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You don’t have to be Paul Bunyan to swing an axe, although you might feel a bit like a rugged lumberjack while doing so. But actually, a good axe is a must-have tool for anyone who has a lot of trees on their property, likes chopping their own firewood, or does a lot of camping or other outdoor sports.
While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and the two tools do look alike, it should be noted that a hatchet is the shorter version of an axe—typically with a handle under 14 inches—that can be wielded with one hand. An axe has a handle longer than 14 inches and requires both hands to swing and control. However, both are useful for chopping or splitting wood.
Other considerations when choosing an axe are the type—there are quite a few different kinds of axes available, each with its own particular strengths—the weight, and the handle material. Generally, you want an axe that's heavy enough for a powerful strike, but not so heavy that it's difficult for you to wield. A similar philosophy goes for the axe length; it should be long enough to work up a powerful swing, but not so long that it's hard for you to control. As for handles, wood is a traditional, sturdy material, but many axes today have fiberglass handles, which are lighter. Metal handles are very durable, but are heavy.
Here, the best axes to consider in several different categories.
Best Overall Axe: Fiskars X15 Chopping Axe
Axe Type: Felling | Weight: 3.4 pounds | Handle Material: Fiberglass | Overall Length: 23 inches
Shock-absorbing handle protects wrists and hands
Well balanced for optimum strike power
Few complaints of edge dulling too quickly
A good axe is more than just a simple cutting tool. It offers a certain type of utility that is important in many outdoor professions and hobbies that deal extensively with firewood, shrubs, trees, or heavy brush. In some cases, it can even help save a life. That is why the best axe is one that is versatile enough for different uses while getting the most important thing right: it is easy to use and maintain.
The Fiskars X15 Axe is the tool to choose when you need something that maximizes the cutting force with each swing to fell a tree or chop up wood or brush. This splitting axe features a smart design that perfectly balances the cutting head in your hand. A FiberComp handle keeps the energy contained at the cutting point instead of traveling into your hands and arms, and the 3.4-pound head is suited to most people's strength and needs. As a result, chopping strokes are more efficient thanks to the greater energy transfer and sharp blade.
Best Budget: Tabor Tools 12-Inch Chopping Hatchet
Axe Type: Hatchet | Weight: 2 pounds | Handle Material: Fiberglass | Overall Length: 14 inches
Comfortable grip on handle
Perfect size for camping
Shock-absorbing handle protects wrists and hands
Only suited to very small trees and brush
There’s no need to spend a lot of money for an axe if you only plan to use it occasionally for lightweight chopping or splitting tasks around your yard or campsite. The Tabor Tools 12-Inch Chopping Hatchet is a reasonably priced axe that’s perfect for chopping up firewood or kindling from small-to-medium logs and branches.
The axe has a fiberglass handle with a rubbery comfort grip that keeps the tool secure in your hands even when they get sweaty. At slightly less than two pounds, the weight is light enough so you won’t get too tired out, yet heavy enough to tackle brush, small trees, and other typical camping or backyard needs. The head and handle are nicely balanced for a smooth swing without too much effort.
Best for Log Splitting : Fiskars Pro IsoCore Wood Splitting Maul
Axe Type: Splitting | Weight: 8 pounds | Handle Material: Fiberglass | Overall Length: 36 inches
Two faces: one for splitting, one for driving
Head is shaped for optimal splitting force
Shock-reducing handle to protect wrists and hands
Few complaints of handle breaking
The image many people conjure when thinking of a traditional axe is log splitting. Splitting means you are swinging the axe in a vertical motion to split a log into two roughly equal halves, as compared to using a chopping or felling axe, which is normally swung in a horizontal motion to cut down a tree or hack through brush. Log-splitting axes—often called mauls—generally have a wedge-shaped cutting head to maximize the splitting force, but the Fiskars Pro IsoCore Wood Splitting Maul takes it a step further with both a splitting face and a driving face, which is perfect for driving wedges or for striking with a mallet to add force to your splitting efforts.
