The axe is considered by many as the most versatile and the greatest tool that humans invented. An axe, which is essentially a bladed metal head that is fixed on a wooden axe handle, allowed ancient humans to exist, civilize and thrive. Today, although an average person can go without ever touching an axe in his/her life, this tool remains as versatile and as necessary as ever.
If you have lots of trees on your property or if you are someone who chops their firewood themselves, you need to have a good quality axe at your disposal. However, there is more to choosing the best axe than meets the eye. And there are more uses of an axe today other than the usual chopping and splitting tasks.
With hundreds and thousands of products available for purchase on the market today under the broad category of an axe, it can be overwhelming to select that one perfect axe for you. And this is where we come in. This in-depth guide on understanding the axe and the things to consider while choosing the one for you will help you make that decision. The guide is followed by detailed reviews of some of the best axes and hatchets available on the market today, which we have hand-picked as recommendations for you.
Not sure if Hatchet or an Axe is right for you? Check out this guide to find out.
Why do you need an axe?
While the uses of an axe are limitless, there are some purposes for which an axe is commonly used. It is important to know the intended use of the axe you are going to buy.
- Felling trees
- Splitting firewood
- Camping and trekking
- Grubbing the terrain
- Crafting and fine woodworking
- Axe throwing competitions
- Historical reenactments and dramas
Types of axes
There are different varieties of axes, some of which are specialized to meet a specific purpose while others are built to fit multiple purposes. The very first and the most important part of choosing the right axe is to figure out what you are going to use the axe for.
Some of the different types of axes are discussed below in brief:
- Felling Axe: Felling axes are the long, sturdy, and top-class axes that are used to cut down trees and chop branches. Before chainsaws became popular, all types of trees were cut down with the use of felling axes. Felling axes are popular among professional lumberjacks and beginners alike to take down trees and chop them down.
- Splitting axe: Splitting axes are also sometimes known as splitting mauls. They are used to split the logs into pieces. To do so, they are not made as sharp as the felling axe, but their blade is made thick to split the wood along the grain.
- Hatchet: Hatchets are a very popular variety of axe, especially because they are very easy to yield and work with. In general, hatchets are axes with a handle that is shorter than 14 inches. As a result, hatchets can be swung with a single hand and are used for small operations.
- Tomahawk: Tomahawks are popular as the weapon of Native America and are quite similar in size and weight to normal hatchets. They have a distinctive head along with a straight handle and are generally used today for throwing in axe sports.
- Tactical Axe: These are multiple purpose forestry tools which are a relatively new variety of axe among other axes. These are specially designed as a survival tool and weaponry for the military, security, survivalists, and soldiers. Tactical axes differ in shape and size based on the main purpose they are built for.
- Double Bit Axe: A double bit axe is a versatile axe that has blades on either side of the head. As a result, they can be used for both splitting wood and felling trees. One side of the blade is made razor-sharp and thin to feel trees, while the other can be used to split the logs after tree felling.
Besides these major types of axes, you may come across other types of axes like grub axe, pickaxe, miner’s axe, carpenter’s axe, Viking axe, roofing axe, hunter’s axe, throwing axe, crash axe, etc.
Axe or Hatchet?
The very first thing to understand while choosing an axe for you is the difference between an axe and a hatchet. After that, you need to ask yourself, “Do I need an axe or a hatchet?”
The obvious difference between the two is in their size. Hatchets are smaller than axes. Generally, hatchets have a handle length up to 14 inches. As a result, they are more portable and lightweight than axes. Moreover, hatchets have a short shaft and a narrow head. Compared to axes, hatchets also have a large cutting blade.
On the other hand, the handle length of axes ranges anywhere above 14 inches, all the way to 36 inches and sometimes even higher.
As a direct implication of their difference in size, hatchets and axes are used for different purposes. Hatchets have a more specific purpose than axes since axes can be specifically built to fit several purposes.
Hatchets, thanks to their short handle length, cannot pack much power into their swings. So, they are not used for heavy operations like felling large trees. In fact, a hatchet is mainly used for chopping small logs for firewood, felling small trees, and as a camping and survival tool.
On the other hand, axes are ideally suited for felling trees and splitting logs because of the power they can generate with each swing of the blade.
In conclusion, you need to choose between an axe or a hatchet based on the size and their intended use.
What to look for in an axe and an hatchet?
There are mainly three materials that are used to make the handle of the axe. They are wood, fibreglass, and metal. Wood is the most popular and favoured handle material by professional lumberjacks as well as beginners. This is because of several factors, including its lightweight and its ability to absorb the vibration and shock from the impact. This makes it comfortable for the hands, especially while used for a long time. Although many handles might be criticized for being less durable, a hickory handle is extremely durable and used in most of the best-quality axes.
