Story and Photos by Reuben Bolieu
My name is Reuben and I’m a big knife addict.
Ever since my first TOPS Knife in 1999 I have always been a big knife aficionado. It started with the TOPS Knives Steel Eagle 111—but didn’t end there. The Ron Hood designed Anaconda was next, followed by the Trace Rinaldi designed Armageddon.
From there, it really escalated!
The best way to describe the design of the Power Eagle is to, first, imagine a big blender. Now, add a Kukri designed chopper from Nepal. Next, add a Filipino designed Moro Bolo. Mix in some modern materials, like textured micarta, and Presto. What you get is the TOPS Power Eagle Kuk a Bolo.
Overall length is 17.625 inches, yielding a 12-inch blade. Sticking with tradition, TOPS is using .25-inch stock and 1095 high carbon with black traction coating, to help fight the elements. Tan canvas micarta is used for the handle material. The sheath is ballistic nylon with a front pouch for gear storage. Weight is 1 pound 10 ounces.
After spending some time in the Philippines, when I look at the Power Eagle, I see the distinct influence of the Moro Barong style Bolo and a Kukri. Both knife blade styles have been emulated in today’s cutlery by many custom makers—as well as production companies—but, before TOPS Knives, none had combined both designs in one lethal tool. Leave it to TOPS to be the pioneers.
This combination adds to the drool factor.
As I was about to embark on a trip to South America, Peru namely, I remembered we were going from the airport in Iquitos straight to Nada, where we would catch a boat and hit the Amazon. This meant there wouldn’t be a whole lot of time to get a machete ready. For this reason, I decided to bring the Power Eagle with me as it was ready and eager to eat some jungle.
As the trek took us deeper into the jungle, we traversed waist deep swamps, Power Eagle at my side. When we stopped to make camp, the scenario couldn’t have been any more dramatic. Rain was falling and there was only about 3 hours of sun left.
Night approaches fast in the jungle and time is never our friend when it comes to making shelter. Time to make a swamp bed, a feat usually constructed with an 18-20-inch long bladed machete. The Power Eagle sheared through green saplings up to 1.5 inches in thickness with one swift motion. The length of the stout 12-inch blade allowed me to chop into more confined spaces than a long machete.
While making shelter I had a chance to use the elastic bungee cord that came attached to the handle for use as a lanyard. The cord is flush with the handle scales and can be used ambidextrously by slipping the hand in between the handle and the cord, thus putting the cord over the back of the hand. This can also be avoided, and the handle just grabbed without sliding the hand in between the cord and scales.
When it was time to make fire, the wood was processed from wrist sized pieces down to pencil size, then shaved into thinner fuzz sticks and toothpick size pieces, using the big chopper. On logs approximately four feet long the Power Eagle was batoned into the wood in a two-man team effort. One person would hold the knife by the handle, with the blade stuck into the top of the log, while the other person would whack away on the spine driving it into the log and splitting it.
From this point, it was split further down to finger and pencil size pieces. The smaller pieces were shaved down with the first four inches of the blade, which were always sharp as most of the chopping is performed further up the blade.
The dramatic taper from spine to cutting edge on the Power Eagle not only increased its chopping ability, but really shined in the finer work category as well.
At the end of the day, the Power Eagle sharpened up nicely with a small double-sided diamond hone. I used the course side for the chopping area and the finer side for the carving area. The 1095 steel takes an edge well and can take a beating worthy of a Rocky movie.
The TOPS Power Eagle will be a tool you can bet your life on, whether you seek adventure into the wilds or a car camp in your local woods. Needless to say, the TOPS Power Eagle is definitely jungle certified in my book!
Fast forward to one of the newest choppers from TOPS Knives, yet another design from Leo Espinoza (TOPS Knives President)—the Ucon Hawk.
The story starts much like before, on an arduous trek, but this time not into the swampy jungle. This time I was battling Old Man Winter, hiking through snow and slush. Cold weather and winter camping in general demands different tools—Ucon Hawk to the rescue!
Upon arriving to my semi-permanent camp, I was already on borrowed time as the sleet was turning into full-blown snow. Feeling confidant I had gathered enough fire wood, it was time to work.
The tedious task of making larger wood into smaller wood is a necessity in a winter camp. However, it started with chopping first. Downed maple was the target. There were quite a few bicep to leg-thick logs from a blown over tree that was bone dry inside, yet covered with a layer of snow and ice.
Yielding a 15-inch overall length, the Ucon Hawk was just a little longer than most 14-inch-long hatchets. The TOPS Ucon Hawk was used to chop through the seasoned maple, and then split it. Being that the thickest part of the tool is .25-inch-thick, it had deep penetration, yet lacked splitting potential—but not totally. The help of a beater stick, via a mallet/baton, helps finish the job on larger diameter wood.
