The PIG Forcible Entry Tool Review
Before I start my review let me preface this with a few thoughts. Any of you that have taken our classes know that I am not an easy critic when it comes to tools and their designs. The fire service tool market is full of gimmicks, and a good portion of the tools being sold and marketed to us are simply to make money. There are a large selection of hand tools, personal tools, and so on, that manufactures make a large amount of money on because they know we will buy them and fill our pockets with every multi tool under the sun. Attention to detail when it comes to tools and power saws is something I have tried to focus on for the last few years, I am trying to fight the good fight and educate as many firefighters that are willing to listen about quality made Halligans, hooks, saws and whatever else I can get my hands on. I have done a few tool reviews, and turned down even more, because when they have contacted us I have been open and honest, letting them know that I don’t believe in their tool and I am not interested in advertising something that I don’t stand behind 100%. I know I wont get it right all the time, and I am sure I will fall for a gimmick here and there, but let it be known I am trying my best to weed out the money makers and find the tools that are going to be workhorses for many firegrounds to come. Rant ended…
A few months back I was in contact with Chris Moren from Lonestar Axe Company, he is a firefighter for the Austin Fire Department and the inventor of the PIG. Chris is a good guy and has his head in the fire service game. I liked to see that this tool had humble beginnings from being developed by a firefighter on the streets. Chris thought the blade was the weakest link between the pick head and the flat head axe. From this very simple combination, the PIG was born.
The PIG has a head that measures 10.5 inches long, this includes the pick, which is 4.5 inches by itself. It weighs 8 lbs and is made from 57 tool steel heat treated to a hardness scale of 46-50. The head comes in a few different options, polished or unpolished and the other option is notched or not. I will talk about this feature in just a little while. The handles can be ordered in a 28″, 32″, or 36″ versions, these handles are made by the Fire Axe Inc. The PIG also has a newer option to the handle choices which is the same type of handle that glows. All of these options can be seen on the PIGs website or Facebook page.
The PIG that was reviewed by IRONS and LADDERS was a 36″ regular handle with a notched pick head. I received the PIG a few months back, out of the box I liked the feel of it, the weight, construction quality etc, but I don’t fall easily just based on looks and feel, so I reserved my judgement until I could get it on the rig and put it to work. I like to presume all tools are gimmicks until proven otherwise. Well the PIG knew how to start a good relationship with its reviewer. The next day I placed it on the Truck, not even 3 hours later we caught a good working house fire in our first due area. The PIG got put to work immediately, it was a good fire and required an hour or two of solid work by the Truck Co due to a large amount of attic extension. The first job the PIG got put to work doing was opening up the roof. My crew and I made our way to the roof and had to open up a 4 foot wide trench from the peak down both sides all the way to the outside walls. I went to work on one side making my louvers. The 8 lb head easily crushed through the plywood decking, I quickly crushed out 4’x4′ squares. When doing this type of crushing tactic there is no need to make a continuous cut, the crushes can easily have a few inches in between each crush and still louver when you are ready. Once my areas were crushed out, the PIG then showed another quality that I liked, I could easily spin the tool and sink my pick into the louver of the roof. This secured my tool to the louver which allowed me to pry on the fiberglass handle with all of my weight and pivot open my louvers over the roof joists.
Like I said, bringing me a fire and then getting a good hard work assignment was a great way to set a first impression for me of the PIG. The 8lb head mixed with the 36″ handle was a perfect combination for the work that was required on that roof. It is weighted very well and feels good during your swing. The advantage of opening roofs with the flat head, especially with a plywood deck, is that it prevents the tool from getting stuck and pinched like the blade on a normal axe can do. I also liked having the pick side for driving into the fascia and other trim boards and then prying them off the gable ends of the building. For roof work and exterior overhaul I was very impressed with its capability, it performed extremely well on this job. However I needed a lot more time with the tool to give a fair and honest review. This type of work, especially on its first day shows me very little about its durability, it was only being used on wood and asphalt shingles. So onward we move.
I was able to put the PIG to use on another half dozen structure fires and was pleased with its basic duties. My next plan for the tool was to put it through the durability ringer by bringing it to our forcible entry classes and having the students abuse it in many different ways. We brought it to multiple classes and used it at both the conventional forcible entry stations and also at the carriage bolt and drop bar stations. By doing this I would give you a rough estimate that we forced over 300 doors which caused a few thousand metal on metal strikes with this tool. This type of abuse will give us a very accurate look at what type of durability the PIG will have.
