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What is a "Cruiser"?


There often seems to be some misunderstanding about what exactly a “Cruiser” is when it comes to an axe, so I thought I’d delve a little deeper into their history and manufacturing.

Brant and Cochran’s website, from which Google draws the definition of a cruiser axe, notes: “Smaller double bit axes (2-4 lbs.) are referred to as "cruisers."”. However, this is slightly confusing, as 4-pound double bit axes tend to be mid-range for the weight of a common American Double Bit Axe. In his glossary of axe terms, Lamond defines a “Cruiser” or “Timber Cruiser’s Axe” as “small version of a double bit axe designed to make markings by slashing the bark such as when blazing.” In Sorden and Vallier’s “Lumberjack Lingo”, the authors define “Cruiser’s Axe” to be “a light, short-handled axe carried by Timber Cruisers”. They furthermore define a “Cruiser” as “One who estimates the value of standing timber. Same as Estimator, Land Looker, Valuer”. Per the Department of the Interior, “Cruising” for timber refers to the assessment of a plot of land to determine the monetary value of the harvestable trees on that land. As most infer by the name, a “Cruiser Axe” would typically be a smaller double bit, made for light travel and for limited use.

While searching for references to the origin of the use of the name “Timber Cruiser”, the first American reference I could find of a “Timber Cruiser” was in 1872. However, by the 1880s the term became popular and was used quite frequently by both private authors and the media. Advertisements for “Cruiser’s Axes” came quite a bit later, appearing around 1903. However, it would seem that major manufacturers would not catch on to the need for their marketing as a regularly manufactured item until the 1930s. As the larger names in the axe industry started to produce their lines of these “Cruisers”, one would assume that they would have an understanding of what the product need was. Similarities across numerous manufacturers, especially a statistical majority, can give us a clear answer to what they believed a “Cruiser” to be.

A quick analysis of around 150 axe manufacturer catalogs shows that most of the manufacturers reviewed made no double bit axes at a weight less than 3 pounds prior to the use of the word “Cruiser”. Once the word “Cruiser” was present in their line ups, all of the following manufacturers noted that a 2.5 pound double bit axe was called as such: Kelly Axe Manufacturing Company (including later iterations Kelly Axe and Tool Company and the Kelly Works of the American Fork and Hoe Company), Council Tool, Mann Edge Tool Company, Warren Axe and Tool Company, Fayette R. Plumb, Inc., and Vaughan. Catalogs for O.P. Link, the Sequatchie Handle Company, and Turner, Day and Woolworth note “Cruiser Handles” for “2 and ½ pound axes”. None of these companies note Cruisers as being any size other than 2.5 pounds with the exception of Warren, who carried a 2 pound Cruiser for a short period of time.

Other similarities between the manufacturers of these axes include similar patterns, with Michigan patterns being the most common “Cruiser” pattern. Many of the companies noted double bit “Cedar” axes being a “Cruiser” size pattern. Images of these appear identical in shape to those company’s “Reversible” pattern double bits of a larger weight. Overall, it seems quite safe to say that per manufacturer specification, “Cruiser” axes were double bit axes produced at a weight of 2.5 pounds. Measurements of the eyes of these 2.5 pound axes are consistently smaller than heavier weight double bit axes but do vary in size by manufacturer (and sometimes year of production). Axes that show significant wear of the bit that are reduced in weight to around 2.5 pounds are likely not Cruisers, just worn down full sized axes, and the presence of a full size eye can likely verify this. These commonalities leading to a defined meaning are simply a reflection of “traditional” American made axes, and newer axes produced under the name “Cruiser” obviously will not always follow the same naming standards.

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