Story and Photos by Christopher Doner
My interest in knives and gear started at a young age, having received my first pocket-knife as a Cub Scout in the 1970s.
During the 80s I, like many, got caught up in the survival knife craze popularized by Sylvester Stallone’s portrayal of Vietnam veteran, John Rambo, in First Blood. The beautiful hollow handle First Blood knife—hand crafted by the legendary Jimmy Lile—fascinated me as a teen. That, combined with a martial art I got heavily involved in that included outdoor survival skills, established a foundation and interest in field craft that stays with me to this day.
When I learned that Columbia River Knife and Tool had teamed up with custom maker Ryan Johnson, of RMJ Tactical, to produce a commercial version of his coveted Jenny Wren model, I was eager to get my hands on one for a couple of reasons.
First, I have amassed a few hatchets and tomahawks in my collection over the years. From Cold Steel’s Frontier tomahawk to CRKT’s earlier Woods Chogan, these tools have piqued my curiosity from a utilitarian perspective, as well as a combative perspective. The CRKT Jenny Wren Compact looked to be a welcome contender in both regards.
Second, I knew my son would enjoy the opportunity to try out this unique camp tool, under my guidance, since he has begun to show an interest in field craft—inspired by his adventures exploring the wooded areas near our home.
The opportunity to spend some time testing this unique little tomahawk design in the woods, with my boy, was one I did not want to pass up.
The term “Jenny Wren” actually refers to the name of a small bird, the Carolina Wren, that is indigenous to eastern parts of the United States. It is known for its narrow, upswept tail that was purportedly the inspiration for the spike found on the custom Jenny Wren Spike, made by RMJ Tactical.
What immediately caught my eye about the Jenny Wren Compact was the spike. As I looked closer, I soon realized that this tomahawk had a few other features I hadn’t noticed. For one, the spike and the primary cutting head are not the only sharpened cutting surfaces on this tomahawk.
The beard of the Jenny Wren is sharpened, as is the entire top edge, running between the primary cutting edge and the spike. In fact, the only area that is not sharpened is where the neck of the Jenny Wren curves up to meet the primary cutting head and the spike, respectively.
Made from 0.25-inch thick high-carbon SK-5 steel, the Jenny Wren features a black powder coat finish, that helps protect the tool from the elements when proper cleaning and maintenance may be delayed.
The primary cutting edge is 2.59-inches long, with the sharpened beard measuring 1-inch. The sharpened top edge measures 5.75-inches and the lower portion of the spike comes in at 1.5-inches. That is a lot of cutting power in a small package! I had to keep reminding myself that this thing could bite me if I did not pay attention.
The CRKT Jenny Wren measures 10.06-inches overall and has 6.75-inch glass reinforced nylon handle slabs that are a textured, olive drab color. They’re held in place by three hollow rivets, slightly recessed into the slabs. I appreciate the attention to detail, as this is something that could have been easily overlooked, potentially causing hot spots in the hand when used vigorously or for extended periods of time.
Portions of the quarter inch thick handle steel, sandwiched between the slabs, is knurled—perhaps to aid with grip or proper orientation in the hand, in low light. The belly of the handle has the knurled section near the lower middle, while the spine of the handle has the knurling along the forward end, near the head.
A half-inch “neck” extends above the handle slabs where the steel curves and broadens out, forming the beard, primary cutting edge and spike. There is adequate space here for the hand to safely choke up on the Jenny Wren without getting cut, making it useful for those tasks requiring finer control over the tool.
The butt of the Jenny Wren’s handle flares out noticeably and features rounded corners, making it well suited for chopping and swinging, with less fear of losing control. Weighing in at 1.12 lbs., the Jenny Wren has enough heft to let you know you have it in hand, without being cumbersome or too forward heavy. The balance is good for this compact tomahawk.
The Jenny Wren is equipped with a glass-reinforced nylon sheath that allows the tomahawk to be deployed with a pull downward from the bottom. The Wren snaps into place with authority and can be further secured with the included buckle strap. The sheath has several MOLLE compatible slots cut into the top portion, allowing it to be secured to packs, belts and other gear as needed.
The MOLLE compatible sheath was another feature that I was eager to experiment with. I have several bags and packs equipped with MOLLE, so I set out to see how well the Jenny Wren’s sheath would work in this configuration. I ordered three different kinds of MOLLE attachment straps to try out, in addition to having another couple of brands on hand already.