On the other hand, metal and steel handles are heavier and less comfortable. But they are very durable and are best suited for good quality hatchets where weight and shocks aren’t much of an issue.
Likewise, fibreglass handles are also increasingly being used in good quality axes because of their lightweight and strength.
You should also note that replacing wooden handles is much easier than replacing steel or fibreglass handle.
The length of the axe you are looking for depends on the type of axe you have chosen earlier. Clearly, hatchets have a shorter handle length than axes. However, once you have chosen between the two, it is really important to choose the model with the best handle length for you.
A longer handle means that you can generate more force into your swings, but it comes at the cost of accuracy. On the contrary, a shorter handle is very easy to control and make precise cuts, but the power on the cut won’t be as much. This holds for both the axe and the hatchet.
Also, remember that this is a general rule, and what is more important is that you must choose the handle length that best suits your height and the one you feel most comfortable using.
The weight of the axe comes primarily from the head of the axe. Similarly, the weight of the head depends on the material used to forge the head. The best axe heads are mostly made with high-density carbon steel.
It might be tempting to use a heavy axe that has massive power in it. A heavy head of weight 6-7 pounds surely provides more power for heavy operations like felling and splitting. But it makes the axe too hard to use and control. So, unless you are already a professional at the job, you will want to start with a lightweight axe of 3 pounds and make your way up.
For hatchets, however, weight is not much of a factor, but if you are regularly going to be carrying your hatchet on camping trips, you will want to go for the lightweight models without compromising on the chopping power.
Our Top Picks Axes:
The Gränsfors Bruks felling axe is a premium felling axe by one of the top manufacturers of axes in the world, The Gränsfors Bruks. It is a popular choice among professional tree fellers because of the incredible power it generates through the 31-inch handle and a 3.3 pounds head.
The head of this axe is made of hand-forging Swedish steel, and the handle is equally impressively made from top-quality American Hickory handles. The head and the handle make a perfect balance and distribution of weight in the axe, which can be felt with each swing. The Swedish steel head means that the blade is razor-sharp, and the sharpness doesn’t go away easily, even with repeated usage.
Moreover, Gränsfors Bruks provides a manufacturer’s warranty of 20 years for this felling axe, which reassures the durability of this axe. The sharp blade needs protection while not in use, and for this, the axe comes with a vegetable-tanned leather sheath.
Finally, even though this American felling axe is costlier than other felling axes available on the market, we’ve chosen this for the recommendation because its cost is easily justified by the value this axe has provided for a long time.
- Head material: Swedish Axe steel
- Handle Material: American Hickory
- Handle Length: 31 inches
- Head weight: 3.3 lbs
- Total Weight: 5.3 lbs
- Cutting edge: 4.5 inches
The number one choice for double-bit axes among most lumberjacks and professionals is the German-made Helko Werk double bit axe. The Helko Werk Double Bit axe is a perfect combination of sleek good looking design and top-quality performance.
Inspired by the medieval historical axes, the dimension of this axe is intricately designed to offer the best performance. It has a total length of 34.5 inches, of which the handle length is 30 inches. Similarly, the total weight of this axe is 4.75 pounds, 3.5 pounds of which comes from the head.
A lot of work and detailed attention goes into making this axe. The head is made by hand forging premium-grade C50 high carbon steel on open dies using a hammer. This process contributes to the high mechanical strength of the axe. The head then goes through further treatments where it is buffed and polished to increase its resistance against damaging elements. This treatment also gives a shiny finish to the head, which helps to reduce friction and makes it easier to cut across the grain of the wood.
A-grade Hickory handle complements the quality of the head since the wood for the handle is sustainably source and then hand-selected by experienced axe makers. They then sand the handle with a 150-grit and finish it with boiled linseed oil.
Finally, this axe comes with a standard leather sheath and an axe-guard solution for protection and maintenance.
- Head Material: C50 high carbon steel
- Handle Material: American Grade A Hickory
- Handle Length: 30 inches
- Head weight: 3.5 lbs.
- Total weight: 4.75 lbs.
The Fiskars X25 splitting axe is an axe designed specifically for the purpose of splitting wood. Fiskars is famous for making durable and quality products at a reasonable price, and this splitting axe are no exception.
