After a long wait and much anticipation, we finally got our hands on a TOPS Knives Power Eagle for Review. A large chopper style knife, the Power Eagles isn’t your average field blade. Today, Woods Monkey takes a look at how it does its job out in the field and whether or not it lives up to its name.
SHOT Show is the place where the businesses go to display their wares for the shooting and hunting sports. In fact, you might call it the Mecca of the shooting world. But, there are plenty of knives there as well, and quite a few companies use the SHOT show to introduce their new models for the year. It was at the 2010 SHOT Show that I first came across the Power Eagle 12 at the TOPS Knives booth. TOPS is known for their wide range of products, and it looked as if they were trying to outdo themselves that year with a vast display of new products for 2010. Even so, the Power Eagle 12 stood out from the crowd. I won’t say there was a chorus of angels heard in the background when I first laid eyes on the Power Eagle, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if their had. Partly, I think it stood out since I’m fond of large chopping style blades. But, if I were really honest, I’d have to say it just looked like a handful of badassery.
We immediately let Mike Fuller, owner of TOPS Knives, know that we were interested in doing a review on that particular blade. But, because of their large product assortment and all of the production runs that take place, it wasn’t until late 2010 that we were able to get our hands on a Power Eagle 12. But, I have to say it was definitely worth the wait. One of the major reasons that I wanted to try it out was the steel used for the blade. In all the knives I’ve owned and reviewed, I’ve never used one made of 5160 steel (or at least labeled as such). Over the years, I’ve heard of the benefits of 5160 over 1095 blades and wondered why I didn’t see more large knives made of it. Yeah, 1095 is a great all around steel, but don’t you get tired of all the new 1095 knives hitting the market every day? I like stuff that’s different…unique. I’ve got a box full of 1095 stuff and I was looking to try out something new.
The Power Eagle 12 is just that, at least for me. The overall length of the knives is 17 and 5/8 inches with 12 of that being dedicated to the blade. To design the blade, TOPS took the characteristics of both the Khukri and the Bolo styles and combined them into this one knife, though I’d say the Power Eagle 12 leans more to the Bolo side of the family. The knife’s lineage can be seen in how the blade widens as you near the tip to help give the blade more forward momentum while chopping. The 1/4 inch thick steel also adds a bit of heft to help increase that momentum and when it’s all said and done, you’ve get some pretty impressive cuts in whatever you’re chopping.
The handle itself itself is a pretty nice design overall. It’s almost 6 inches long and constructed of tan canvas micarta which is standard material for knives of this type. It’s a very comfortable handle and affords the user a good purchase on the knife during even the toughest work. What’s a little different about the Power Eagle 12’s handle is the elastic straps that run from the end of the handle to the hilt through holes drilled in the micarta and steel layers. The purpose of these straps are to allow the user to weld their hands to the handle a bit more securely so the knife has less chance of getting away from the user during use. It’s an interesting thought. After using the Power Eagle 12 several times, I can say that the straps have their up side and their down side as well. With the straps over the back of the hand, you do get a better purchase on the knife, or least you’ve got a way to keep the knife from getting away from you since the handle does slip in your hand while doing some heavy chopping. The straps help a bit to keep the handle from slipping, but doesn’t stop it altogether.
The pictures on the TOPS Knives site shows the straps actually looping over the fingers on the opposite side of the handle. I tried it that way, but didn’t like it too well. First, it felt a bit annoying and restraining (for whatever reason) to have the straps over the fingers that way. Second, to get enough of my fingers under the straps for them to work, it had my hand cocked in such a way that it was awkward and uncomfortable to use the knife. But, as I mentioned, they worked fairly well over the back of the hand. I just opted to go with the straps over the back of the hand and just let the straps on the opposite side rest against the handle. It does feel a bit odd gripping a handle with straps on it like that, but you soon stop noticing it while you’re working. I’m sure there are some folks that won’t like the straps either way and will remove them and just opt for a standard lanyard (hmm, that actually rhymed). But, it’ll end up being user preference and it’s yours to dress up however you like.
