Beginner’s Guide to Axes [Everything You Need to Know]

Are you new to axes and don’t know where to start?

Well, you’ve come to the right place because in this post, I’ll be going over everything you need to know about axes.

This is a complete beginner’s guide to axes.

So let’s get straight into it!

What is an axe and what’s it used for?

An axe is a popular woodworking tool that’s lightweight and powerful. It’s been around for over millennia, used for general wood processing tasks such as cutting wood, harvesting timber, splitting wood, and general outdoor use. 

It’s great for outdoor use when you need something smaller and light to do woodworking tasks and you’re unable to bring a chainsaw or a machine operated wood splitter.

The axe was an incredibly popular tool to build settlements such as cabins. It was also a popular weapon of choice.

Parts of an axe

Head – The head is the big chunk of the axe at the top. It’s typically made from steel.

Bit – The bit is the blade, more specifically, the middle of the blade, the strong part.

Toe – The toe is the top of the bit/blade.

Heel – The heel is the bottom of the bit/blade.

Poll – The poll is the back of the head of the axe. Sometimes used as a hammer.

Cheek – The cheek is the side of the head.

Beard – The concave portion of the head located beneath the heel.

Handle – The handle is the long part of the axe, used to grip the axe. Usually made from wood.

Eye – The top of the handle, located at the top of the head.

Shoulder – Located just beneath the poll on the handle.

Belly – The belly is the entire front of the handle.

Throat – The throat is located just before the bottom of the handle. Typically where your bottom hand would hold it.

Knob – The knob is the very bottom part of the handle.

Types of axes

Axes come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, there are many different types out there. This is because there are different types of trees out there such as softwood and hardwood.

Small trees and big trees. Axes come in different shapes and sizes because the tasks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Felling axe

A felling axe or forest axe as it’s sometimes referred to is used to chop down trees. It has a long handle that is used to create a powerful swing. Traditionally, the handle is made from hickory wood which is a type of wood that’s strong and durable.

The head of a felling axe will typically weighs 3lbs or 4lbs. When using a felling axe, you swing it sideways into the tree, cutting against the grain of the wood.

Splitting axe

These axes are specifically designed to split wood. They will have a long handle, allowing you to generate more force when striking the wood.

The head will be heavy and can easily weigh over 6lbs. The head is a “V” shape, making it more aggressive when struck into the wood. The “V” shape allows the wood to be split more efficiently, without the head getting stuck into the wood.

Carpenter’s axe

A carpenter axe is a craftsman’s tool and was never designed to fell trees or split wood. It’s used for fine woodworking, to accomplish tasks such as hewing, carving wood, roofing, and more.

They’re used for construction, although they’re not used a lot for modern construction. The back of the head can also be used as a hammer. Modern carpenter’s axes also have a groove in them to be used to remove nails.

Double bit axe

The double bit axe has 2 blades. Woodsmen started to use this to double-up as 2 axes and only have to carry one. One blade/bit would be blunt and the other bit sharp.

The blunt blade would be used to split wood and the sharp bit would be used to fell trees. They’re heavy and can be difficult to carry. 

Is there any safety gear I should have when using my axe?

There are a few pieces of safety gear you’ll need…

Steel toe cap boots – You could miss the swing with your axe and hit your foot. That’s why a pair of heavy-duty, steel toe cap boots are necessary. They’re a layer of protection in case anything miscalculated occurs.

Gloves – Glove will help protect your hands from splinters and grip the handle better. Allowing you to be more forceful with your strikes. I would recommend a thin pair of gloves as they will help maintain your grip.

Shin pads – If you happen to miss with your axe, you could end up taking a gigantic chunk out of your shin. That’s why shin pads are necessary when using an axe.

Knee pads – Knee pads are necessary for the same reason shin pads are. You could miss the swing with your axe and hit yourself. Also, you could be down on your knees when splitting wood and knee pads will help protect against the ground.

Sheath – After you’ve used your axe, you need to put it away. If you end up touching or falling on your axe, it could be fatal. So make sure you have a sheath to cover the head.

How do I use an axe?

There are many different ways of using an axe. Different stances for different uses.

Use a chopping block

Using a chopping block like a tree stump or a big log will prevent your axe from hitting the ground. This will prevent your axe from becoming blunt and damaged.

Wide stance

When splitting a block of wood, make sure you’ve got your feet spread wide apart. This way if you miss, the axe will go straight under you and not directly hit you. 

