August 29, 2022 4 min read

This article is written by Mike Kreitzer. Mike is Editor of MK Outdoor Journal on YouTube, a Voting Member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association and Media Member of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

An axe is a tool that many woodsmen simply won’t leave behind. It has a thousand uses, and if you live in a temperate hardwood forest it’s pretty much indispensable. With the importance of the axe, it’s important that you are careful when you pick the axe you’re taking with you on your woodland adventure.

The Head

The first thing you need to think about when you pick your axe is its head. Axes come in single and double bit (the edge of the axe is called the bit) configurations. Both styles have their uses, but for purposes of this article we will assume that you’ve chosen a single bitted axe.

The Steel

Possibly the most crucial thing about the axe’s head is what it’s made from. The steel that forms the head will determine how sharp you can make it, how durable the edge will be, how often you need to sharpen it, and if the poll is useful. Some axes (usually the cheaper ones made in China) are made from a lower carbon alloy that is easy to sharpen but doesn’t hold that edge well at all. Some axes are made from stainless steel, which doesn’t rust as easily as carbon but can be brittle. The best axes are made from high carbon alloys that, with proper heat treatment, produce a head that combines hardness and toughness to make a bit that will take and hold a sharp edge yet has sufficient resilience to absorb the hard impacts which axe heads experience during normal use. Properly treated 1060 high carbon steel is a good choice. Your axe’s head should weigh around 3 pounds for a general use axe.

The Shape

The next thing to consider is the shape of the head. Some axes have heads which are specialized to perform one task, like a broad axe (which is used to hew beams and planks) or a splitting maul (which is used to split firewood). For a general, all-purpose axe you should look for one with a slightly curved bit, which allows the force of the axe to be concentrated in a narrower area, resulting in a deeper bite into the wood. The edge should be a little thin, but it should swell out as it transitions from the edge to the cheeks (the sides of the axe head between the edge and the handle), and then into the eye (the part the handle goes through). On the side opposite the edge, your axe’s head should have a sturdy poll (the flat spot) that you can use to pound stakes and other objects. Where the handle emerges from the underside of the head, there should be an undercut that will allow your hand to choke up on the axe head. This allows you to have greater control of the axe during fine carving and cutting tasks. 

The Handle

The second thing to consider is the axe’s handle. Axe handles come in many different shapes and sizes, usually dictated by the tool’s intended use. They also come in several different materials.

The Material

As I said, axe handles can be had in a lot of different materials. Wood is traditional, but fiberglass, polymer, and steel can also be had. For a general use axe, I highly recommend that you choose a wood handle. I’ll go over the “why” of it in another article, but for our purposes today, let’s assume that you picked the traditional wooden handle.

The Features

Make sure you pick an axe handle whose grain is straight and runs parallel to the length of the handle. If it runs out the side of the handle this creates a weak spot where the handle will be prone to break. When you look at the ends of the handle, make sure that its growth rings are narrow and close together. This makes for a denser, stronger handle. As far as the wood species goes, Hickory is best, but Ash will work, too.

For the type of axe we’re discussing, a handle length of between 22 and 28 inches is ideal. That’s long enough to be capable of doing heavier work, yet light enough to allow you to maintain control of the axe and help minimize the risk that you’ll hurt yourself with a wild swing. Your handle should also be somewhat curved for improved control and ergonomics, and the end should have a “knob” that will help keep the axe from slipping away during your swing.

Avoid an axe whose handle is coated in varnish. Varnish gets slippery when wet and increases the risk of a slip. I prefer an axe whose handle is coated with tung oil or billed linseed oil, or with a non-slip paint.

The WOOX Forte

Now you know which features are important in an all-around general use axe. WOOX' answer to an general purpose is the Forte. It meets all of the requirements talked about above, and does so in a way that, like all of WOOX’s product line, bridges the gap between style and performance. It’s just what today’s Sophisticated Outdoorsman needs in an axe.

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