A Well-Kept Secret– Blackhawk’s Breaching Sledge

FORCETHEDOOR. If you’re in the fire service, own a cell phone or computer and don’t pay regular attention to Andrew Brassard’s “forcethedoor” posts on Instagram, you’re not taking life seriously (or you’re taking it too seriously– I don’t know). Andrew’s over 3,000 posts read like a post-Doctoral photographic dissertation on fire service anthropology– Dr. Brassard. It is so cool; but, words don’t do it justice. Take a look.

A WELL-KEPT FIRE SERVICE SECRET. The significance of forcethedoor here, is one of his recent photos of an Indianapolis fire officer, Nick Childers, wielding an unusual handtool– a sledge hammer-like tool with a wide adze (instead of a maul’s customary cutting blade, or a typical sledge hammer’s what…spare sledge hammer?). Not surprisingly several people responded with the popular “What’s that tool?” or “I’ve got to have one of those.” I had exactly the same reaction.

Blackhawk Dynamic Breaching Sledge

Everybody knows how cool sledge hammers and mauls are, even if they don’t see one as being part of their own EDCs (everyday carries).  That’s not my problem– in recent times, I’ve seen ’em as being [in many respects] exactly what I need.  Hooks are good– essential. And, “married sets” (or some combination of prying and striking tool(s)) have a proven track record. So, it makes sense for these to be well represented in permanent apparatus tool caches. But, for individual tools, my preference has been to stay on the lookout for that tool or tools that suit my most likely riding position functions (the officer’s seat or backing up the nozzle) and complement the functions of tools in other riding positions (especially 5′ or 6′ hooks and married sets).

For a long time, that meant (for me) a beefy, but short, multi-functional hook with chopping capability– initially a 42″-48″ D-handled Clemens Hook; later a 42″-48″ Hawk Tool with a Raptor handle. .   to the standard, assigned riding position — So, why’s this tool a best kept fire service secret? Because Blackhawk doesn’t devote much marketing to the fire service– just as many fire service suppliers ignore the law enforcement community. But, this one’s a gem. It has been produced in at least three different versions at various times.

The first version I saw was distributed by Council Tools, a mass marketer of basic fire service axes, sledge hammers, Halligan-type bars and other hand tools. This version had a 36″ polyethylene over fiberglass handle with an exaggeratedly wide, thick, and long adze extending from a 10 pound sledge hammer face. The long adze threw off the balance of the tool. It was awkward to use.

Council Tool Breaching Sledge
The original Council Tool Breaching Sledge– too long and ungainly for fire service application. That seemed to be OK– it wasn’t really marketed to the fire service.

Later, it showed up in a second version marketed by Blackhawk. Their version used used a shorter, improved ergonomic handle. More importantly, they shortened the adze which resulted in a far more balanced piece. But, its 10 pounds seemed excessive. And, the adze was still too wide and thick for forcible entry, its intended purpose.

Blackhawk Breaching Sledge Knife Country USA

Blackhawk apparently made the same assessment.  Not long after their first altered version of the Breaching Maul appeared, it was followed by a third version (their second) which featured a usefully narrowed, thinned, and shortened the adze. The flat surfaces of the adze were ribbed which did a great deal to hold the tool in its work. Weight was reduced to 8 pounds. Nice tool.

Blackhawk Old 10# Upper- Newer 8# Lower
The shorter length of Blackhawk’s original version of the Breaching Sledge (top left and in the enlarged photo) was a big improvement. But, at 10 pounds, it was a boat anchor and its adze was overly wide and thick. The [so-far] “final” version (lower left) of the tool trims down every aspect of the head and should make it a fire service classic.
Blackhawk B & L-1
A comparison of light (top) and heavy (bottom) versions of Blackhawk’s Breaching Sledge.
Blackhawk B & L-2
The original The proportions of the adze on the heavy Breaching Sledge (left) made it less efficient for getting into gaps and gave up leverage when using it to pry inward swinging doors using the “lever” method.

BUT, HOW DO YOU GET ONE?  Its a little like legalized gambling. There are lots of suppliers of Blackhawk’s Breaching Sledge, but they all seem to share a bewildering failure to distinguish between the two versions. Most descriptions of the tool show contradictory photos and weights. The model number is generally given as #DE-BS, but, I’ve yet to see conclusively whether its the larger, heavier tool or the smaller one. NOTE: Blackhawk markets Council Tool’s original 36″ handled configuration as the DE-SBS, “Super Breaching Sledge.” Probably the best way of getting what you want is to call one of the many dealers and ask about weight: according to Blackhawk, the larger one weighs in at about 11-1/2 pounds overall weight, the smaller one is around 9 pounds (the DE-SBSd is 12 pounds).

IMPROVING ON A GOOD THING. Having used the lighter version of the Breaching Sledge as a primary personal tool for several years, it has definitely earned personal preference. Immediately upon its arrival, one of our standard departmental “fruit loops” was added with 8mm cord to enhance carrying and hoisting the tool and securing it on the tip of a roof or ground ladder. It also got reflective tape identification.

Two functional modifications were also made to the adze. First, since I planned to use the adze regularly for prying, I shortened it about 5/8″ to improve (slightly) its mechanical advantage and balance– I can see that some people would be reluctant to give up the added surface area for pulling wall materials, especially lathe and plaster. Secondly, since part of the appeal of the adze for me was its application to forcible entry. So, toward that end, bevel (angle) on the end of the adze was reversed to provide more surface area against the door stop when using the “lever” method of forcing inward swinging doors. The photos below provide a before and after comparison of the adze modifications.

Blackhawks Small Compared

AND THE HANDLE? I’m definitely ol’ skool and I one of the first things I do to a new axe, maul, sledge, etc. is exchange its polyethylene over fiberglass handle for a straight Nupla solid fiberglass version. That appears to have been the case in the top photo– hard to tell. But, I have to admit that Im really fond of the stubby stout handle that comes with the Blackhawk Breaching Sledge. Maybe after I loan it out a few times and the handle takes a bath, I’ll change over. But, for now, it seems just right.

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