To split logs in remote locations, on a homestead, or at home, the Fiskars Pro IsoCore Wood Splitting Maul is specifically designed to give you a clean and efficient split with every stroke. The patented IsoCore handle greatly reduces shock and vibration to your arms and hands, and the dual-layer rubbery coating further reduces vibration.
Best for Camping: iunio Camping Axe
Axe Type: Multi-purpose | Weight: 2 pounds | Handle Material: Steel/aluminum alloy | Overall Length: 17 inches
Combines several useful tools in one, making it perfect for camping or survival use
Tubular handle lets you adjust the length to your needs
Not for heavy-duty use
Out in the wild, survival can be a matter of having the right tool for the job. Even weekend camping trips require the proper tools to get by. This includes a small, trusty axe you can use for cutting up firewood, clearing trails, or even defending yourself against wild animals if you do not have any other options. This makes the right camping axe all the more important for a good time in the woods. While camping, it is important to have a tool you can trust.
The IUNIO Camping Axe sports a simple steel axe head with a unique, multipurpose handle that hides a number of other survival tools such as a compass, knife, hammer, and fire starter. Each item stays in a separate compartment of the handle so you can easily find and use the necessary tool anytime you need without searching for it.
Best Double Bit: Estwing Double Bit Axe
Axe Type: Double Bit | Weight: 2.5 pounds | Handle Material: Steel | Overall Length: 16.6 inches
Shock-reducing grip protects hands and wrists
Can be used as a throwing axe
Two blades means you can work twice as long before needing to resharpen
Handle is not very long
A double bit axe is a unique option in the world of axes for one very simple reason: you get two for the price of one. With two blades instead of the traditional single setup, you get an extra cutting surface to use. Typically, however, the extra cutting edge comes blunt for hacking, hammering, and other activities that do not require a sharp edge.
Sporting dual cutting heads and a perfect balance for extra control, the Estwing Double Bit Axe may look like something out of medieval times. In reality, however, the design of this axe makes it a great multipurpose tool including cutting, splitting and clearing wood. The double blade design increases longevity and durability while giving you more control over the swing and stroke, and the steel handle is covered with a shock-reducing rubber grip.
Best Survival: Off Grid Tools Trucker's Friend All Purpose Survival Tool
Axe Type: Multi-purpose | Weight: 2.2 pounds | Handle Material: Fiberglass | Overall Length: 19 inches
Perfect tool for emergency kits in home or automobile
Combines several useful tools in one
Not for heavy-duty wood chopping
Head is small
It is difficult to imagine an axe being anything else than just a simple cutting tool. When designed well, however, an axe can be a great survival tool that does more than more cutting and splitting. A survival axe combines a lot of different tools into a single body you can carry or transport with you anytime you are on the road, out in the wild, or somewhere else where help is scarce and far away.
The Trucker's Friend All Purpose Survival Tool may not look like a traditional axe at first. Designed for use on the road, this survival tool combines a few different tools into one head. In addition to the curved cutting blade, you will get a hammer, nail puller, pry bar, and spanner you can use during emergency situations or in bad weather. The axe sports a fiberglass handle to remain lightweight and easy to carry.
Best Throwing: SOG Throwing Hawk
Axe Type: Tomahawk | Weight: 8.4 ounces | Handle Material: Steel | Overall Length: 10.75 inches
Pack of three at a reasonable price
Grip can easily be changed if desired
Well balanced and accurate
Not regulation length for competitions
At one time, a throwing axe was a prime hunting tool used out in the wild. These days, throwing axes like the traditional tomahawk are used more for sport than anything else. Regardless, the requirements for a good throwing axe remain the same: lightweight, aerodynamic, and consistent reliability in terms of aiming. If a throwing axe lacks any of these, it's unlikely to perform the way you'd like.
