From Fire Line to Farm, the Pulaski’s Versatility is Unmatched
The Pulaski was invented in in 1911 by Edward Pulaski, a forest ranger miner, and firefighting hero (Pulaski saved all but 5 of his 45-man crew from burning to death by leading them into a mine shaft he knew from his mining days). Tired of carrying two tools to fight fires with, he added a grub hoe to the back of a single bit ax.
My First Guitar was an Axe
Most musicians have a story about their first guitar they got as a teenager. Technically my first tool was the Hudson Bay Axe, but my second was a Pulaski. In High School I worked on a Trail Crew and gained considerable experience with this tool. After my dad showed up on my 16th Birthday with a brand new, wood handled Pulaski I was hooked on this tool. I used it for yard work, to dig out stumps, dig trenches, to dig my pickup out of the mud, and for all manner of chopping tasks. But it wasn’t until after fighting fires for the Park Service did I really start to fall in love with this amazing, versatile tool.
Often referred to as a Landscaping Axe, or a Firefighter’s Tool, the Pulaski shouldn’t be confused with a pick-axe. (I’ve heard at least a few people call it that.) It also has close cousin, the Undercutter Axe or Chainsaw Axe, a single bit axe with a narrow, curved pry bar extending out the back of the ax head. This bar was used primarily to free a chainsaw from a pinched cut or lever felling wedges out of a tree being cut.
Digging for a Good Pulaski
A good Pulaski can be hard to find, especially if you’re like me and like your tools to have wooden handles. Most big box retailers and hardware stores will have poly-fiberglass handled Pulaskis (or none at all).
I rarely trust older handles and just replace them as a matter of course. I recently found a used Pulaski at Ted’s Tools in SE Portland. The ax head was in good shape but the handle was a step up from driftwood.
Most new Pulaskis sell from $35 to $45. I picked that one up for $25, a new handle for $12, then just a couple of hours of work (not really work if it’s your hobby) I had myself a pre-owned $37 Pulaski.
I’ve found the best places to look for Pulaskis, if you want to buy them in-person and not online, is to go out of town a bit to stores that sell farm or ranch supplies, or even a hardware store in a more rural area. I’ve found that the general quality of tools at these stores is a bit higher and they may have a wood-handled Pulaski or two.
There is always the possibility of finding a used Pulaski at yard sale, flea market, or used tool shop. With any new ax, the ax head itself should be in decent shape, minimal rust, and no big chips. Huge nicks or chips in the blade are very time consuming to remove and it may not be worth the time and effort. Whether you’re working with a new or used Pulaski I recommend sharpening the blade to a tough, 35 degree swamping bit to avoid nicks and chips.
The Trail Homeward
I’ve come full circle with this tool. I first used one on the trail and fire line and now with quieter adventures in homesteading. Whether it’s the back of your truck, or tool shed there should always be room for such a tough, functional tool like this one.
For questions about the Pulaski, look me up at oldfedco.com or email me at email@example.com.