Then the real work starts, splitting it down to wrist-thick, broomstick-thick, finger-thick, pencil-thick and matchstick-thick pieces of wood. There is nothing more tediously necessary than this in a winter camp, but it has to be done!
Before putting the Hawk away for the night, I checked the edge to find it 100% perfect. With the night’s firewood prepared, as well as the morning fire for the wood stove, I left the TOPS Ucon Hawk out in the exposed snow and sleet for the night and called it a day.
The morning came with temperatures well below freezing and a new coat of snow. I was grateful the Ucon Hawk put in the extra effort the day before for the morning fire.
What came next was the extreme part of the extreme winter test. I’ve been called a psychopath when it comes to my style of camping, heck, I’ve been called worse. I figured I’d live up to this badge.
There is an ammo can that was left around my camp area a few years back. It presented a great opportunity to test the Ucon a step further. I placed the ammo canister on a solid log and drove the Ucon Hawk into it, full power. I aimed to land the sharp, beard portion first and it penetrated deep. I pulled it out to assess the damage and saw a few small nicks. It’s normal, they all nick when put through the ammo canister. But toughness is not measured in something breaking, it’s measured in how much it can perform after it breaks!
I then put the TOPS Ucon Hawk under a log, in the sheath, and hid it until the next time.
After a massive snowstorm, yielding 24 inches, I eventually made it back to the camp and unearthed the Ucon Hawk. It spent at least one week under a mound of snow, locked up like Han Solo in carbonite. After a few knocks on a log, it was ready to work. Sheath off, a few spots of surface rust on the cutting edge was all there was, and after a little chopping and splitting, it was gone—simple.
I dug out my camp with gloves and a pie tin for a shovel. I got down almost to dirt level, but the surface I was standing on had already turned slick and slippery— icy. The TOPS Ucon Hawk came in handy as the hammer poll was used to break up the icy snow and help loosen it so I could remove it.
With the fireplace cleared down to frozen ashes of fires past, I found two frozen chunks of oak and an idea struck. I split them with the TOPS Ucon Hawk and mallet for use as my platform for the much-needed fire, to help melt some surrounding snow, as well as boil water for coffee and build coals for cooking.
Fire prep for the log-cabin fire-lay was next. Once again, making medium-sized logs into smaller pieces, and further on.
Once I got the logs down to finger and pencil-thick pieces I split them on a stump using the Ucon Hawk inverted, holding the handle close to the steel portion. In a modified icepick grip, I used the sharp, pointy upswept toe portion to poke into the smaller diameter wood and split them that way. It was an easy and safe technique. This is where the .25-inch-thickness splits well.
With enough kindling it was time to make the tinder from some selected, straighter grained maple splits. I turned the hawk over and pounded the sharp toe section down into a sturdy log. Holding the handle, I drew back the split maple against the 4.38-inch-long blade to make shavings for the fire.
This is a safe, more energy efficient way to make tinder from a hatchet, hawk or axe type of tool.
Two different types of choppers for two extreme environments. The Ucon Hawk ruled the winter and stayed comfortable throughout, while the Power Eagle tamed green hell and was a worthy companion for shelter and fire.
If you can’t choose, get them both! K&G
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Ucon HawkBlade Material: 1095 RC 56-58Blade Length: 4.87 InchesOverall Length: 15.00 InchesBlade Thickness: 0.250 InchesBlade Finish: Tumble FinishHandle Material: Orange/Black SureTouch G10Weight: 31.1 ouncesSheath Material: Black LeatherSheath Clip: Belt LoopMSRP: $330.00
Power Eagle 12Blade Material: 1095 RC 56-58Blade Length: 12.00 InchesOverall Length: 17.63 InchesBlade Thickness: 0.250 InchesBlade Finish: Black Traction CoatingHandle Material: Tan Canvas MicartaWeight: 26 OuncesSheath Material: Black Ballistic NylonSheath Clip: Molle BackingMSRP: $299.00
TOPS Kniveswww.TOPSKnives.com(208) 542-0113
Ucon HawkTOPS Knives (Make sure to use discount code KGS30 for 30% off)BladeHQKnifeCenter
Power Eagle 12TOPS Knives (Make sure to use discount code KGS30 for 30% off)BladeHQKnifeCenterSmokey Mountain Knife Works
Adventurer, writer, photographer, gear designer and survival instructor for Randall’s Adventure & Training, Reuben has spent most of his life hiking and backpacking through the wildernesses of the world. He has traveled abroad in extreme environments, from Alaska to the desert heat of Egypt – as well as the humid conditions of Southeast Asia and South America. He continues studying primitive survival techniques, construction and uses of knives and edged tools from places such as: South America, Australia, Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand, and numerous countries in the South Pacific and Scandinavia. Reuben has published many articles on survival, knife and tool use, woodcraft, shelters, and remains a lifetime student of survival.
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