I soon made the unfortunate discovery that most of these aftermarket straps are too thick to fit into the slots provided on the Jenny Wren’s sheath. In fact, the only strap that worked on the sheath was a simple hook and loop strap I found on Amazon. All of the others simply would not fit through the narrow cuts in the sheath.
This was disappointing to say the least, but I am glad that I found one that was compatible. Once I’d determined the right strap for the sheath, I was able to attach it to my TAD Gear 10th Anniversary Fast Pack and my Hill People Gear Recon Kit Bag with ease.
This fall, I made it a point to join my son as he explored the woods and stream near our home. He spends hours every week outside with his friends and is always talking about his “fort” and the things he finds while in the wild.
With this in mind, he took me to see the area where they spend the most amount of time, so that we could put the Jenny Wren through some tests and see how well it performs.
We started out chopping some deadwood, in an effort to see how well this tomahawk could handle the dry timber. We found an old, dead limb on the ground, approximately 3-inches in diameter, and began to take swings at it with the Wren.
Initially, the dry wood was tough to cut, but once I got the Jenny Wren to bite into the material, I was able to use technique to chip away at the small log. My son and I took turns chopping, as I instructed him how to safely swing the hawk. Soon enough, we were through the limb and happy with the results.
Next, we wanted to use some of the other sharpened edges, to see what chores they might be useful for. We used the top edge to scrape bark off another old log and we drove the spike into a tree stump, to get a feel for how well it would penetrate.
He then cut some smaller sticks and began to sharpen each of them to a point, while making others into fuzz sticks. He was especially excited about the pointed sticks he’d crafted, as they could be used for “traps” and other fantastical things that ten-year-old boys imagine.
The Jenny Wren feels good in the hand and, despite its short handle, performs well when chopping. It did take a little getting used to, however. My initial impression was that it required a little extra effort to chop with, due to it being lighter than hatchets designed exclusively for chores like cutting and splitting wood.
In general, tomahawks are engineered as weapons, as well as tools, and therefore are often lighter in weight—for speed and agility. The Jenny Wren is lighter than my old camp hatchet and, because of this, seemed to produce more impact shock when used to chop.
The flared end of the Jenny Wren’s handle proved useful, as it helped to keep the hawk secure in the hand while in use. There were no noticeable hot spots in the hand either, after several minutes of continual chopping.
My son decided to use the Jenny Wren to cut branches off a larger tree branch and make short work of some paracord he wanted to cut. Soon he was lashing branches to the roof of his makeshift fort nearby.
As much as he wanted to, we did not attempt to throw the Jenny Wren, as this was not our primary reason for using it. I do suspect that it would perform well when thrown but hesitated to chance the possibility that the handle slabs might fail under such conditions.
I found the Jenny Wren to be an especially convenient cutting tool that can easily be stashed away in a vehicle, thrown into a go-bag or used for light to moderate camp chores.
The CRKT Jenny Wren fills a unique niche across categories.
It can be useful in a number of outdoor settings, where versatility and convenience are important. It also has the potential to be applicable in tactical scenarios, where its unusual attributes and compact design may make it a valuable force multiplier. The decision is up to the user.
In any case, the CRKT Jenny Wren Compact was fun to use and would make a great addition to anyone’s camping gear or emergency car kit. It currently retails for an MSRP of $135.00 but can be found for considerably less, if you like to shop for bargains online. K&G
Join the Conversation, comment on this story below. >>
Blade Material: SK-5Cutting Edge: 2.59 inchesOverall Head Length: 5.75 inchesOverall Length: 10.06 inchesBlade Thickness: .25 inchWeight w/o Sheath: 1.12 poundsHandle Material: Glass Reinforced NylonSheath: Glass Reinforced NylonDesigned By: Ryan Johnson of RMJ Tactical in Chattanooga, TennesseeMSRP: $135.00
CRKTBlade HQKnifeCenterSmoky Mountain Knife Works
Doner is an experienced security professional with nearly twenty-five years of service in commercial, industrial and corporate settings. He served twelve years as an armed officer of a nuclear site protection team trained in various small arms techniques, tactics and procedures before returning to the corporate sector. Today, Doner is a Senior Specialist, Corporate Security & Safety for First National Bank of Omaha. In addition to his regular duties, he serves as a defensive-tactics instructor for the bank. He is also an accomplished martial artist and martial arts/combatives instructor, of many disciplines.
He is a freelance writer and photographer with work published in Knives Illustrated, Black Belt, Ninja Magazine and Fighting Stars.
Please visit our Team page (link in the top menu) for full bio.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.