What is an Axe?
Purchasing an axe seems simple enough, but you actually have to put a bit of thought into it. You may be tempted to save some money and purchase a sub-par, mass-produced piece of junk from China, but the truth is that spending a bit of extra money will ensure that you get an axe that truly performs to your standards, and will stand the test of time. You don’t have to live in a log cabin to deserve a premium axe, and in fact, you’re going to find that you have a number of great uses for a quality tool that can cut, fell, and chop.
When you start your search for the perfect axe, you may ask yourself where you should go. Of course, you can always go to your local hardware store, but a useful source of information is the internet. Reading reviews online is a great way to see what people’s actual experiences are with various axes. Going online, checking Amazon or Youtube, is a wonderful way to get yourself started on the right track to find the best axe for you and your specific needs. In the end, an axe is a simple tool, but the devil is really in the details. So ask yourself key questions such as: How is the axe constructed? What materials have been used? What are the maintenance requirements for this axe? etc.
5 Types of Axes
- Felling Axes: If you’re looking to knock down trees, then you better have a felling axe. These axes are designed to be extra sharp, with a thin blade and slowly tapered head to allow for cutting across the wood grain as deeply as possible with each stroke. You’ll find that felling axes have mid-weight heads that are about 2.5 – 3.5 lbs. They also have anywhere from a 28-36 inch handle. This is what makes a felling axe ideal for making stumps and lopping off the limbs of trees.
- Hudson Bay Axes: These are designed with a smaller head and handle than felling axes, and sometimes they are referred to as a 3/4 axe. They were created in the 17th century by French fur traders working on the Hudson Bay trade routes, and their construction generally features a 2 pound head and 22-28 inch handle that is ideal for trimming limbs and small chopping jobs. This kind of design is ideal for turning a medium size log pile into kindling.
- Splitting Mauls: This type of axe uses a heavy wedge shaped head that makes it easy to rend logs along the grain. You’ll find that this type has a 6-8 pound head for a more forceful strike without getting the axe stuck in the wood. The handle is almost always straight, which makes it easy for the user to lever the maul deeper into the split with the initial strike. Mauls also feature a broad butt that can be used as a hammer to drive the second splitter into the log.
- Broad Axes: Named so for their large bits and long beards, broadaxes are traditionally used for woodworking and hewing logs into beams. They feature beveled bits on either one side or both sides, to create a scalloped cut. This design will allow you to precisely cut away the rounded edges of a log while also creating a flat face. Keep in mind these axes are right and left-hand specific in use.
- Carpenter’s Axes: If you’re involved in more delicate woodworking, then a carpenter’s axe is going to be an essential tool for you. This is a single-handed axe that is slightly larger than a hatchet, and features a 1.5 pound head and 10-14 inch handle. You’ll find that carpenter’s axes tend to have long beards that make it easier to choke up on the handle for extra control.
Choosing the Right Axe for You
- Chopping or Splitting Wood?: You’ll first want to ask yourself if you’re chopping or splitting wood. When you are splitting you will be cutting a vertically positioned log with a single stroke of the axe. Splitting axes will offer you a one-strike split with each swing, making the job easier and more efficient. When you chop wood you are cutting a horizontally positioned log into segments with several sharp, downward strokes. Chopping axes are designed to cut the wood fibers, rather then split them apart. There is a key distinction between these two types of methods.
- What Size of Wood? You must always consider the type of jobs you’ll be working on. There are axes that are intended for small logs, which are generally 17 inches long, and those intended for medium or large logs, which can be roughly 28 inches long. Then, if you’re planning on felling small trees, go for a low-friction blade coating to prevent the chopping axe from getting stuck in the wood. Lastly, for smaller logs or kindling, you’ll do just fine with a 14 inch hatchet.
- Consider the Quality: When purchasing an axe, safety and quality should be your top priorities. Try to find an axe that’s backed by a lifetime warranty, and comes with a protective sheath to keep the blade safely away from harm when not in use. You’ll find that a hardened forged steel blade will stay sharp longer than a traditional axe. Be sure to always follow the best safety practices when using any axe, and do your research about how to best maintain the axe for long-term use.
Every mountain man needs an axe, as well as every handyman or woodworker. Finding the right axe seems simple enough, but there are a number of factors that go into finding the right axe for you. When you start your search, be sure to be clear about what you’ll be using the axe for, and be acquainted with what kinds of axes are suited to various things. When it comes to making your purchase, be sure to spend your money on an axe that is made of the highest quality materials and will stand the test of time. This buyer’s guide is intended to help you to narrow down your search to the tool that is absolutely perfect for your specific needs.
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