What are the different types of axes?
Well, that’s exactly what I’ll be going over in this post. I’ll be going over what each one is and what it’s used for. Going over the pros and cons of each axe.
So, let’s get straight into it!
Felling Axe/Forest Axe
A felling axe is designed to have the proper angle bit to efficiently slice a tree to be felled. These heads come with a sharp and very thin blade, helping you cut against the grain of the wood. The heads are usually around 3-4 lbs, meant to be able to deliver a punch while still light enough for a long session of swings.
The forest axe has a similar concept as to the felling axe, but rather they come a bit heavier as they typically handle larger trees. The heads have the same shape, a thin and sharp blade but are commonly 5-6 lbs.
To find a high-quality felling/forest axe, one feature you will want is an American hickory handle. These handles last a lot longer and are much stronger and absorbent compared to any type of metal handle.
High-quality metal is also something you want to look out for as this will assure you that the axe is of a strong caliber and will be durable.
The idea of splitting axes (often referred to as splitting mauls) is to split firewood. A splitting axe is an antithesis to a felling axe, as they come with a wider angle bit and tend to have heavier heads.
These heavier heads are to have more power to split through any log in front of you. The wide-angle bit is designed to be removable from any log you fail to split on the first swing, as it happens to the best of us.
The handles are usually longer as well, as you want more leverage to be able to control your swing. Again you want to look for handles made of American hickory as it is the strongest and most absorbent handles you can ask for with powerful swinging.
Since the splitting axe is going with the grain of the logs you are splitting they won’t take nearly as long as the felling/forest axes to split one log. Also because the axe is splitting along the grain, the head can sustain with a dull bit longer because its need to slice isn’t as necessary.
Double Bit Axe
Double bit axes come with a head that has a bit on both sides of it. These are advantageous as you can easily sharpen and style each head to perform different tasks. For example, be able to fell with one side of the head and split logs with the other side.
You cannot compromise on the quality of an axe deliberately meant for felling or splitting but this style axe is great when you can only take one axe with you.
The head is usually quite heavy, often between 5-7lbs. Naturally, when you have more metal to make a double-sided axe head, it’s going to weigh more than just one bit. At first, this may be difficult to have control over the head but with the time you adjust.
One thing to look out for with the handles on double-bit axes is that they should come with an ergonomic grip. It can become quite frustrating when you can’t keep your hands in a natural spot because the handle was only designed to be held for the felling side of the bit.
Hatchets are designed to be an all-around chopping tool, in a fashion where they can be easily taken anywhere. They are lightweight and come with shorter handles, so you can strap them to your backpack and forget it’s even on there. Hatchets are often cheaper options when compared to more specialized axes.
Balance is the most important thing to look for when purchasing a hatchet, as you will often be using just one hand with the axe, you don’t want to lose control of it.
You can trust that a hatchet will be the one tool you need when just going out camping or for projects around the house. Perfect for making kindling, chopping medium-sized logs, and limbing. Its lighter weight and portability put it on the opposite end of the multi-purpose spectrum to the double bit axe.
The two won’t tackle the same projects, so deciding between the two will be a matter of knowing how big your projects will be.
Originally designed by the Native North Americans as a weapon, a little known fact is that they often had pipes designed into the poll. Nowadays, they are used more as a fun tool to have around. They have become so common that you can now find businesses where their primary offer is throwing tomahawks.
If you own a tomahawk, you can easily practice throwing it around in your backyard so you can feel like a master of axes.
They are designed to be very lightweight and often around 1-2lbs. The heads are not very big, often being only 3-4 inches long. The blades are often very sharp since they need to catch a tree after being thrown through the air.
With the sharp and small blades, you could easily use a tomahawk as a substitute-hatchet when in dire circumstances.
The handle is commonly longer when compared to hatchets; however, their design is to be a strait handle making it easier to throw. The longer handle gives it a better balance to make the act of throwing more natural.
Another axe designed originally for combat and war; nowadays they are not as common as in Viking times. Often people will purchase these for the novelty of having an axe like the Vikings once frequently used.