This axe features a 28-inch composite material handle and has an overall weight of 5.6 pounds. To make it ideal for splitting, the axe head first has a quite sharp and thin edge that bites into the wood easily. Then, it widens significantly, which easily breaks apart the wood fibres, splitting the wood efficiently. In fact, depending on the size of the wood you are working on, you will achieve one-strike splits in most cases. To add even more efficiency, the axe head is coated to reduce friction and avoid it from getting stuck.
Although composite handles are harder to replace if they ever break, Fiskers provide a lifetime warranty on this splitting axe since the shock-absorbing fibreglass is very durable and stronger than steel. The carry and hand sheath available for this axe is a valuable addition that increases the working efficiency and durability of the axe.
Finally, this axe will meet almost all of your splitting needs for a long period. However, if you are a quite tall person, you must go for the Fiskars X27 Super Splitting Axe, which has a 36-inch handle.
- Build Material: Fiberglass
- Handle Length: 28 inches
- Overall Weight: 5.6 pounds
- Low-friction head surface
Our top picks – Hatchets
The Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet is a good-looking hatchet with matching performance. Popularly known as The Wildlife Hatchet, it is a small axe with a handle made of Hickory which measures 13.5 inches. It is also very lightweight, with the head weighing one pound and the overall weight is 1.3 pounds.
It even comes with a leather sheath to cover the sharp 3 inch bit, which makes it extremely portable and safe to carry in your bags.
The wildlife is made in Sweden by the professional smiths of the reputed Gransfors Bruk brand. This hatchet is slightly pricier than similar ones from other brands, but it is backed by a 20-year guarantee. It is a reliable hatchet that is versatile enough to fulfil all of your hatchet requirements like chopping, splitting, and camping jobs.
- Head Material: Steel
- Handle Material: Hickory
- Handle Length: 5 inches
- Head Weight: 1 lb.
- Total weight: 1.3 lbs.
Husqvarna H900 Composite Hatchet comes with several features that make it a great hatchet to use. First of all, it is a strong, robust, and durable hatchet because of the fibre-reinforced PA shaft. This makes it a fairly light axe at 2.1 pounds. The length of the axe is 13 inches which perfectly balances the weight and ensures proper weight distribution.
Additionally, a non-stick coating is added to the axe head, which makes it significantly easier to make deep clean cuts by reducing friction. Also, the head is provided with a hammer end, which comes in handy when you are using splitting wedges.
Overall, this composite hatchet is built for the needs of garden work, making firewood, and hiking activities.
Finally, even though this composite hatchet by Husqvarna offers several features as mentioned above, you can also get the 13 inched wooden hatchets by Husqvarna, which has a wooden shaft of similar dimensions.
- Built Material: Fiber-reinforced PA shaft
- Handle Length: 13 inches
- Total weight: 2 lbs.
- It comes with a hammer function on the head
The Scrade Survival Hatchet is a neat-looking hatchet designed specifically to meet the needs of surviving in the wild. It measures only 11.8 inches in length with a blade length of 3.8 inches. Because of these compact dimensions, it can be easily packed into your bags or hung on to your waist without any difficulty in movement.
The head of this axe is made up of 3Cr13 Titanium Coated Stainless Steel. The head is fused with a glass fibre-filled PA handle. The handle is made of a rubberized grip which makes it easy for extended usage without any ergonomic problems.
A rugged thermoplastic belt sheath comes with the hatchet, which has the flap-and-snap feature. This makes it extremely accessible and reliable whenever you need it.
The back of the head of this hatchet is provided with a hammer pommel which can be used for multiple purposes like driving nails and sticks, breaking things, driving splitting wedges, etc.
Finally, the Schrade survival hatchet even has a long Ferro rod kept hidden inside the shaft. This makes making outdoor fires extremely simple and easy.
To conclude, this hatchet is a very dependable, versatile, and high-performing hatchet with a multitude of survival features. Even if you don’t need a hatchet designed specifically for survival, this hatchet can serve the general purposes of other hatchets, and it is even a cool thing to just own.
- Head Material: Titanium coated Stainless Steel
- Handle Material: Glass-fiber filled PA
- Handle Length: 8 inches
- Blade length: 3.8 inches.
- Total weight: 1.37 lbs.
Safety guidelines for axes and hatchets
With great power comes great responsibility. If not handled and used properly with effective safety considerations, axes and hatchets can be dangerous to you and the people around you. Below are listed some of the basic and necessary safety tips you need to consider for safe usage of an axe or a hatchet:
- Have a clear headspace while using an axe. The first thing to make sure of while using an axe is that you are fully focused on the job. Even small distractions can lead to serious injuries.
