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  • Select an Axe for a Purpose

    Posted on April 11th, 2019 admin No comments


    Over the centuries, axes have been developed for a wide range of uses, from war to woodwork. While the war-axe has fallen out of use, those used in forestry and camping have continued to evolve, especially in regard to handle materials.

    It is the purpose of this article to assist the user in selecting an Axe by type and purpose.

    Utility Axes

    • Hatchet – a small light utility axe, designed to be portable (worn on a belt or carried in a pack). It will trim branches, split kindling, drive tent pegs, section meat. It usually has a light head with a narrow bit (blade) and a handle with a swell knob to prevent the axe from slipping out of the hand. Easy to use and control with one hand.
    • Limbing Axe or Small Forest Axe – similar to the felling axe (below) but with a lighter, slightly thicker head and a shorter handle, used for limbing (cutting branches off) fallen trees.

    A small forest axe is an excellent utility camp axe and is the type usually sold in sporting goods and hardware stores in a variety of head weights and handle lengths. A 20″ (500 mm) handle and a 1.5 lb (0.7 kg) head is a good choice, long enough for effective two-hand chopping, light enough to choke for one-handed use, and short enough for convenience and portability.

    Felling Axes

    A double-bit axe. The near edge is for felling, the far edge for limbing.
    • Felling Axe or Forest Axe – A felling axe is a professional axe for taking down trees.  This axe will have a longer handle and a slim blade with concave sides so that it cuts deeply and takes out large chips.  It is not intended as a general purpose or camp axe.  It will also have a shaped handle opposite the head.  A small forest axe is used for limbing, as described above.
    • Double-Bit Axe – This is the axe people associate with Paul Bunyan. According to The Axe Book from Swedish axe maker Gransfors Bruks, “Typically one blade was sharpened to a finely-honed, narrow ‘felling edge’, while the second blade was ground slightly blunter.” The blunter blade was used for limbing on the ground, where the sharper blade would be liable to damage.

    Splitting Axes and Splitting Mauls

    A heavy splitting maul — one of the few axes designed to strike with the poll
    • Splitting Axe – Designed for splitting chunks of wood (rounds) into stovewood or firewood, the splitting axe has a concave, thin bit and a thicker eye. This design allows the axe to penetrate deeply then force the wood to split at the thicker part. Various headweights and handle lengths are available.
    • Splitting Maul – This is designed for splitting heavy rounds. The head is heavier and thicker than that of a splitting axe, and the rounded poll is hardened for driving splitting wedges. Generally comes with a straight handle to permit use of both blade and poll.
    • Mechanized Splitting Axe – This design has a couple of cams or rotating levers inset into the head, designed to lever the wood apart. The head is made of cast iron rather than forged steel and is particularly thick to support the pins holding the cams in place.
    A mechanical splitting axe

    A Safety Note: The average axe is not meant to be used to strike with the poll or butt.

    When selecting any axe for a particular purpose, price is an important consideration. Cheaper axes often have handles made from low-grade wood with poor grain (hidden with paint), poorly shaped heads (often too thick for good cutting) and badly forged (again, covered with paint). 

    Choose an axe designed for its intended use, but don’t cut too many corners on cost.  A good axe will hold its edge, cut well, and last for years.

    Further Reading

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