A review of two wood carving axes

I often notice that tools are a rewarding topic for discussion. What are the best knives? Who makes the most beautiful spoon knives? What is the best wood carving ax for spoon carving? Of course you have a choice between dozens of beautiful axes, but today I will cover two that I both own. I have worked with them a lot and I am happy to share my experiences with you. A comparison between two very nice Swedish axes: the wood carving axes by Hans Karlsson and Julia Kalthoff.

The woodcarving axes by Hans Karlsson and Julia Kalthoff

Hans Karlsson and Julia Kalthoff’s axes are very similar. Both fall into the lighter category of carving axes. The price of the Karlsson and the Kalthoff is also very close to each other: at the current exchange rate with Sweden, they both cost around 200 euros including a leather sheath.

Two masters in the field of woodworking have collaborated with the makers on the design of both axes. The handle of the Hans Karlsson was designed in the 1990s by the late Wille Sundqvist. Beth Moens teacher at Sätergläntan has supported Julia Kalthoff in the design of her ax. In terms of weight, shape of the head and handle they are very alike. Yet there are differences between the two axes. Hereafter I will call them Julia and Hans for the sake of convenience.

 Julia Kalthoff Small Carver 01 Hans Karlsson Sloyd Ax (Täljyxa)
Total weight742 grams675 grams
Weight of the head550 grams500 grams
BalanceJust under the headJust under the head
Total length34,5 cm38,0 cm
Steel hardness57 Rockwell55 Rockwell
Bevel edge30 degrees, flat bevel30 degrees, flat bevel
price2450 SEK (in 2024)2450 SEK (in 2024)

The handle

The most visible difference between the two axes is the handle. Julia has shapes that I would (forgive me) call feminine: shorter, thicker and more curves. Hans is more trained, a bit slimmer in the waist but wider in the shoulders, shall we say. Julia slides smoothly through the hand. She makes me feel like a gunslinger while working, throwing the ax into the holster with one smooth movement. Not that it will make you axing any better, but it certainly adds to the fun factor. It makes chopping more fun. The shorter handle is slightly easier when you work while sitting down.

Julia is more elliptical under the head. While Hans is oval-shaped there and in my opinion the oval-shape follows the shape of the closed hand better. For me Hans is easier to hold. I have large hands and because Hans has more width and length just below the head, this makes Hans more natural to hold into my hand. This allows me to hold the ax loosely. So I have less muscle tension and that means that I can work with Hans for a long time without complaints. I feel more muscle tension when axing with Julia.

Left: Julia Kalthoff Small Carver – Right: Hans Karlsson Sloyd Axe (I put on the blue marking myself)

The head

Julia has a blade length of 10.5cm Hans 10.3cm. Julia’s blade is slightly rounder than Hans’s. However, the differences are negligible to me. The bevel is the same and I can switch between the two axes with ease, without having to adjust the position of my hand or sacrifice accuracy. The difference is especially evident at the beard. When I grab the handle behind the head, I touch iron with my fingers when working with Julia. Hans is roomier here, in both the depth of the beard as the width. Here too Hans is more comfortable for the larger hand.

Julia Kalthoff Small Carver vs Hans Karlsson Sloyd Axe (Täljyxa)

Delicate work versus working fast

Hans has a feisty bite, but Julia is even feistier. This is probably due to the higher weight of the head. That explains why she has just a little more umpf.

Both axes easily and quickly remove excess wood when carving out a spoon. With Julia it you’ll have to pay more attention to the delicate work at the neck of the spoon. The heavier head increases the risk of accidentally splitting the spoon bowl. Both are very good, fine and efficient axes for chopping spoon blanks, but you can also chop bowls, dishes and kuksa’s with them.

The wood carving ax that suits you

It’s not just important to buy a wood carving ax that is right for the job. Above all, it is very important that the ax suits you. Not too light and not too heavy so that you can work with it more safely. If the ax is too light, you have to put more force behind it which makes mistakes more likely. Too heavy and it quickly gets tiring. And fatigue causes mistakes also. Ruining your spoon sucks, but fingers don’t grow back.

Because they are light, you can use them with great precision for a longer period of time. This allows you to ax a batch of blanks with ease. Therefore, in my opinion, you can work more safely with these than with a heavier ax.

Evenly matched

Both have a considerable bite and are able to quickly remove a lot of wood while at the same time allowing you to ax out the profile of the spoon with great precision down to the pencil line. Hans lies in the hand more comfortably, especially if you have large hands. Julia is completely handmade and compact.

Hans has a handle that is clearly made more machine-based, but which is very good ergonomically. And if you ask me Hans has the looks in his favor. I think it’s a close call, but I tend to prefer Hans, because he has more room for big hands. If you have the opportunity to try both axes first, I would certainly do that.

So Hans or Julia? I love them both. And which one will be the wood carving ax for you? Send me a message or let me know on Instagram!

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