- Always sheath your axe while not in use. Sheaths are the number one best accessory you need to have with your hatchets and axes. Sheaths cover the blade of the axe while storing and moving an axe. An unsheathed axe is an open invitation to injuries.
- Be careful while moving with an axe. Tripping over and falling while carrying an axe on hand or with a hatchet on your waist might result in dire consequences. Always be aware of your surroundings and move cautiously and consciously while carrying an axe or a hatchet. Make sure to have a good strap on if you are going to carry your hatchet on your belt.
- Keep the blades sharp. A dull cutting edge may result in your axe slipping away from the wood and landing on your knee. So to make deep and clean cuts, it is vital to keep sharpening your blades whenever they get dull.
- Choose the axe that fits you properly. When axes and hatchets are too short or too long, they are hard to use and result in accidents and physical discomfort.
- Wear protective gear. While there are several protective and safety gears you can use while using an axe, gloves are a must to avoid blisters on your hands if you are going to be working for a long time.
Maintainance of your axe
Great quality hatchets and axes will serve you for many years, given you maintain them properly or at least do not do things that might harm their durability. Below are given few maintenance tips that will help you keep your hatchets and axes performing great for a long time:
- Sharpen your axe regularly. Sharpening your axe blades regularly, whenever necessary not only makes cutting and splitting efficient but helps maintain the strength of the axe. A dull axe will create more stress on the material leading to damage.
- Clean your axe after using it. Axes are most vulnerable to corrosion when they are left dirty and wet after each usage. On the other hand, regularly cleaning it after use will prevent problems and keep it looking in great shape.
- Do not store it in a place that is too cold or too warm. Extreme temperatures, both high and low, will damage the handle of the axe.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: What is the difference between a regular axe, a hand axe, and a hatchet?
Answer:The main difference between a regular axe, a hand axe, and a hatchet is their noticeable difference in size and, consequently, their purpose. The smallest of them is a hatchet, which is almost half the size of a hand axe. On the other hand, the hand axe is shorter than a regular axe by 6-12 inches.
This difference in size also reflects how these tools are used and for what purpose. A hatchet is used with only one hand, while the regular axe demands both of your hands. Likewise, regular axes are designed to be used for heavy works like felling trees and splitting logs, while hatchets are used as home garden tools, survival tools for throwing and light splitting and chopping tasks. The meeting ground between these two is the hand axe, which is used for moderate operations.
Question: How do you sharpen an axe?
Answer:The best way to sharpen your axe or hatchet is still the traditional way- with a whetstone. Today, you can easily have a professional sharpen your axe for you. But it is not that difficult to do it yourself by following the given steps:
• First, you need to remove all the sap, dust and rust from the blade of the axe. You can use sandpaper with coarse grit to rub away the rust.
• Then, hold the axe in place on your workbench and put on working gloves on your hand.
• Keeping in mind the curve of the edge, start making single outward strokes on the edge of the blade. Never stroke back and forth simultaneously on your axe.
Follow the above step on both sides evenly to have a uniform sharp edge.
By applying water or honing oil, repeat the process with the whetstone to increase the quality of the edge.
At last, you can also apply a thin coating of oil or petroleum jelly, which prevents rusting of the axe blade.
Question: What is the most popular type of axe used today?
Answer: Felling axes are still the most popular type of axes used today. Despite the use of machine-powered chainsaws in felling trees, felling axes are still reliable and effective tools and popular among professionals and beginners alike.
Numerous brands are producing a range of axes, and a lot of them are felling axes. Also, there are different patterns of a felling axe head like the Michigan pattern, Connecticut pattern, New England pattern, and Dayton pattern.
The Gränsfors Bruks American Felling axe mentioned on the list above is the best felling axe that can take down large trees and will last you for years.
Based on this comprehensive guide to finding the best axes and hatchets, you can now easily make an informed decision on which one is the best for you.
Also, you know by now that there is a lot to consider before making that choice of the axe or hatchet model because it needs to get your job done most effectively. These factors are also important in making sure that your axe lasts you for years.
Moreover, the axes and hatchets listed on our recommendations list are a variety of the best ones on the market. Choosing one among them that fits your needs will make sure that it won’t disappoint.
Spending a little extra money on a great quality axe or a hatchet will not only take less of your effort while chopping and splitting, but it will also be a financially sound decision in the long run. This is because a cheap axe or hatchet might break into half from the handle, or its head may crack. But good quality axes and hatchets are strong, durable, and mostly come with impressive warranty and guarantee schemes.
Also, refer to the maintenance guidelines to keep your axe or hatchet in perfect condition for life. Finally, don’t forget to follow the safety precautions mentioned to keep you and others safe.