TOPS STORM VECTOR: A MODERN TWIST ON A NORSE CLASSIC
Editor’s Note: “A Storm Is Brewing” is the tag line TOPS is using for its Storm Vector. So, we thought it appropriate to present our forecast on whether or not this new blade could perform for you.
Quite possibly one of the less celebrated knife patterns but still a classic among Scandinavian designs is the seax knife.
However, a resurgence of this design has occurred as of late, possibly due to the various movies and TV shows all depicting the feared Norsemen and their tools.
The Nordic history of the seax knife is deeply rooted. Depending on what information you find, the seax knife predates Vikings and was a common Northern European knife before its association with the Vikings.
It is true that Vikings were better associated with axes, shields, and long swords. Truth be known, they also carried a seax knife that saw more general use.
“It is true that Vikings were better associated with axes, shields, and long swords. Truth be known, they also carried a seax knife that saw more general use.”
Often called a short sword, it was more of a medium-sized utility tool. They came in all sizes. For example, the Langa Seax is the long seax knife. Most likely the seax was used to help out on the farm daily.
It would fix meals, scare off intruders, chop wood for camp or the fireplace, cut meat and vegetables, and skin game—all in a day’s work.
It was what the machete is in the jungle, the Leuku knife to the Sami people in Laplander, and the pocket knife grandfather would keep handy.
SEAX MEANS CLEAVER
In Iceland, where the Vikings had a presence, seax means cleaver. Used as a verb it means to chop. Some information depicts the seax as a weapon, claiming it was best suited for battle in a shield wall, where the long sword and spear were unwieldy and cumbersome up close.
Custom knifemakers as well as major manufacturers have caught wind of the rise in popularity of this “broken-back” style seax featuring a large single edged blade with a severe clip close to the front. This severe clip puts the sharp point well below the center line.
The tang was fitted in a natural type of material such as horn, bone, or wood. The blade was worn horizontally inside a scabbard attached to the belt, with the edge of the blade upwards.
While materials and sizes definitely had variations depending on available materials, local blacksmith, and even social status, one thing was agreed on: During the Viking Age, you never would have left home without it.
TOPS STORM VECTOR
The Storm Vector is TOPS’s take on the seax knife, and what an imposing knife to say the least. Tackling this historic reprise, this was yet another design from TOPS’s CEO, Leo Espinoza. He has designed dozens of models for the company, of which I am no stranger.
“The seax-style knife can Do everything to get your camp in order and full of firewood.”
The Storm Vector has a 12.6-inch blade, which runs at a slight angle, but is completely straight. Leo chose the company’s trademark steel it started with over 20 years ago for the Storm Vector, its tried-and-true 1095 high carbon steel.
The illustrious blade is finished in what they call Acid Rain. It’s a very raw, matte finish with a coating of clear Cerakote to protect the high carbon steel. But that clear coating still allows the blade to appear naturally unfinished. Cerakote is a ceramic finish that enhances a number of physical performance properties including abrasion, wear resistance, corrosion resistance, chemical resistance, and impact strength.
The Rockwell hardness is listed at 56-58. Thickness is right at 0.250 inch, with a flat grind that not only makes it slice and penetrate very well, but also cut down on weight. As it stands, the Storm Vector alone weighs 24 ounces.
The handle of the Storm Vector has an exposed tang, not a hidden tang like the traditional seax knife, which is the first place the design starts to diverge. TOPS Knives doesn’t use bone, horn, or wood scales, so it’s natural that they would use Micarta.
The thick, black canvas Micarta is nicely rounded and features an eye-catching blue liner made from G10. There is a bit of a drop at the back of the handle that has an obvious flair to help stay in the hand.
TOPS supplies the Storm Vector with a black kydex sheath that has an open top and removable black leather dangler. It weighs 8 ounces, bringing the total package to 32 ounces (2 pounds).
As the snow blanketed the forest, I set out to my semi-permanent camp to cook a winter stew, process wood, and enjoy how the woods look in the snow. As everyone knows, the best part of the firewood is the dry inside, meaning after a fresh snow and sleet it was time to split.
Oak and maple are the good hardwoods in my part of the forest, and the Storm Vector had a lot of work ahead of it.
The first order of business was to prep the veggies and chop the chicken thighs for stew. The Storm Vector is tricky to use as a kitchen knife, due to the handle orientation being too “inline” with the blade.
This prevented knuckle clearance, but a little creativity and adjusting was key. Besides, this wasn’t a kitchen knife, but a utility woods worker.
The vegetables all were sliced cleanly without any wedging and breaking often associated with thicker blades.
The chicken thighs were chopped cleanly through the bone with a single stroke. This allowed the bone to be more exposed when stewing, releasing more flavor.
With the food prepped, it was time to process firewood. I was using a small woodstove for this stew, so nothing too large went in the smallish stove, however I had to start with large wood and split it down smaller. The 0.250-inch-thick blade was perfect for splitting partially frozen, dense, hardwood—oak to be exact.
