virtually unbreakable, and a quick Google search seems to confirm this claim besides some extreme examples where they have come into contact with industrial machinery or in extreme cold.
The latter 2/3 is a total revelation for Fiskars. They’ve chosen to go with a hickory handle! Combining award-winning design with a new technology, Fiskars have made a connection by casting into the FiberComp polyamide. This is a distinguishing feature of the Norden and really makes it stand out from the crowd. It’s quite honestly a thing of beauty, but left me wondering why they chose this bold move of combining their own signature look, with a peppering of some old school matt lacquered Hickory.
Part of me suspects this is an attempt to tap into the outdoor markets for people who love the more traditional axe. The woodsman. It seems as though they haven’t made any changes to their axe head shape, likening it to their existing X7 axe. It does a great job for what it’s intended for...splitting, but we will look at that in more detail further on. The grain is straight, and the extra fat flair on the knob of the handle gives both exceptionally comfortable handling when swinging, and allows for decent space between your fingers and the log when splitting in a kneeling position. No pinched knuckles here.
I do have a few small observations about the handle worth noting here. Firstly, I found it a little too thick for a one handed hatchet. It is such that I cannot get an entirely full purchase around it as I would expect of any hatchet of this size that I have used in the past. This is compensated for by the swell at the end, as mentioned above. Secondly, and this is purely speculative, but I would worry about how I might replace the shaft of this axe, should the wood split on me. Perhaps this is why they have chosen to make it a little chunkier than average, or maybe its width is due to Fiskars existing production line being set up for this specific width already. But honestly these are only guesses. Admittedly, most shafts split closer to the chopping end of an axe due to overstriking, where this “virtually unbreakable” polyamide exists on the Norden.
I imagine this would be well covered in their warranty, should the hickory end ever snap on the user, but these are things worth asking yourself. In a scenario where your axe shaft breaks on a traditionally hung hatchet, any woodsman worth his dinner should be expected to be able to replace it on the fly in an emergency situation.
Edge retention and steel quality
Hands down, the quality of the carbon steel on this axe is exceptional. It is double hardened, a treatment in which the head is subjected to two complete hardening operations, or a first annealing step followed by a hardening step. Generally conducted at the same temperature in order to refine the grain size of the steel after a first long treatment of austenitization (hardening). In technical terms this means a refined grain size and microstructure of the core, grown during long duration at high temperature and reduces the distortion levels within the steels structure. It also adjusts more precisely the hardness of the core of the steel. In basic terms, the Norden is tough.
It came fairly sharp out of the box, more than enough for any splitting and chopping, and I was a little wary of trying to sharpen this axe after reading up on its double hardened accolades. I do however, prefer to keep a hair popping edge on my axes, a preference grown out of using my axes for fine carving and crafting. A quick rub with my Skerper Arkansas Stones however, and the edge on this blade was outstanding. In the two months I have been using this axe I have not sharpened it since. All the seasoned oak and beech I have put it through so far seem to have had little effect on the edge, and there are no rolls to mention. Almost, but not quite hair popping, the fact remains that the steel and edge geometry on the Norden is very, very good.
The drop forged misconception
Something that may throw people off, or discourage them from purchasing a Fiskars axe is the fact that the steel is drop forged. For the traditional axe look it has to be a hand forged head. I would definitely have been in that camp before using the Norden. My experience with drop forged axes had, up until this point, been with cheaper hardware store bought axes. But the Norden (and a little bit of desk research) has convinced me otherwise. It’s actually quite liberating knowing that my pre-existing notions for my tool choices has been blown open to a new set of possibilities.
Aesthetically, yes, there is no denying that the look of a hand forged axe is far more beautiful than a drop forged one, and there are some production marks along the top of this axe head that are not particularly pleasing to look at because of the closed die system used to produce it.
However! That is where the disadvantages stop. In fact, whether it has been hand forged, (which uses an open die system where the steel is passed through a series of triphammers until the shape is achieved) or drop forged, (a closed die impression system where the shape is more quickly achieved) it will bare no indication of the quality of the tool at all. The quality of the steel and production detail matter. Some may even argue that with a closed die the quality of the metal is improved, because of the higher weight of the mechanised hammer, which causes better distortion within the layers of the metal, making it stronger. I believe it is more expensive to buy and run a closed die system rather than have a number of different trip hammers. This is probably why only
large scale production companies like Fiskars can make their axes in this way.
