The unique design and exceptional craftsmanship of the Woodman’s Pal make it a great tool, but as much as anything I love that the Woodman’s Pal has been made in America for 75 years. At a time when many companies seem all too eager to compromise quality in the name of profit, this means a lot.
The Woodman’s Pal isn’t cheap, but most good tools aren’t. It’s also one of the more niche products I’ve reviewed, so it may not fit everybody’s needs.
Keep reading for the full review, or click here to check the current price on Amazon.com.
Originally designed in 1941 as a versatile tool for the forestry and agriculture crowd, the Woodman’s Pal soon caught the attention of the U.S. Army and eventually became standard issue for a number of different units. There’s a great military history of the Woodman’s Pal at Olive-Drab.com.
The blade design has the distinct look of something a bored 13-year-old would sketch during math class, and I mean that as a good thing.
While the 10.5″ blade is short by machete standards, it’s also incredibly broad and thick. The 481 has a heft and balance that’s difficult to describe but incredibly satisfying. The first time I held my Woodman’s Pal I was overcome with a burning desire to chop down the nearest telephone pole. Even now, I can’t pick up my Pal without subconsciously scanning my surroundings for something to hack on.
Using the Woodman’s Pal feels quite a bit different from other machetes I’ve used, but that’s not a bad thing. At 1/8″, the blade is beefier than any other machete I’ve reviewed. There’s a lot of mass behind the blade, so it’s possible to take out nice, juicy chunks of wood with every swing.
While I like everything about the Woodman’s Pal, there’s no denying that it’s more of a purpose built tool than other machetes I’ve reviewed. The axe-like blade is great for taking down small trees, trimming thick branches, gathering firewood, or breaking down deadfall. However, the blade is so chunky that it’s not very well suited to vegetation, brush, or detail work.
According to the manufacturer’s website, the sickle hook on the back is designed to slice through vines and briars. My area is sadly devoid of vines and briars so I didn’t get a chance to test it, but the hook is very sharp and definitely bolsters the brutal appearance of the Pal.
One of my favorite features of the Woodman’s Pal Classic is the beautiful ash handle. The thickness is just right, the edges are rounded off perfectly, and the finish is easy to grip. In terms of comfort, it’s second only to my Condor Eco Survivor.
The nylon wrist strap is a nice touch and speaks to the attention to detail that goes into the Woodman’s Pal. It’s a thick, wide ribbon that’s surprisingly smooth and supple. Even though I don’t normally use a lanyard when I’m machete-ing (I don’t like the idea of a rogue machete swinging back towards my soft parts) the ribbon was much more comfortable on my wrist than the skinny lanyard included on most machetes.
The 481 comes with a few different sheath options: nylon, leather, or none. I chose the nylon sheath because it was a bit less expensive and I won’t be using my Pal often enough to warrant a leather case. Were I an actual woodsman I would have considered the leather sheath, which looks quite burly and can be purchase separately for around $35.
The nylon sheath is tough and well made. It’s clearly designed for real world use. Unlike the shoddy sheaths that come with many of the other machetes I’ve reviewed, I was not able to rip the stitching apart with my bare hands. This lack of crappiness was refreshing and appreciated.
Inside the sheath is a pocket which contains a small sharpening stone. The two-sided stone is simple, works perfectly, and gives me something menacing to do while I’m on the porch staring down the local youths.
Last but not least, the sheath has a nifty leather medallion featuring an Army guy with bulging biceps preparing to hack something (probably a Nazi).
There is another version of the Woodman’s Pal called the Military Premium (Model 284)(https://www.amazon.com/Pro-Tool-Industries–284-Woodmans/dp/B0009DT4KU) which has a stacked leather handle with a protective D-ring. The 284 looks like a good time, but I was attracted to the lower price and simplicity of the Classic model.
As you can see, I have a lot of great things to say about the Woodman’s Pal. It has a unique yet timeless design. It’s functional on numerous levels. It’s skillfully hand crafted in a factory staffed with kindly grandpa types. And it’s made right here in the G.D. U.S.A.
As if all this wasn’t enough, the original Army version of the Woodman’s Pal included a government issued fighting manual. I’ve posted a few of my favorite parts of this manual below, but you can check out the whole thing here
While I absolutely love my Woodman’s Pal, it isn’t for everybody. It’s great at doing what it was designed to do, but it wasn’t designed to do everything. Plus, the $70+ price tag means it’s not exactly something most people would buy on a whim.
Having said that, the Woodman’s Pal still gets my highest recommendation and a coveted spot among the Maniac’s Favorites.
If you’re interested in purchasing this machete, please consider doing so by clicking this Amazon link. It won’t cost you a penny and it’ll help support me, your friendly neighborhood maniac!
Readers searching for a more general purpose tool should consider the Condor Eco Survivor or the Ontario 6145, both of which are featured in the Maniac’s Favorites section of this website.
Bonus: The History of the Woodman’s Pal
Story time! Here’s the history of the Woodman’s Pal courtesy of ProToolIndustries.com:
It all started over seven decades ago in 1941. The Woodman’s Pal was created. Actually, its design began ten years prior when Frederick Ehrsam was given a challenge. After reviewing a study of edge tools used throughout the world and their adaptations, Mr. Ehrsam decided to analyze the functions involved in brush cutting and similar tasks to start from a fresh viewpoint. This was quite an unusual experience for Frederick Ehrsam as an Artist, Architect, Engineer, Manufacturer and Woodsman to solving a problem of national importance.
So, a series of tools, original in design, was created embodying artistic form, sound mechanical features, excellence of material and the most modern methods of manufacturing. The Woodman’s Pal by Victor Tool Company was born. The enthusiastic, universal acceptance of Victor Tool Company’s invention was not only in the private life sector but also in the United States Armed Forces.
Frederick Ehrsam’s thought was to create an edge tool of inherent safety, outstanding utility and performance of construction which he accomplished with the Woodman’s Pal.
Today, Pro Tool Industries still uses that same formula for all their tools… starting with the finest American made raw materials, hiring skilled craftsman with “old school” workmanship and guarantee each handmade product proudly made in America!