Swinging

When swinging, you want to swing with the axe above your head. This will help you generate more power as well as protect your back. 

Cut with the grain

Find where the grain of the wood is, which way does the tree want to grow? You need to cut with it instead of against it for the wood to split.

Maintain the correct distance

The correct distance when using an axe is, when you swing and miss, the axe goes into the ground or chopping block. If you’re working with a small axe, you may have to get on your knees to split the wood, if that’s the case, then do so.

Here’s a short video showing you how to use your axe:

How do I maintain my axe?

After you’ve used your axe, you need to do some basic maintenance. Here’s the process I like to go through:

Dry your axe – When you’re cutting through wood, it’s going to get moist. This is because trees have something called sap in them, which is basically the life blood of the tree.

So your axe is going to get wet regardless if it’s been raining or not. You can use a simple rag to wipe it down to dry it.

Use some polishing cream on the head – Polishing cream will put a light coating of protection on the head and even remove some light rust. This will help remove the sap.

Use an axe stone on the bit/blade – Use a coarse stone to sharpen the bit. Rub the stone on the bit in a circular motion. Make sure to rub the entire bevel (slope of the head) to maintain its shape. After you’ve used a coarse stone, use a fine stone to further sharpen it.

If you’re not entirely sure how to do this, I would recommend practicing on a cheap axe so you get the technique right and don’t ruin your nice axe.

Use a strop – A strop will help further sharpen and polish your axe. Go up and down with the bit of the axe to get it nice and shiny. You’ll want to apply a good amount of pressure to it when stropping.

Use beeswax for the handle – You need to make sure you’re maintaining the handle properly to keep it strong. I would recommend using some beeswax on it. Just work the beeswax into the handle. Don’t forget to polish the eye of the handle aswell.

Use blade oil on the head – Use some blade oil on the head as an extra layer of protection and prevent it from rusting.

Sheath cream – Make sure to maintain the axe sheath/cover by using some simple sheath cream. Just go over it with a rag and work the cream into the leather sheath.

Here’s a great video on maintaining your axe:

If your sheath is wet, don’t put the axe in there because it’s going to make the axe wet as well. Just leave the sheath to dry.

What if my bit has a chip in it?

If your bit/blade has a chip, a simple sharpening stone won’t do the trick. You’ll need to use a file to get back the ful smoothl bit.

Here’s another great video on axe maintenance:

What’s the difference between an axe, maul, and hatchet?

A maul or splitting maul as it’s commonly referred to is specifically designed for one task which is splitting wood. An axe comes in many different types so they have many different uses. 

A splitting axe has the same purpose as a maul/splitting maul which is to split wood. A splitting maul’s head typically weighs more than the splitting axe since it’s slightly bigger, making it better at splitting wood.

A maul has a bigger and more aggressive head, it’s wider, making it easier to split wood. The maul will typically have a bigger handle, allowing you to generate more force when swinging it.

A maul’s handle will typically be made from metal, making it less prone to breaking.

Splitting maul

A hatchet is a single handed woodworking tool. It’s very small and compact, it can do what an axe and maul can do but on a smaller scale.

A hatchet won’t be able to do the large jobs that an axe and maul can do. It can cut down small trees, split smaller logs or small chunks of a large log, and hewing.

Splitting maul

Pros and cons of using an axe

Pros
  • More portable than other woodworking tools such as chainsaws and log splitting machines.
  • Easily affordable.
  • Easy and quick maintenance.
  • Axes are incredibly adaptable, they can be used as hammers, walking sticks, used to process meat, and general cutting.
Cons
  • Can be very time-consuming to do jobs when compared to other power tools like chainsaws and machine log splitter.
  • Requires a lot of manual labor.

What should I not use my axe on?

You should not use your axe to dig holes unless you’re using an axe designed to dig holes such as a pickaxe. When you hit your axe on the dirt, it quickly becomes dull and you could chip it.

You should never use your axe to attempt to cut metal. It’s not going to work and you’re definitely going to break the axe.

Which axe is right for me?

The right axe for you all depends on what you’ll be doing.

If you’ll be felling, go with a felling axe. If you’re going to be splitting wood, go with a splitting axe. It all depends on the tasks you’ll be doing.

Conclusion

So that was the ultimate beginner’s guide to axes.

Those were the different types of axes, the parts of an axe, axe maintenance, and how to use an axe.

Hope you found what you were looking for in this guide.

– Adam