The plastic sheath, a standard on all Fiskars axes, is a perfect solution for keeping the Norden protected and safe when not being used, and lives up to that Finnish sensibility of no nonsense practicality.
Having been used to leather sheaths on any of my other axes, I will admit on first impressions I was not particularly animated by this. However, I found myself growing quite fond of it as a great way to not just protect the axe, but also to carry it. The loop at the top serves perfectly as a grab handle for removing from the side of my pack, and even while wearing gloves it’s chunky enough for ample purchase. There is also a loop that would suit a carabiner if you wanted to hang it from your belt or off the ground. The axe is secured in place by a sturdy lock at the butt of the axe head. Again, very easy to use with gloves on. It’s a simple, well-built and practical solution to an axe sheath and I have no issues with it at all.
As I stated above, my uses for an axe in the last couple of years have been mainly for carving and craft work, and I have been using a Gransfors wildlife hatchet and a Hans Karlsson sloyd axe predominantly. Granted, comparing the latter to the Norden is not like for like, as they are both built with different purposes in mind, the lack of beard on the Norden was something I really missed. The bits angle and shape is likened more to what you might find on a traditional splitting axe, and this drastically reduces the ability to choke up behind the cutting edge for finer tasks like feathersticking, or to add pressure behind the edge for push cuts. You could of course achieve this by holding the back of the axe head with downward pressure. Perhaps a harsh criticism on my part, as I’m aware this goes beyond the intended purpose of the Nordens design intent, but it is well worth noting here, as I feel this is often a factor for people when choosing a hatchet for bushcraft and crafting tasks. That’s not to say that the edge itself is incapable of performing these tasks. Far from it. But from an ergonomical viewpoint, this is personally something I look for.
Where this axe totally excels is in splitting and making kindling! With an overall weight of almost 800g it outweighs a Gransfors wildlife hatchet by 200g. It’s extremely well balanced with a great deal of weight distributed where it’s needed, and makes swinging the Norden feel like you’re using a baseball bat.
The wedge of the Norden is a thin and wide scandi style edge. This gives clean splitting every time, and the PTFE coated blade prevents it clogging and allows for a deep cut. The cheeks of the axe swell past the polyamide wrapping such that the wedge never meets it when being split through a log, allowing for a smooth trip all the way through.
I tried to push it beyond its intended purposes, using it as a wedge while battening the back of it though a 10 inch thick seasoned log of wild cherry… and yes, it worked… and worked well, cracking the log in half in no time. As I mentioned before, the extra chunky swell on the shafts end means that when you’re splitting by holding the log and axe together, there is plenty of clearance for your hand, and combined with the exceptional top heavy distribution of weight, you can swing with an extremely powerful downwards force concentrated in the exact place it’s supposed to be. This axe punches well above its weight class, and I always felt comfortable pushing it further.
It is also a fantastic chopper. The 30 degree edge allows for a serious amount of material to be removed with each swing, as I found when hacking through a seasoned oak log for the campfire. Performance wise, it easily rubs shoulders with its contemporaries of a similar size in the higher price ranges. An axe like this is of course primarily intended to be used as a small log and kindling splitter, but if it needs to chop, it will do it as well as you would expect any axe this size to.
Honestly, for the price range of these axes, you are getting a fantastic tool that I have no doubt will last years. I have tried to avoid this comparison, however I would liken them to Morakniv, in the sense that they are not fancy or precious. They are tools that use excellent quality materials and steel, and hold true to their reputation of getting the job done! This move towards combining natural materials with modern innovations is something I hope to see Fiskars do more of in the future, and perhaps even expand the Norden range (currently three models) into more specialised axes like carpentry and carving axes.
Is it an heirloom? Probably not. But if you need a reliable chopper and splitter for your camp trips, you could do well with having one of these beauties in your toolkit. I hope to see many years with this axe in the future, picking it out when making that agonising choice of what tool setup to bring before making a break for the woods.
Padraig Croke is an avid bushcraft and outdoor enthusiast, spoon carver and hiker. He is the co-host of The Trial by Fire Podcast, a bi-weekly podcast dedicated to all things bushcraft and outdoors. He is also an admin at the Living to Learn online community and lead designer of The Bushcraft Journal Magazine.
In the Trial by Fire Podcast, Padraig Croke and Joe Price discuss all things buscraft and outdoor. You can find all episodes on TrialByFire, and all of them are available by searching for 'The Trial by Fire Podcast' on iTunes, Spotify, and Stitcher. And do follow @thetrialbyfirepodcast on Instagram.
Thanks Padraig for this awesome review!