The heads of these Viking axes are often very light so that warriors were able to swing quickly. The heads would weigh around 3-4 lbs. The bits were very sharp, meant to cut someone’s throat during battle. These sharp bits are great for modern use in that you can use these axes to split wood.
The handles were very long, they could be found to be as long as six feet tall. These lengths are very dependent on how tall the user would be, more so than with felling/forest axes.
With such long handles and light heads, the balance would be heavily skewed making it a bit hard to adjust if you’ve been using a more modern axe. With such a long handle, you would need to use two hands and swing more like a baseball bat to deliver proper power.
One of the most modern innovations in the world of axes is the tactical axe. Designed to be an all-around or do-it-all kind of tool, it can be used to split logs, as a weapon, a shovel, a hammer, or even a pry bar. With its size, you can expect to even use them as a throwing tomahawk.
These axes are great for bringing on camping trips and can be a great multi-tool for folks wanting a multi-purpose and lightweight option.
The head varies depending on the designer or brand. They can often come with a very sharp bit, where the poll is equipped with other tools (either bottle openers, a hammer, or with a pick).
Other times the bit comes a bit duller and wider so that you can expect heavier work and add durability to the equation.
The handles are designed to be straight with a minimal throat so you can easily use the backside of the head without discomfort. They tend to be very short, more along the lines of a hatchet but can be even shorter occasionally.
Not a very commonly seen option these days, they were designed to be durable and practical enough for war and battle, as their namesake would suggest. The battle axe was often paired with a shield in the middle ages, instead of a sword.
You might see these axes when visiting a reenactment of middle age battles or at renaissance fairs. Otherwise, you might only see them as displays whether on peers’ mantles above a fireplace or at museums along with other period-based weapons.
They come in a variety of sizes, ranging from 1-7 lbs. It mostly depended on what the soldier would want to do with the axe. As mentioned earlier they could use it one-handed when paired with a shield. However, some soldiers would want both hands on the axe, these you would expect to be heavier.
You could easily use this style axe to chop firewood if need be if not only just for the novelty of using a battle axe for some reason.
A hewing axe, very similar to a broad axe, was originally designed to create square timber out of logs. These were used more often before traditional sawmills were invented as they were the most efficient way to square a log.
Mostly used as a carpentry tool, they are not as common today. However, those that desire doing everything by hand would still need a hewing axe.
They come with a very long beard and broad bit as one might expect. The angle on the bit is double-bevelled so you can get very fine angles on any logs you work. You would not want to use this axe for anything else as the head can be very delicate when used against the grain or can get stuck when swung with the grain.
These axes are very specific in that they are designed for either right-handed users or left-handed users. Hewing axes are very specialized, as they cannot go outside their scope but do a fantastic job doing what they are designed to do.
Technically speaking, any tool that has a sharp cutting edge can be referred to as an adze. But when speaking in the world of axes, an adze is a tool with a cutting edge bit that is designed to be perpendicular to the handle.
Often these are used to smooth surfaces of wood or to carve by hand. More specifically designed to shave and perfectly smooth out wood surfaces, these are a very focused tool. These are another older tool that is used by specialized carpenters and have become a little outdated with the invention of the sawmill.
There are two different styles of adze: a hand adze and a foot adze. The hand adze is roughly the size of a hatchet so it can easily be controlled one-handed.
The foot adze is often a little larger and needs two hands to use. This larger size is advantageous when you need to work on bigger projects. The name of the foot adze comes from the idea that the bit usually strikes around shin or foot height.
The purpose for these axes is in their namesake, however, they can also be known as a “log-building” axe. “Carpenters axes” is a general term that can be used to describe any axe that is designed for hewing, carving, roofing, or anything a carpenter would work on.
They are often much smaller than a standard felling/forest or splitting axe, more comparable in size to a hatchet although a little larger.
The head can often come with a hammer poll for hammering in nails, as well as being equipped with a notch in the beard to remove nails.
They are designed for precise and detailed work, so the bit is relatively sharp and straight. These are often designed to be the all-purpose tool so you won’t need a hewing axe, adze, or mattock.
