• The Timberline combo includes knife and hatchet, but the twinned sheath has been dropped in favour of individual ones.
    The Timberline combo includes knife and hatchet, but the twinned sheath has been dropped in favour of individual ones.
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Hatchets are immensely handy tools, and of course a knife is crucial kit when you're hunting. Timberline offers you the two in a neat pairing, and at a very good price – just $140, including delivery. The two are available individually, too.

This set is designed by Russ Kommer, an Alaskan hunting guide and highly regarded knife maker, who creates knives for Timberline, Browning and Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT). He also sells his own line of 'custom' knives that exist on a much higher pricing plane; nothing under $US275, and his Bowie knives sell for four-figure sums.

Kommer has been designing knives since 1997, apparently driven in the first place by his desire for blades that would do the job well in remote Alaskan wilderness. So perhaps a rigorous test of the hatchet/knife combo would have been better done chasing sambar in Victoria's high country or skinning buffalo up north, but alas, that opportunity didn't come up. However, I did manage to spend a decent amount of time in the hills near the Sportingshootermag.com.au office chasing pigs and goats, and put the set through its share of butchering and skinning duties.

Both blades are heavy-duty tools featuring full tangs, 440 stainless steel blades that are ¼ inch, or over 6mm, thick, and lightly textured handles made from a tough plastic called Zytel.

The Skinner

Kommer's big game background shows in the size of the Alaskan Skinner knife. It's not especially long – a neat 8 inches, or 200mm – but it's chunky, with a thick handle and deep blade. By my definition, it's a large skinning knife, yet not huge. It's a bit unwieldy for rabbits but makes fast work of skinning something like a goat.

Its size and weight are offset by good balance and a handle with unmistakable contours that stays snugly in your hand, resisting slipping or twisting because of the very positive way it fits around your fingers. The humped back of the handle is a snug fit in your palm, too. It's better in larger hands than small ones.

The handle's design includes a natural guard that drops a bit lower than the other points between your fingers and will keep your index finger from slipping onto the blade.

The drop-point blade's length is just 3.8 inches, or 97mm, which is a versatile length, though its depth makes it seem longer. In fact, the long curve does add length to the cutting edge, which has its obvious advantages.

The pronounced curve is excellent when skinning, and if you keep it nice and sharp it glides between hide and meat to neatly separate them. The blade's thickness is an advantage when getting through joints, because you can wedge it in and give it a twist without worrying about damaging it in the slightest.

Zipping open the gut isn't its forte, although you can do it confidently if you're careful and use your other hand's fingers to help guide the big blade. Timberline has its Zipper specifically for this job, which would complement the skinner.

Axing the question

The hatchet is compact at just 8 inches/200mm long, with a conveniently short handle, yet it has enough heft to hit hard and chop pretty deeply. I was quite surprised with how well it managed to get through things.

Butchering a pig, a few well-placed but relatively gentle hits neatly opened up the pelvic bone. Taking the horns from a billy goat, the little axe took the skull cap off in a minute or so. Hacking off hocks required almost no effort.

Judging by the way it went through the bones of small-medium game, I think it'd do a commendable job on bigger stuff – no worries at all with any deer, and probably fine for buffalo, too. In the US, where it was designed, it's targeted at hunters of things like moose and bear.

And while it's primarily intended for butchering duties, I put it through a few camp chores, too, like chopping and splitting kindling, with no ill effects. In pure terms, a flatter blade would better suit that work but it proved a good all-rounder. The hole in the blade is an effective peg puller.

Like the knife, the hatchet's handle fits very securely in your fist, making it easier to wield.

Paired up

The combo pack used to be available in a sheath that holds both the knife and hatchet, which is what we had to review. It had two webbing loops so you could wear it on your belt, but we're guessing that individual sheaths would offer more flexiblity in how you carry the tools. With the twinned sheath, once you removed the knife, the hatchet won't stay put, so that's another reason individual sheaths should be better. 

Over the first month I tested the Timberline combo, it quickly became familiar and regularly made itself useful, and now, many months down the track, the gloss hasn't worn off and they're regularly put to use. I've skinned, field dressed and butchered numerous animals with them. As mentioned, they are good for the jobs, something that shows they were designed by a hunter who has plenty of experience using edgeware.

Both blades hold their edges pretty well and are quick to get them back with the steel or stone.

They're both strong, heavy-duty tools, too, with solid blades, thick handles and big pins keeping them together. They'll stand up to a lot more abuse than I throw at them, and if you look after them, they'll give years of service.

Specs: Alaskan Skinner Knife

Overall length: 8"/200mm

Weight: 343g

Blade material: Satin-finished 440 stainless steel

Blade length: 3.8"/97mm

Handle material: Zytel

Specs: Alaskan Bush Pilot Hatchet

Overall length: 8"/200mm

Weight: 575g

Blade material: Satin-finished 440 stainless steel

Blade length: 3.8"/97mm

Handle material: Zytel

Prices: Combo, $140. Prices include delivery in Australia. Prices were correct when updated in August 2012.

Australian distributor: Australian Shooting, Hunting and Outdoors

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