Holding an axe on hand will give you the power to perform a wide range of tasks easily and more comfortably. Not only that, using or swinging the axe gives an experience that is described by many, including myself, as a satisfying and lively feeling which everyone must experience.
While not everyone will have the use for large and bulky axes, hand axes are a different type of axe which are smaller than the regular axe and used for lighter operations. Nowadays, hand axes are more commonly known as camping axes. However, hand axes are also often confused with hatchets which are even smaller than hand axes. They can be used by both professional lumberjacks as well as by beginners in a range of different applications.
This article is an in-depth guide to understanding this versatile axe variant so that you can find the best hand axe that specifically suits your need. To do so, we will first discuss what distinguishes a hand axe from other similar axes and the things you need to consider before selecting a hand axe. Finally, we have listed the top hand axes, out of hundreds available on the market today, with a detailed review for each. Let’s start with the different purposes you need a hand axe in the first place.
Why do you need a Hand Axe?
Primarily, hand axes are best suited for moderate chopping jobs. Like I mentioned earlier, hand axes are smaller than regular axes, by roughly around 30%. As a result, the small size of the hand axe limits its usage for works that demand high striking power. But, this allows more versatile cutting angles. Additionally, hand axes also enable more accuracy with each strike.
As a result, you will find yourself needing a hand axe for the following purposes:
- Felling small trees
- Chopping small lumber
- Splitting firewood
- Camping activities like making firewood and harvesting kindling
There aren’t as many varieties of hand axes available as regular axes. However, as we all know, having the right tool for the right job makes a massive difference in ease and comfort. A hand axe is indeed the right tool for the activities mentioned above.
What is the difference between a hand axe and a hatchet?
You can find hand axes and hatchets being used interchangeably by many different people on several occasions. While there are several similarities between the two, they are in fact, two separate tools and two different forms of axes with distinct differences between them.
The major difference between the two is their intended usage and their appearance. Hand axes, being larger than hatchets are used for moderate wood operations while hatchets are used for light operations like light chopping and splitting.
In appearance, the differences between a hatchet and a hand axe can be observed mainly in their size along with their shaft design and head shape.
- While a hand axe is nearly two-thirds the size of a regular axe, hatchets are much smaller. They are mostly half the size of a hand axe, which is comparable to the size of a hammer.
- Hand axes are hatchets are easily distinguishable why their shaft angles. Shafts of hatchet are often curved forward so that the topmost head and the lowermost point to handle are on the same line. In contrast, the angle between the head and the shaft in a hand axe is almost a right angle.
- Finally, the hand axes have a low tapering head while the hatchets’ heads have a more pronounced taper. Also, the head of hand axes are noticeably larger than that of hatchets.
Despite these differences, you will find both hand axes and hatchets being used not only interchangeably for the same tool, but also used interchangeably for the same job. This is because both are capable versatile tools and in practice, there are no restrictions on which one to use for a job as long as both get the job done. However, knowing the difference between a regular axe, a hand axe, and a hatchet will allow you to make a more informed decision while buying any of these tools.
Things to consider before buying a Hand Axe
Before choosing one axe from the several best hand axes recommended later on in this article, you must first understand what makes a hand axe good in the first place. One of the first things to consider when purchasing any product is the price. Low-quality axes may be priced as low as under $25 but the general price range of good quality hand axes is upwards of $50 to up to around $250.
Other important things to consider before buying a hand axe are discussed below:
The weight of the axe is the first thing to consider if you are buying the hand axe as a camping axe. It is equally important to carefully decide on the weight of the axe if you intend to use your hand axe in gardening and woodworking at home.
The overall weight of the axe mainly comes from the head of the axe. A heavier axe generates more power and is used for heavy chopping operations while a light axe can be only used to chop small trees and branches.
During camping trips, especially when backpacking, the weight of what you carry is directly proportional to how much fun you will have. So you will want to opt for a lighter camping axe. But if you need to regularly chop trees and branches, a lighter axe will take a lot of your time and effort. So carrying a heavier axe might give a better tradeoff.
So it is up to you to decide on the perfect weight of the axe based on what you will be using the axe for more frequently. Finally, since a heavier axe is harder to handle, there is an increased risk of injury. So choose an axe weight that is comfortable for your usage.
