Jose Diaz in his own words is a “full time Physician’s Assistant (PA) and a part time knife maker, working towards becoming a full time knife maker and a part time PA”. At Blade Show 2011 Jose walked around with a piece of art he named the “Cane Toad Chopper”. Mostly everyone who walked past him and noticed his steel stopped him and started the questions. “What is that”? “What is it made of”? And the best question, “Can I a hold it”? Jose did not turn anyone down.
Here is a short piece of background on Jose Diaz. Jose is the past president and a competitor in Blade Sports International (BSI). Think of BSI as the World Grand Prix of knives. Here knife designs and users, from all over the world, are tested in several cutting events. Knife designs either pass or fail there. Jose has had the opportunity, through BSI and as a knife enthusiast, to build relationships that have added to his skill as a knife maker. One of those relationships is with his mentor and well known knife maker Ed Schempp. Jose had said “Ed Schempp is my greatest influence. He has taught me, not only about heat treatment and knife design, but that if I have an idea about a knife; to build and test it in the real world”.
Luckily, I met Jose Diaz at Blade and I volunteered immediately to test the Cane Toad. After handling the Cane Toad Chopper for too short a time, my big question to Jose was, what were his biggest influences for this particular design? His reply was “The Cane Toad was initially designed to replace the hatchet in my backpack. I wanted to have a tool that would have more function than the hatchet, but perform just as effectively. The cutting competitions were the test bed for the design. The chopping, and fine cutting in a cutting course helped to refine the design”. My mind began to imagine all the fun activities I could share with this blade.
Before jumping into all the activities the blade and I shared, let’s take a look at the blade specs. The Cane Toad Chopper is a full tang 15 inch hunk of sculpted 52100 or CPM M4 steel with a flat ground edge, with an overall blade weight between 22 and 28 ounces. 52100 is primarily used as a ball bearing steel. When the steel is made into an edged tool its toughness and ability to hold an edge are excellent. I suggest you check out www.52100steel.com for a more in depth look at the steel. The handle of the blade is comprised of horse stall mat material epoxied to the steel, so is extremely shock resistant. The handle is also set at an ergonomic downward angle for better handling and chopping power, not to mention some protection for the fingers when you make contact with a powerful downward stroke. With a lanyard hole near the neck of the handle, any lanyard you use will secure nicely to your wrist. The Cane Toad Chopper has a hand sewn leather sheath included and retails for $450.00.
The Cane Toad was made for the worker. This is a blade you will want to get your hands dirty with. As a forester I have most North American hardwoods at my disposal, and I believe hardwoods are the best test for the quality of a chopper. I tested four of the hardest woods against this beast, several Hickory species, Oak, Walnut and Persimmon. I ran the gambit of timed chopping, batoning, and several finer tasks. The Cane Toad Chopper performed wonderfully with all of them. I had originally thought that there would be some way to gauge the performance of the blade with the species of wood, however the chopper, cleanly and with little effort, dispatched each species of tree equally. I tested it on approximately 4-6 inch diameter live, dead standing, and dead fallen trees alike. As a side note, before anyone gets bent out of shape for the live trees were killed, they were to be thinned out of the tree stands they were in anyway. I gave them a glorious death and will use them as firewood.
My average time for chopping a four to five inch tree (dead and dry or live) was 58 seconds. That is a hardwood species, all the way through, in less than a minute, and I am not even a professional BSI competitor. On the other hand Rolf Vreijdenberger, a Dutch BSI competitor, is a professional and he sent you video of what the Cane Toad can do.
The lanyard near the top of the handle of the chopper performed fantastically. The thin piece of paracord held tightly to my wrist and I was never in fear of the blade slipping from my grip. I enlisted several friends to punish the chopper in a similar way, and while the look of the blade drew sidelong glances all participants loved the ease of use and chopping effectiveness. Of course after I told them it would chop golf balls in half in one action, it was off to the pro shop for some used golf balls.
When it came time to test the batoning and fine work capacity of the blade I was sad to say goodbye to chopping, although, that soon ended with the again exemplary performance of the Cane Toad. For baton fodder I used one foot high Red Oak and Hickory wood chunks. Batoning was as expected, I hit spine of the blade with a baton and it went through the wood with little resistance. The wedge shape of the blade sank through wood like butter. This is great because I actually used less energy batoning with this blade than I would with my EDC bush knife. The chunks of wood came off uniformly and pretty clean. Batoning horizontally against the grain was just as easy, but not as clean, and I would still rather use a saw.
If the Cane Toad was not designed as a chopper it could my best knife in the kitchen. I tested this blade on several species of meat (beef, pork and chicken), vegetable (tomatoes, celery, bell peppers), and containers. It went through all effortlessly. My favorite was cutting tomatoes. I had hoped to butcher a deer with it this season but as yet have been unable to procure a willing participant. If I happen to come across one after this review is published I will definitely add an addendum. I have butchered several chickens though. When cutting vegetables the combined weight of the blade and sharpness of the edge slid through every time. I was able to cut slices off of a tomato consistently 1/16 of inch thick. Honestly, if that guy who invented the Slap Chop my nuts”. Keep in mind that this is after I chopped up several logs of various hardwoods for several days, with no edge maintenance. I would love to tell you that re-sharpening this fine tool is a breeze but I have not needed to. I can tell you however, that with proper care and use, sharpening will not need to happen as much as you would think.
The sheath that comes with the Cane Toad is as any container should be, simple and made with quality materials. The sheath is leather, hand stitched and fitted to each individual blade. Because the blade is heavy it is not designed to be worn on a belt, so the sheath does have belt loops or slots. Best idea, and Jose’s idea, is to carry it in your pack until needed. I prefer to carry it in hand and withdraw it like a sword when I have to defend myself against pieces of wood.
Jose Diaz has created a wonderful tool in the Cane Toad. He has taken the best qualities of several blades and shaped them into something every woodsman should carry. The best part of the Cane Toad is that it was tested and designed in the crucible of BSI competition. Much of the testing I did with this chopper has already been done. Anyone who uses this blade will appreciate it immediately. If you are interested you can find the Cane Toad and Jose’s other knives at the Diaz tools website shown below. This chopper is one of the best yet.
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