There’s a good reason that one of mankind’s earliest known tools is the axe. A good axe can be used to chop, slice, carve, hollow, flatten, and otherwise shape wood in all kinds of ways. We’ve come a long way from a sharp flake of stone you hold in your hand, but the principle is the same. Modern axes, though, can be very specialized tools. Here are some things to ponder when you’re looking for your next woods axe.
When you’re talking about general use woods axes, they come in three main types: the hatchet, the boy’s axe, and the felling axe. Let’s look at their different characteristics.
Hatchets are small, lightweight axes that you can use in one hand. They usually have only one cutting edge (called the “bit”) and a curved handle. The handle can be made from metal, fiberglass, plastic, or wood and is up to 18 inches long. The head is usually fixed to the handle with wedges (in the case of wooden handles) or epoxy (for fiberglass and plastic models). The head’s weight is usually between 1 and a half to two pounds.
Despite its smaller size, a hatchet can do a surprising amount of work. It can chop and split firewood, fell small trees, and remove limbs from fallen trees. If you “choke up” on the handle and place your hand just under the head, you can press it into service as a knife for doing finer work like carving and even skinning game.
Hatchets are lighter and more compact than other axes, and as a result they are easier to carry when space and weight are considerations. All this handiness comes at a price, though. It generally takes more effort to chop through bigger objects since a hatchet doesn’t pack the kinetic energy of its bigger cousins.
The next size up is the “Boy’s Axe”. Also called a camp axe, the boy’s axe has a single bit head that weighs between two and two and a half pounds. The curved handle ranges from 18 inches up to 29 inches. It’s long enough to use two-handed, yet short enough to swing with one hand in a tight spot. You can still choke up on the handle for finer tasks, yet it can do heavier work than a hatchet. Its heavier head packs more of a punch than a hatchet. And don’t worry, guys- despite its name, a boy’s axe is perfectly suitable for us grownups to use. In fact, this is the size of axe I usually carry with me. While larger than a hatchet, it’s still light enough that it doesn’t inconvenience me.
A boy’s axe is a fine choice for beginner axe users. Since it’s lighter than a felling axe it’s easier to control, and therefore you’re less likely to hurt yourself with it.
The last kind of ax we’ll discuss is the Felling Axe. As the name suggests, you use this type of axe to chop down or “fell” trees. Their handles are usually between 31 and 36 inches long. The head is anything from 3 pounds to 6 or even 8 pounds for competition axes. Felling axes can have single or even double bitted heads. Double bitted axes have cutting edges on either side of the head. This is useful. You can sharpen one side at an angle best for felling a tree and the other side can be beveled for splitting. Single bitted axes have a curved handle, and double-bitted axes have straight handles.
Felling axes are capable of much heavier work than the smaller kinds. With a longer handle and a more massive head, you can apply significantly more force to the wood. As a result, You can cut bigger trees, split more wood, and buck thicker logs. Felling axes are not as good at fine work, though, and they require more strength, endurance, and skill to use properly.
What Kind of axe should I choose?
Now you must decide on what kind of axe to get. To do that, you need to ask yourself some questions.
What am I going to do with the axe?
How much space do I have in my pack?
What is my skill level?
How much weight am I willing to carry?
Using the information above, the answers to those questions should tell you what kind of axe to take with you into the woods. For the average hiker, a hatchet will suffice. Many folks do as I do and opt for a boy’s axe due to its versatility. Pro lumberjacks take at least one felling axe with them (although I suspect most have a selection).
Regardless of which kind of axe you take, there are some things to look for.
First, make sure that the head is made from good high carbon steel. Pick an axe whose head is hung with the edge perfectly in line with the orientation of the handle. If it’s crooked, put it down and pick up another.
Speaking of the handle, I prefer a wooden one. They are easier to replace when they break. Ash or hickory handles are the best. Look for a handle with straight grain to the wood, and with many closely spaced growth rings. Try to avoid handles with coatings like varnish. The varnish is slippery when it gets wet, and it will give you blisters faster. If I get a varnished handle, I sand the varnish off and apply wood oil to protect it. This lets me get a good grip.
So, there you have it. Now you can decide what kind of axe you need and go out and choose a good one. Let us know in the comments if this helped and tell us what you decided to get! Of course, I’d encourage you to check out the axes offered by WOOX!