After going through this many forcible entry evolutions the PIG showed some signs of normal wear. The handle had some pretty good dings and chunks missing right below the tools head from over strikes by the students. All of this appeared to be cosmetic and was little concern to me, these type of handles are very strong and can take a good amount of cosmetic damage. The actual steel on the flat head also showed some dings and roundness on the square edges, however there was very little mushrooming for that amount of use. The PIG obviously uses higher quality steel then your common fire service axes, this has advantages and disadvantages that follow. We go through a lot of axes over the years while teaching the forcible entry classes. It only takes one or two classes before the heads are mushroomed so bad that they must be filed down. The PIG did not need this type of maintenance after this round of classes. This shows that the durability of the tool head is very strong. One thing to take notice of when your axes are very high grade tool steel; the energy has to be transferred somewhere, so if your axe head is not showing the mushrooming then there is a good chance that your Halligans will. This was a concern for me when we started using the PIG, I did not want to have all of the damage being given to the Halligans instead of the axe. I was happy to find that the PIG does have very hard steel, however it is not has hard as some other axe companies on the market. I found this to be a good thing, it holds up enough to prevent significant mushrooming but still did not cause severe damage to the Halligans like some other brands of axes have before. The head also stayed very secure and had zero wobble to it, this is very rare for our axes after a few classes. We break heads off or loosen them up on a regular basis.
The tool proved to be a very good striking tool for forcible entry, I loved the weight of it and again it was balanced very well in your hand for multiple controlled strikes. The only disadvantage I found during forcible entry operations was the use of the axe blade in some situations. It can be handy to have and axe blade for wedging the door open while forcing, or also creating a large gap in tight fitting outward swinging doors. You lose this ability with the PIG because of the lack of a blade. While this is a disadvantage, it is not a deal breaker for me. Our Truck firefighters typically all carry an axe, so as long as your operations are being done with two of you available then I would suspect that you will have a PIG and a regular axe available. Wooden wedges can also be used in these situations.
Something else that I felt needed modification was the notch. If I was to order a PIG again I would order it without the notch. The notch is an option on the PIG and it is designed to help you marry your Halligan to the PIG to make a set of Irons. I don’t carry my Irons married in that fashion very often, so it would not be a big deal for me to loose this option on the tool. I found that when burying the pick of PIG in both roofing material and in metal doors, the notch had a tendency to make it difficult when trying to retrieve your tool. I had multiple times in a metal door where I had to really wrestle with the tool to get the notch undone from the jagged metal. We went back to the old firehouse fabrication shop and easily fixed this problem. It didn’t make it perfect, but it made the notch a lot better. You can see below the first picture shows how the PIG comes from the factory, all we did to improve on the problem was take a flap wheel and an angle grinder and smooth out the sharp clean edges of the notch. It was only necessary to do this on the part of the notch that would catch when pulling your tool out of the material.
While this is a disadvantage, I won’t take points away from my overall opinion because the PIG offers the tool with or without the notch. That solves the problem and it is one of those small characteristics that you just can’t predict without getting some good quality time on the tool.We discovered this problem while using the pick for something that is a unique advantage to the PIG. When forcing doors, many times the pick of the Halligan can be used to drive carriage bolts through the door defeating whatever locking device was attached. The PIG can also be used for this type of operation in a couple of different ways.
As you can see above, one person striking the flat side of the PIG can drive the sturdy pike through the door causing massive damage to the material holding on to the locking mechanism. It is not better than the Halligan but worked in a very similar fashion without much difficulty.
The unique option to the PIG was being able to swing the PIG like a baseball bat directly at the door trying to hit the bolt with the pick of the tool. After one or two hits to get your aim down, we were able to drive bolts through the door in only a few good swings and without the need for another firefighter to strike for us. We were also able to inflict damage much faster because the energy of the tool was being transferred directly into the door, whereas when you are striking a Halligan you lose energy when the axe is striking the Halligan.
After a long testing period and some rigorous evolutions I can honestly say that I am very impressed with this tool. A lot of tools come and go in this profession and very few come close to our tried and true pick head axe, flat head axe and Halligan bar. Tools that don’t try to do too much and have a specific job always perform better than the “do everything 14 and 1 tools” that plague the fire service. I think the PIG fits into this category of being a simple, basic and very efficient tool. To be honest I am very surprised someone did not design this tool years ago, it is such a simple concept and combines the most used ends of the axe. The durability is top notch and the options are great. I would like to try the 32″ handle, I did like the 36″ handle a lot, especially for outside and roof work. The 32″ handle is just a little smaller so that crawling and searching is a bit easier without sacrificing your force when swinging. I foresee this becoming a very popular tool in the fire service, it is a workhorse with a very solid design. The best combination I see is instead of two firefighters carrying axes, have one carry the PIG and one carry an axe of their choice. This along with their normal hook and Halligan compliments adds a very versatile set of tools for your fire ground. I will be recommending this tool to my department to at least outfit our Truck Companies. I can think of a half dozen tools that sit on our rigs that our extremely useless in comparison to the PIG. A job very well done by Chris Moren, I think he is on to something with this tool and I can officially declare that this tool is no gimmick. Far from it.
You can check out the PIG at Lonestar Axe Co
Also visit his Facebook page here to see a large variety of videos with the PIG in action along with other reviews and updates.