Pro Tool Industries’ Woodman’s Pal, a part of the issued kit to the U.S. armed forces during World War II, was introduced in 1941. I have seen a number of them at numerous knife and military collectors’ shows, and have since regretted passing on the chance to own a piece of nostalgia. When a classic has been around a long time, we tend to forget about it in favor of being dazzled by the latest and greatest. I have seen a number of Woodman’s Pals, and picked up each, but never used one. I decided it was time.
The overall length of the classic model I tested is 16 3/4 inches. In this case, it would be more appropriate to talk actual cutting edge, which is 8 3/4 inches long. The blade is black-oxide coated to prevent rusting, and the handle is select white ash. The unusual hook on the blade is what Pro Tools calls the “sickle hook.” The hook has a chisel-ground edge laid out in a circular depression.
My Woodsman’s Pal came sharp, but the first thing I did was kick it up by taking it from sharp to wicked—it didn’t take long. The Woodman’s Pal takes an edge with relative ease, probably due to the carbon steel they use (not specified by the company).
In concept the design has much of the utility features of an older fascine knife, so named because of its use by colonial armies to build a fascine, a bundles of sticks used for cover and battlements. The original fascine resembled a large fixed-blade shallow hawkbill. The design is great for getting material to pop as the blade follows through.
One advantage the Pal has over the original fascine is length. The longer blade not only means a longer reach, but more shearing power from the weight and speed on the outside of the swing. Part of the edge at the tip is left dull to create what is called the “safety toe.” The purpose of the safety toe is to reduce deflection injuries, a theory I was not willing to put to a practical test.
I found the Pal balanced well for me, and after I tuned the edge, it made quick work of a small brush and light limbs. The swell at the rear of the handle gave my hand something to brake against rather than sliding off of the back on a swing. The hook proved useful and great for clearing tall grass, vines and weeds. The Pal is one of those tools that has depth and allows for versatility in use.
By Abe Elias