The SOG Throwing Hawk is designed for long range and a high level of accuracy. The aerodynamically shaped body uses a one-piece steel design for maximum durability while remaining lightweight for better distance, and is wrapped in paracord for grip, although you can easily replace the paracord with another grip of your choice. You get a pack of three throwing axes, meaning you’ll have less trips back and forth to the target. It’s a great choice for a beginner to the fun and growing sport of axe-throwing.
A good axe makes cutting a breeze, and with the our top pick, the Fiskars X15 Axe (view at Home Depot) in your hand, you’ll easily whack through brush, tree limbs, and other materials thanks to the axe’s perfectly balanced cutting head that channels force into the blade, not into your hands. But if you need a small axe for camping, you’ll like the IUNIO Camping Axe (view at Amazon), which has a multipurpose handle that stores other useful survival tools, including a compass, knife, and hammer.
What to Look for in an Axe
Handle Material and Length
The three most common materials used to make axe handles are wood, metal, and fiberglass. Wood is the traditional material, of course, and still favored by many people thanks to its ability to absorb some of the vibration and shock from the axe blow, its relatively light weight, and its comfort in the hand. Wood can break, however.
On the other extreme are metal axe handles, which are very durable, but heavy. Plus, a metal handle won’t absorb any vibration or shock, meaning all of that will transfer to your hands and arms with every blow.
Fiberglass handles are typically stronger than wood, but not as strong as steel. They are lightweight, as well, but many people find they simply don’t feel as good in the hand as wood does.
When it comes to length, don’t assume that the longer the better. While it’s true that a longer axe handle, the more force you can generate during the swing, it’s also true that it becomes harder to maintain precision as the handle of the axe grows. For most people, an axe with a 28-to-31-inch handle is suitable for most tasks around the yard, campsite, or woodpile.
An axe’s weight is the weight of the head, not the entire tool. The heavier the axe, the more power generated during the swing, but also the more difficult it becomes to control. While you’ll need and want a heavier axe for demolition or similar hardcore tasks, for typical use, such as chopping up small logs or felling small trees, an axe weighing 3 pounds or a little less is best for most people.
There are many different types of axes, but these are some of the most common.
Felling: The most common type of axe is the felling axe, sometimes called a camp axe or chopping axe, which is used to cut down trees, chop branches, and clear brush. These axes typically have a fairly long handle and a head weighing between 2 and 4 pounds.
Splitting: Splitting axes, sometimes referred to as splitting mauls, are used to split logs. They are not nearly as sharp as a felling axe, but are typically much heavier. While there are splitting mauls weighing 12 pounds or more, most people will find an 8-pound splitting axe sufficient.
Hatchet: These are small, lightweight axes—generally weighing around 1 pound and shorter than 14 inches—that can be wielded with one hand to chop small brush, branches, and very small trees.
Tomahawk: The Native American hatchet, a tomahawk is typically around 1 pound, under 2 feet in length, and with a straight handle. Originally used as weapons, today tomahawks are often used as throwing axes.
Tactical: These modern axes are something of a multi-purpose tool, and are favored by survivalists, military, and hardcore campers. The heads are often designed for several purposes, including chopping, hammering, shoveling, and prying.
Carpenter’s: These axes are used for woodworking, not chopping down trees or splitting logs. Typically, a carpenter’s axe is in between a felling axe and a hatchet in size and weight.
Double Bit: These axes have a double head. Generally, one side is sharper for felling trees while the other is a bit duller and is used for splitting logs.
How do you sharpen an axe?
A dull axe is a dangerous axe; it’s easier to slip when wielding an axe with a blade gone dull, potentially with disastrous results. Luckily, it’s not that difficult to keep your axe sharp and ready for action. There are several ways to go about this task, but sharpening the blade the old-fashioned way is still one of the best methods. You can achieve a nice, sharp edge with a traditional bastard mill file, which are specifically designed for sharpening blades, along with a whetstone. The ideal file length is 10 or 12 inches.