One of my favorite knives to wear out in the woods is my TOPS Knives Longhorn Bowie with a custom sheath I had made for it. I sort of fancy it as my last ditch tool to use if I have to fight off a mountain lion. Come on, we’ve all used our imaginations for toys like that! So, it won’t be a stretch for you to consider what kind of role I saw the Power Eagle 12 playing in the woods, especially if it sported the same quality construction of the Longhorn Bowie. Yes, I had big dreams for it and I wanted to put it to work. About two months ago, we had a rather large tree fall over in a cleared area of our land when it was quite windy and the ground was very wet from a hard storm. When I got the Power Eagle 12, I figured I had plenty of material to work with to see how it does as a chopper and I headed out to the tree. As I was walking to the tree, I wondered how long it would actually take to cut off all the limbs with the Power Eagle 12. Once I arrived and saw what lay ahead of me, I knew my hopes for using the Power Eagle 12 for the whole job were a bit ambitious. There was a lot of work to do.
It didn’t take long to get a feel for the chopping performance of the Power Eagle. Right out of the gate I was impressed by the cuts made into the wood, and it didn’t take long to find the sweet spot that gave me the deepest cuts. Coming from the handle, I found that the best cuts came when I hit the mark with the first half of the belly—not the blade, the belly. If you look at the picture of the Power Eagle, right along under the word “Eagle” was where I seemed to get the best results. At first this seemed a little odd. I would have thought I’d get deeper chops close to the point than not, but that wasn’t the case. Even so, that’s not a negative for the knife. It was just where it did the best when chopping thicker, denser wood. I had no problem clearing light vegetation or smaller limbs along the entire edge of the blade. In fact, what I thought would be a hard and tedious job with just a knife went by surprisingly quickly.
I’d say that I had all the limbs chopped off the tree in about 20-25 minutes with a break or two during the entire process. That’s actually not too bad with a knife of this type. Even though I was a little winded after the process, I didn’t notice any hand or arm fatigue from all that chopping and clearing. The only thing I did notice was just a kink in the back from bending over to reach the limbs for so long. Of course, that’s to be expected of any knife of this length. You don’t have the reach of a machete, so you’ve got to put a little more effort into it. But, a machete isn’t as portable as the Power Eagle either, so it’s a wash. Where the Power Eagle does pull ahead of a machete is the extra thickness of the steel and its affect on thicker wood. There are times when you need to chew through something thicker than a sapling, and I have found that the thinner steels of machetes do bind and bend a bit when they bite deeply into wood making it harder to extract the blade. That’s not the case when using a tool like the Power Eagle. You make the chop and then it’s easy to leverage it back out of the cut. The 1/4 inch 5160 steel is designed to be more impact resistant than most steels and it’s less likely to deform when it comes to chopping though thicker, harder woods. But, what it comes down to essentially was how I felt it performed on the work I needed done, and I was quite happy with how it peformed. In my mind, having the word “Power” in its name was not a misnomer. The knife chewed through the wood so quickly, it was like carrying a mini chainsaw in a sheath.
After I’d finished this portion of the test, I kept eyeballing the trunk of the tree. For some reason, I wanted to try out the Power Eagle on it next. So, I went to work on it. After about 8 minutes of chopping, I realized that I was about two miles past the verge of being silly so I stopped to check out the progress. I had almost gotten through the entire trunk. In my mind, this was no small feat. Since the tree had fallen a couple of months earlier, the wood was already starting to harden up and it didn’t feel like soft wood while I was chopping through it. The one thing that I did notice during this portion of the testing was the bird’s beak at the bottom of the handle beating against my pinky finger. It wasn’t a problem when cutting softer and thinner media, but when I moved on to something a little more dense, my little finger started feeling the impact each time my hand shifted down the handle to the end. The strap certainly did its job here because there were a couple of times when I felt I would have lost control and let loose of the knife had it not been for the straps. When I was through with this 8 minute test, my little finger was a bit numb from the experience.
So, am I casting that as a negative against the Power Eagle? Nope. Like I said, I was past the verge of being silly. Unless I was stranded hundreds of miles from civilization and forced to build a log cabin with a knife, I can’t think of any scenario where I would chop on a log like this with a knife. The main objectives of the test were to see how quickly I could do it and I wanted to see how the edge held up on something a bit tougher than limbs and saplings. As you can see in the picture to the right, the edge held up quite nicely even though a couple of times I felt like I was smacking the edge against a cinder block.
The Power Eagle also handled batoning through wood in fine fashion. The 12 inch long blade gave me plenty of room to play with and allowed me to baton through some bigger pieces than normal. Also, the full flat grind of the blade made a nice wedge to effortless slip through the wood. While I haven’t had a knife break while batoning wood, I have heard of it happening. So, it’s a nice plus to be using a knife made of 5160 since it is billed as being tougher and more resistant to breakage.