2. Handle Length
If you have ever swung an axe before, you must know that the length of axe handle determines the power generated through the axe. This is because a longer handle provides more leverage.
While a short axe handle makes the axe easy to swing and makes the cuts accurate, it only generates limited force. To have a powerful impact on the wood and make deeper cuts or one-swing splits, a longer handle comes in handy, but you will have to sacrifice the ease of use and accuracy, especially if you are not familiar with swinging axes.
As a camping axe, the length of the handle will largely determine its portability.
3. Axe Material
The material used in the axe includes the head material as well as the handle material. Traditionally, all axes were made using hand-forged steel heads mounted on wooden handles. The American Hickory is one of the best handle materials available because of its ability to absorb shocks and its long-lasting durability. However, there are multiple top-quality axes, especially camping axes available today that are made from composite materials.
It is important to understand the materials used in an axe because they essentially determine the weight of the axe, its durability, and its looks.
4. The shape of the Axe
Hand axes come in several shapes and form factors. However, they can all be summed up as either simple or complex form factors. The overall shape of the axe is important because it determines the ergonomics of the axe along with how easy it will be to store it. While an axe with a simple safe is a safe option, more complex shapes can give added benefits and features.
While we are on the topic of the shape of an axe, we must not forget to consider the shape of the head of the axe. An axe head that is shaped with a low taper and razor-shard thin edges will allow you to make deeper cuts across the grain of the wood which makes it very easy to fell trees. On the other hand, hand axes that have heads shaped with notable tapering will be used in splitting firewood because it cuts along the grain and separates the wood.
The last point on the list of things to consider before buying a hand axe is the warranty offered on the purchase. As most of the purchases today are made online, you will want to choose an axe from a company that will provide you a hassle-free replacement or returns policy in case of any defects, which is a common occurrence while purchasing tools online these days.
Oftentimes, the axes with the best warranty or guarantee policies are the ones that are best in quality and performance.
Top Options for the Best Hand Axe
When buying an axe, you will be faced with almost thousands of different models and brands to choose from. However, there aren’t as many hand axes variants available as of regular axes. Nevertheless, through our own experience as well as product research and consumers’ feedbacks, we have filtered out some of the best hand axes based on their performance, durability, affordability, portability, etc.
Besides that, you will notice that some products are significantly more costly than others. In such cases, make sure to consider your budget as well as the time you will be needing a hand axe for.
The Fiskars x11 Splitting Hand Axe is our top pick if you want a versatile and capable hand axe on a friendly budget. This hand axe is used primarily for splitting small logs and you will be amazed by how many one-strike splits you can achieve with this hand axe.
It has an overall length of 17 inches while the blade length is 3 inches wide. With a total weight of 2.51 lbs, it is one of the heavier camping axe options but in turn, it offers impeccable balance and can be easily swung with one hand by most adults. Although heavier camping axes might seem like a problem, you will notice that it doesn’t feel as heavy as it is because of the balanced power-to-weight ratio.
This axe boasts an advanced convex blade which not only adds power to your swing but also makes the blade easier to remove from the wood. Talking about the blade, it is made razor-sharp by using Fiskars’ proprietary blade-grinding technique which enables cleaner cuts and the notable wedge on the bit makes it a perfect axe for splitting firewood.
Additionally, there are several features and small details about this axe that I absolutely love which makes it the hand axe of my choice. Some of those features are listed below:
- A hollow segment on the end of the handle helps to absorb the shock of the impact and makes it easier on the hand.
- A reliable and great quality sheath included with the axe protects the axe blade as well as the user.
- The same sheath also doubles as a handle which comes in handy while camping.
- The hardened forged steel head which is retains the sharp edge even after continuous use.
- A lifetime warranty not only gives us peace of mind but also reflects the top-notch quality that the company is providing.
- Head material: Steel
- Handle Material: Composite FiberComp®
- Handle Length: 17 inches
- Total Weight: 2.51 lbs
- Cutting edge: 3 inches
If you are on the hunt for the best hand axe you can buy and do not hesitate to spend a handful sum of money to do so, you need to look no further than the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe. Priced at above $200, this is the most expensive axe of this size but its quality is worth every cent.