I used a part of a fallen red oak that had a crotch perfect for splitting. Then, I placed the forearm thick piece of oak in the crotch, backed up a good amount, in case of a glancing swing, and then took a hard chop.
Also, I focused more out toward the tip for impact, as it was weightier there. This method is better suited for wood that is chopped to size rather than cut with a saw, as a saw-cut piece of wood can stand up evenly, but not chopped wood.
I sunk the Storm Vector in deep, then used a chunky baton to further split the oak, and split it did. The more manageable pieces were split using a hatchet technique, bringing the blade and wood down at the same time on a stump, however this is safer with an axe type of tool.
With a long blade it can split the wood and fingers at the same time, unless backed up by stump in a position where the blade is driven into the stump, never giving it a chance to get to the support hand.
For small chips used as kindling, I drove the Storm Vector into an exposed chunk of seasoned oak and applied some lateral pressure, prying chunks off. This was perfect for small pieces to be used for a small woodstove.
I was careful not to use the tip for this, as it is very sharp and seemed like a possible place to snap if prying oak, besides, there is more leverage a couple of inches from the tip. The handle remained comfortable and is the most comfortable handle on a TOPS Knife with which I’ve worked.
I wasn’t trying to approach the Storm Vector as a survival knife or one-knife-only scenario. It was a long blade meant for clearing, chopping, and splitting. I wasn’t aiming to do everything with it such as fine carving, paring, or skinning. However, seax knives do a lot.
One task considered fine work was making fuzz sticks for tinder and thicker ones for kindling. I didn’t employ the usual method as with a fixed blade; it would just be too cumbersome and awkward.
I hammered the tip into a stump with a baton on the butt end. A thinner split from some maple I chopped up was used to draw back against the tip portion. My free hand was holding the knife handle for support and safety. This was doing small knife work with a large knife.
I’m a fan of crafting things and using a knife long enough to get a fair assessment of the handle comfort. I made a figure-four trap with the Storm Vector from a green piece of witch hazel. I chopped a broomstick-thick piece with two swings, while the higher sections were thumb-thick and easily chopped with one swing.
The support and diagonal pieces were chopped at an angle instead of carving a chisel end; this was the benefit of having a long blade for that step. The other four notches were done while gripping the choil, allowing more control when using the first 2 inches of the blade.
I used the very sharp tip for a few final touches by easily using my right bent knee to rest the spine near the tip as a bracing point, and then using the left thumb to assist the push cut—simple!
The seax-style knife can do everything to get your camp in order and full of firewood. It hammers stakes in the ground, chops and splits wood, and helps with making supper and camp crafts, just as the Vikings of yesteryear camped. I think TOPS Knives did the seax knife due diligence. I bet a Viking or two would be proud.
TOPS Storm Vector
Overall Length: 18.25 inches
Blade Length: 12.63 inches
Cutting Edge: 12.00 inches
Thickness of Blade: 0.250 inch
Blade Steel: 1095, RC 56-58
Finish of Blade: Acid Rain
Handle Material: Black canvas Micarta w/ blue G10 liner
Knife Weight: 24 ounces
Weight w/ Sheath: 32 ounces
Sheath Material: Black kydex
Sheath Clip: Dangler
Designer: Leo Espinoza
THE SEAX AT HOME AND IN BATTLE
The Viking seax was a rugged, sharp-edged weapon that was commonly used in the Viking Age. According to the Icelandic sagas, this was a weapon that ranged from long knife to short sword. Seax is an Old English word for “knife” and in Old Norse the name Sax referred to a cutting tool.
Often called “Viking knife,” “Viking hunting knife,” “Viking fighting knife,” and “Viking war knife,” the Viking seax was a one-handed, single-edged cutting weapon. It had no cross guard and was often simply made, with hilts of wood, bone, or horn and simple fittings.
In peacetime, the Viking seax was as an everyday machete-like tool that was useful in the forest, wood working, farm work, hunting, skinning wild animals, and preparation of food.
In a time of conflict or war, the Viking seax was a rugged and deadly weapon that served well in combat and on the battlefield. According to the Icelandic sagas, some Vikings even preferred the seax over a sword for fighting.
THE SEAX IN AN HISTORIC BATTLE
One of the more memorable descriptions of the use of a seax in a fight occurs in Brennu-Njáls saga, at the fight on the Rangá. Kolr thrust at Kolskeggr with his spear while Kolskeggr had his hands full with other opponents.
The spear went through Kolskeggr’s thigh. Kolskeggr stepped forward and cut off Kolr’s leg with his seax, and he asked, “Did that hit you or not?”
Kolr replied that it was what he deserved for not shielding himself. He stood looking at his leg stump. Kolskeggr said, “You don’t need to look: It’s just as you think and the leg is gone.” Then Kolr fell down dead.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the May/June 2021 print issue of Knives Illustrated.