I hear lots of “outdoorsmen” say they can make it off with the land with just a pocket knife or a small fixed blade. I’m sure for 90% of the tasks out there, they are probably right–especially if they’ve got most of their gear, including a shelter, along for the ride. But, there are times when a chopper comes in handy (especially in survival situations) to build a shelter and even to get a fire going. Sometimes there’s no dead wood on the ground or available in the trees, and if it is available, it’s might be wet. You often have no choice but to split open wood to get to the dry material to get things rolling along. It’s those times that a light chopper such as the Power Eagle 12 can come in very handy. Sure, an axe is a better chopper than a knife for the bigger stuff, but how many of you honestly carry an axe with you on every trip to the woods? And, an axe is too much tool for a lot of the kinds of chopping most of us do in the woods. A knife like the Power Eagle 12 strikes a good balance between portability and utility that neither a 4 inch fixed blade nor a full sized axe can offer.
So, is it all hearts and rainbows in the land of the Power Eagle 12? Well, not completely, and this is where we talk a little bit about the sheath provided with the knife. The factory sheath is rather standard fare. It’s a nylon offering with a plastic liner insert for the blade. The liner is not fitted so you can flip the knife either way and make the sheath ambidextrous. This part at least worked for me since I carry left handed, but I’d rather have something that fits the blade a bit more securely. The main reason for that preference is that I don’t like straps that wrap around the handle to secure a knife. I find they usually get in the way when extracting the knife and they’re a bit goof to fiddle with to get open or closed. This is the type of retaining strap offered on this sheath, and rather than having a metal snap to close the strap, it’s all velcro. I just don’t like having to peel a strap open–if there’s going to be a strap. I’d rather have the quick and positive feedback of snapping it open or closed–again, if there’s going to be a strap.
The back of the sheath is MOLLE compatible, so for those folks that can or will use this system, it’s there for you and should serve you well. There are a couple of grommets at the bottom of the sheath that will allow you to tie the sheath to your leg or lash it to some gear. And, there’s a small pocket on the front with a quick-release buckle to secure the contents. It’s a rather small and shallow pocket, so you’ll only be able to fit a couple of items like a flat whistle, a firesteel, and maybe a compass as well. So, for a basic sheath like this, all the boxes have been checked, but it’s just lacking when you consider the quality and sex appeal of the Power Eagle 12. A knife like this deserves a better sheath–not one that has the boxes perfunctorily checked off during the manufacturing process. It’s kind of like dressing Christie Brinkley in a potato sack. Sure, it’s still Christie Brinkley, but wouldn’t you rather see her in something from Victoria’s Secret?
And, yes, I can understand the cost factor involved in making a sheath that’s more robust and offers more utility than one of this type. But, maybe a higher quality sheath could be offered separately at a premium. That way, if someone just has enough money for the knife they can still get it. But, those that want to step up in quality can pony up the extra cash. Of course there are custom makers out there than can make you whatever kind of sheath you like, but they’re usually a 1-5 man shop and you’re paying for a one-off item rather than something that can be cheaper when mass manufactured. Plus, if you get a custom sheath maker to do it for you, you’ve got to ship off your knife for Lord knows how many weeks or months. Who wants to do that? Who better to custom design and fit a top-tier sheath for your piece of steel than the manufacturer who made the knife?
But, that quibble aside, the meat and potatoes of this issue really is about the quality and utility of the knife. And, the TOPS Knives Power Eagle 12 passes the test with flying colors. It’s built Hell for Stout and really soaks up the abuse without complaint. The design of the handle and blade flows together nicely for an ergonomic tool that lets you get your work done quickly and without excess fatigue. In fact, I did so much work, I ended up playing Where’s Jethro? when I got done and couldn’t find him. He’d decided to investigate some of the work himself and got “buried” in the work. After waiting nearly a year to try out the Power Eagle 12, I have to say that I was exceedingly pleased with how it handled and how it performed when I put it to the test. Chopping with it was a pleasure, and it handled other tasks like limbing and batoning with aplomb. It didn’t disappoint me and I’ll venture to say it won’t disappoint you either.
If you think a tool like this would fit your needs, I’d encourage you to take a look at the Power Eagle 12. They’re currently being offered at an introductory price of $199.95 at TOPS Knives. Considering other offerings on the market, the Power Eagle 12 is certainly worth the money. You get a lot of reach with the 12 inch blade and the blended Bolo/Khukri design enhances the blade’s ability to bite deep as you chop. When you consider that 5160 is a specifically designed steel to stand up to hard impacts and resist breakage, it’s hard to argue that TOPS Knives has come up with a real winner with the Power Eagle 12.