These are great axes for those who do general woodworking projects at home and don’t need all the specialized versions for carpentry.
As a result of their all-around design, you can expect them to be quite durable and versatile. They are a great middle-ground to a felling axe and a hatchet; as if you had all three types of axes you could accomplish anything.
This is a very specific type of axe in that it is almost exclusively used by firemen. Designed to be able to break down doors, walls, or break windows in emergencies, it comes with a pickaxe on the poll which helps with prying or cutting.
The bit is a sharp-edged blade, but the handiness of the poll is something not many people would need. The head is often painted in bright red colors so it can be identified quickly when in emergencies.
Often the handles are very long and comparable to that of a felling/forest axe. They are incredibly durable as they need to withstand the workload that a fireman gets into. It is incredibly powerful and reliable. They roughly weigh between 5-7 lbs., so you can expect to have an easy and natural swing.
These are specifically designed to handle emergencies and are a great option to have in your cellar or closet in case something goes wrong.
Probably one of the most specialized axes that the standard axe user will never need is the crash axe. The reason you will probably never need this axe is that it is designed for airplane crashes. They are required to be carried in the cockpit of any aircraft that has more than 20 passengers.
Modern-day crash axes have handles that are designed to be completely electrically insulated in case any wiring is crossed when striking through a wall.
They are designed to handle chopping through sheet metal, as well as pry open gaps, and chop interior walls and the overhead compartments. They can come with a notch on the bit so that they can hook into any sheet metal, allowing the user to rip open the sheet metal.
The purpose in mind is to either be able to create an entrance into a downed aircraft or to create an exit for passengers inside. The bit is often either serrated or extremely sharp, the serrated option is to allow users to cut any sheet metal they cannot swing through.
Different to throwing tomahawks, these are more designed for competitive purposes. The act of competitive axe throwing has taken off in recent years, so much so that a new specified version of throwing axes has been developed.
Originally they were designed for battle in the middle ages and would be able to deliver fatal blows. Made to be extremely durable, yet very simple looking; this is so you can count on one axe for the entirety of a competition. Since their purpose is pretty one dimensional, they do not need any extra features.
Certainly, you can use any type of axe for throwing, but these axes are designed to have the perfect weight and balance to shine above the rest. Their design is regulated by certain league/federation standards, most commonly the WATL or NATF.
These size regulations all depend on what level you are in the sport, and as you would expect, as you become more competent at higher levels the prices of the axes will increase. The blades are very sharp and thin so that they can easily stick to their target.
As explained earlier, these are often compared to hewing axes as they have a similar concept for the head when designing them. They serve similar purposes in that they are designed to make square sides out of a log, mostly being used before the invention of a sawmill.
The main difference between the two is that a broad axe is much heavier, comes single-bevelled, and the handle is designed to give enough clearance between the log and your hands.
Also when using the axe, the technique is more conducive to dropping it rather than applying too much force to its swing, as the axe does most of the work.
A single bevel edge may be more suited for someone trying to smooth out a surface on a log. With the single bevel, it can be more accurate with your smoothing, the flat-sided cheek is also ideal for checking if the log’s surface is flat.
To use this tool on anything other than squaring out logs would be dangerous to the axe head, as it is very delicate to powerful swings.
A pickaxe is a t-shaped axe used for breaking, prying, hoeing, skimming, and chopping roots, concrete, hard rock, and other hard surfaces. Traditionally with a flat bit on one end of the head and a pointed end on the other, it has been used as an agricultural tool since prehistoric times.
The head is much heavier than other axes, as its sole purpose is to disrupt elements in the ground. This heavier weight allows you to break up surfaces easier and can create a considerable amount of momentum when swinging.
These are often used in sports like ice climbing and mountaineering as they can offer a secure point to grip into firm snow or ice. Though much smaller than anything used in woodworking, they can be an essential tool in mountaineering.
Otherwise, these axes are ideal for gardening and landscaping as they are durable beyond any other axe on this list. As they are designed with the idea of breaking harder, more stubborn surfaces like concrete, hard rock, or hard soil.