First, this is truly a beautiful-looking axe, made up of a hickory handle and hand-forged by skilled craftsman from recycled steel. It delivers equally impressive performance with the 19-inch handle that is long enough to use with two hands for heavier operations like felling trees. However, since it is a hand axe, you can also use it with only one hand when you are debarking, carving, or clearing trails. With a head weight of 1.5 lbs, it is light enough to easily pack into your camping sacks and you can also easily wear it on your hip.
The Small Forest Axe can be used for any wood processing tasks you might encounter. For splitting logs, however, you can use this axe and get the job done but the thin blade doesn’t help in splitting the wood. So, it is best suited for cutting across the grain. The light weight and the long handle of this axe mean that you will be able to generate good force as well as make the cuts accurate. The handle is curved at the end which also provides better control.
Finally, this is an extremely durable axe backed by a 20-year manufacture’s guarantee. You can be confident that it will last you years on end. There might be some defects when the axe is shipped to you as experienced by some consumers but you can easily replace it to get this amazing axe in perfect condition. The axe comes with a beautiful vegan leather sheath that can also be used as a belt loop.
- Head material: Recycled Steel
- Handle Material: American Hickory
- Handle Length: 19 inches
- Head weight: 1.5 lbs
- Total Weight: 2 lbs
- Cutting edge: 3.25 inches
The MTech USA Camping Axe is a more compact hand that is best suited especially for camping activities. Also, it is the most budget-friendly axe on the list and provides great value even at a very low price.
This axe weighs about 1.48 lbs and has a head with a 3.5-inch blade that is mounted on an 11-inch handle with the help of two internal pins. This may constrain its durability. Nevertheless, the head is made from 440-stainless steel with a satin finish. It helps the axe to penetrate the wood easily and make smooth cuts.
As per the handle, the MTech USA has a black rubberized 11-inch handle with a curve on it that makes it comfortable and allows greater control over the axe. The handle is short, meaning that it is used mainly for smaller jobs like chopping kindling from already split woods, felling sapling, and removing small branches to clear the trail while hiking. You cannot use this axe for heavy jobs like splitting large logs and felling trees. This axe is ideally suited for small tasks like collecting firewood that may come up in your camping and hiking trips. You can also use this axe as a supplement axe to your main axe for serious woodworking operations.
The compact size of this axe, its affordability, great quality and excellent performance for light woodworking tasks make it an ideal choice as your next camping axe. But you need to make sure to either replace the nylon sheath with a more reliable leather sheath or take extra precautions since the nylon sheath that comes with the axe can slip easily.
- Head material: 440 Stainless Steel with high carbon density
- Handle Material: Rubber
- Handle Length: 11 inches
- Total Weight: 1.48 lbs
- Cutting edge: 3.5 inches
The SOG Hand Axe is similar in size to that of a hatchet that is made from a single piece of steel. Although small in size, one thing you notice when you pick it up is that it has a nice heft to it which ensures that it is durable as well as a good performing axe.
It has a rather unique and compact design which makes it extremely portable in every type of adventure. The short handle is also very ergonomic in design and comfortable to use. It has a no-slip grip and fits right into the hand while holding and using.
This is a handy tool that will help you break down branches to prepare fire while camping. It can be used for fine carvings as well. On the other hand, this axe is not suited for splitting and definitely not for felling tasks.
The axe comes with a black sheath that can be attached to a belt loop and has a snap closure for easy access.
If you need a small tool for your camping chores that you can use easily to get jobs done easily and comfortably, the SOG Hand axe might be a good choice. Finally, remember to use a little elbow grease while using this axe.
- Head material: 420 Stainless steel
- Handle Material: G10 Handle material
- Handle Length: 11.1 inches
- Total Weight: 1.16 lbs
- Cutting edge: 2.4 inches inches
If you want a more versatile and capable axe than the SOG hand axe, the Camp Axe by SOG offers sturdier and more heavy-duty capabilities. It has a sharp 3.1-inch large blade on a beautiful-looking head that also features a hammer on the back. This combination is useful mainly in outdoor activities like splitting wood, driving in tent stakes, making firewood, splitting, etc.