- First, remove any dirt, sap, or rust from the axe blade. Use steel wool or coarse-grit sandpaper to scrub away rust and grunge, followed by a light sanding with a fine-grit sandpaper.
- Clamp the axe in a vise or to your workbench to hold it steady while you work. Position the axe so the blade sticks out over the edge of the bench.
- Put on work gloves to protect your hands.
- Examine the edge of your axe’s blade. Most have a slightly curved edge. You’ll want to maintain this edge as you sharpen the tool.
- Holding the file in your dominant hand, start to stroke the file along the axe blade edge. Make small strokes in an outward direction on the blade edge. Do not file back-and-forth on the metal; your file should only contact the metal as you stroke out to the blade edge.
- When you start to feel rough edges on the other side of the blade, flip the axe over and reclamp it to your workbench. Repeat the above steps on the other side of the blade.
- Switch back and forth as needed until the blade is evenly filed on both sides.
- Next, you’ll add the final touches with a medium to fine-grit whetstone.
- Apply a thin coating of honing oil or water to the edge of the axe blade, depending on your type of whetstone.
- Rub the whetstone in circular motions along the edge of the blade on one side, and then switch to the other.
- Continue to rub the blade edge with the whetstone until you’ve achieved a sharp, smooth edge.
- Finally, apply a thin coat of machine oil, beeswax, or petroleum jelly to the axe blade to help ward off rust.
How should you store an axe?
Properly storing your axe will help protect both the tool from damage, and you and your family members from accidental injury.
- Always wipe away mud, sawdust, sap, or other debris after using your axe.
- If you won’t be using the axe for a while, apply a light coating of oil to the blade before storing it.
- Don’t leave your axe in the back of your truck, your backyard, or your garage. Exposure to moisture will encourage rust on the metal and degrade the wooden handle. Store your axe in an indoor, protected location that isn’t exposed to intense heat or freezing temperatures, both of which can weaken the axe handle.
- Never store an axe within reach of children or in a spot where pets are likely to bump it.
- Ideally, your axe’s blade should be protected with a leather sheath whenever it’s not being used.
- A storage rack is the best option for your axe. If you don’t have one, then hang the tool on the wall, being sure that the hooks support the axe evenly from head to handle.
How do you throw an axe?
Axe-throwing might not be the most common hobby, but it’s growing in popularity. Like any sport, you’ll need considerable practice to advance beyond bare-beginner level, but the more you practice, the sooner you’ll improve.
- To start, you’ll need an axe made for throwing; your felling or splitting axe is too heavy and likely not sharp enough. You’ll also need a target. The regulation International Axe Throwing Federation target has a 7-inch bullseye, a 17-inch middle ring, and a 27-inch outer ring. The target should be made of sturdy wood.
- Although advanced axe-throwers often throw the axe with one hand, beginners normally use both hands.
- Stand around 12 feet in front of the target, facing it directly.
- Grasp the axe near the bottom of the handle with both hands. Your dominant hand—for most people, this is the right hand—should be above the non-dominant hand. Hold the axe in a firm, but not overly tight grip.
- Bring the axe back over your head until your hands are right above the top of your head.
- Swing your arms forward, and release the axe when its head is at your eye level.
- If the axe hits the target straight on, burying the blade into the wood, congratulations! You are standing the right distance away from the target.
- If the axe handle hits the target, and the axe drops to the floor, you are too close. Take a step back.
- If the top of the axe hits the target—it might fall to the floor or it might stick in the wood at an angle—you are too far from the target. Take a step forward.
Don’t give up if you fail to get the hang of the sport right away. It takes considerable practice to excel at axe throwing.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article is edited and updated by Michelle Ullman, the tool expert for The Spruce. She has extensive experience not only in writing about all things related to the home, but also in carrying out various DIY projects, including landscaping, painting, flooring, wallpapering, furniture makeovers, and simple repairs. For this roundup, she considered dozens of axes, evaluating each for basic features, extras, and customer feedback.