It is also a small axe with a length of only 11.5 inches and weighs only 1 pound. Although this dimension will not give you much leverage, you can comfortably cut small to medium logs and branches. The SOG Camp axe is also used frequently for axe throwing sport.
The handle of this axe is GRN textured glass-reinforced nylon handle and is very straight with no arch at all. This means that it does not offer a good enough grip for repeated usage. This hand axe comes with a glass-reinforced nylon sheath to protect the sharp blade.
Overall, this camp axe is a very well-built axe with captivating looks and satisfying performance. SOG offers good repair and replacement services for the SOG axes making them worth the money you pay for.
- Head material: Stainless Steel
- Handle Material: Glass-reinforced nylon
- Handle Length: 11.5
- Total Weight: 1 lb
- Cutting edge: 3.1 inches
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: What is the difference between a hand axe and a camping axe?
Answer: A hand axe and the camp axe are the same. There is no difference between the hand axe and a camping axe. Although camping axes can be often used to represent the hatchets commonly used while camping, camping hatchets is the right term for those tools. Hand axes are also known as camping axes because they are commonly used for camping. However, hand axes are also commonly used for regular wood processing tasks other than camping activities.
Question: What are the qualities of a good camping axe?
Answer: A good camping axe must be compact enough to fit in your rucksack and can be easily tossed in your car camping rig. The weight of the camping axe should be light enough to be swung properly and also be easily carried around while on hiking trails to clear out the branches.
The weight and the size of the axe should not, however, compromise its performance since a longer handle will give you more leverage and heavier weight will generate more force.
As a result, it all depends on what type of activities you need to get done with the camping axe. For light activities like making kindling and firewood, you can go for a small-sized hand axe or camping axe. For heavier camping into the woods, you will want to go for a larger hand axe that can get more things done like felling trees and splitting firewood.
Question: What are the different things you must have with a hand axe?
Answer: An axe is a powerful, versatile, and impressive tool in itself. But having the following things in hand alongside an axe either increases its performance or makes it more durable:
Wedge: A wedge is a small triangular-shaped tool that is a great companion to an axe, especially if you are doing more heavy-duty tasks like felling medium to large trees or splitting logs. Wedges help to control the direction of the fall of the trees and make splitting logs easier.
Sheath: A sheath has a dual function of protecting you from accidental injuries from the blade and protecting the blade of the axe and keeping the edge. For hand axes, sheaths can also be strapped on belt loops. This makes the axe extremely portable and accessible whenever you need it.
Boiled Linseed Oil: Linseed oil is applied to the wooden handle of the axe to protect the handle from decay and deterioration. It also gives the axe an attractive finish.
Question: What is the difference between a regular axe, a hand axe, and a hatchet?
Answer: The differences between these three types of axes are easily noticeable when you lay them together. A regular axe is the largest of them all while a hatchet is the size of a hammer. A hand axe is a middle ground between a regular axe and a hatchet.
This difference in size is directly linked to the uses of the three tools. An intensive forestry operation like felling trees and splitting logs regularly will demand a regular axe, and that too a capable one. On the other hand, a hand axe has less power than a regular axe and is used for moderately intensive tasks. Finally, a hatchet is valued for its portability and easiness in getting small jobs done whenever and wherever you may need it.
The Final Verdict
Hand axes or camping axes are the best options for those of you who are often out camping in the woods. They are also a great choice if you do not need a bulky regular axe in your garden. Or, hand axes are frequently used as secondary or supplement axes to the main axe, giving you the choice to use the two for different types of tasks in your woodlot.
In most cases, hand axes look better than bigger axes and are easier to handle and carry around. They are also more versatile and capable than hatchets and can be a tool you can rely on confidently.
But choosing the right one for you is vital for making sure that you make the best use of your hand axe. I am sure this detailed guide has cleared most of your doubts and you’ve made a choice among the top options mentioned above.
To sum up, if you’re willing to spend your bucks as an investment for the best hand axe you can get, you need to look no further than the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe.
If you’re looking for one with an affordable price and with great features, quality and performance, the Fiskars X11 tops the list of the best value for money hand axe by a good enough margin.
Finally, if you are on a tight budget and need an inexpensive axe that gets the job done satisfactorily, the US-made MTech USA Camping Axe will not disappoint.