Axe Buying Guide

First of all, we’ll divide the whole axe segment into several categories. Each type of axe looks a little different and is suitable for different uses. Next, we’ll look at the size of the axes and how to choose a tool that’s appropriate for your height. You can also take your body build into account when choosing the right weight of axe because if you choose a too heavy version, you probably won’t get as much work done with it as you could.

The blade is the most important part of the axe and thus deserves its own chapter. In it, we’ll look at different materials and shapes. The material is also important in choosing the right blade. The advantages and disadvantages of each variant can be found below.

An axe is a simple tool, yet we also provide a short list of accessories you can get for it. You’ll probably also be interested in the amount of money you’ll need to spend on these tools. In the end, we will give you some tips for maintaining the axe and sharpening it. This is because regular care will have an impact on both the tool’s longevity and your comfort when working.

Types of axes

Even such a simple tool as an axe can be divided into several categories. They differ in size, but above all in the way you primarily use the tool.

Camping axe

Camping, or hiking, axes are the smallest you will find in the shops. They are small so that you can easily pack them in your car or even on a hike. They weigh no more than one kilogram and the length of the blade is about 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm). Their blade is longer and flatter than other types. You can use them especially for chopping small branches, for example when preparing a campfire, knocking down tent stakes, and so on. For these purposes, a model with a plastic handle is definitely better.

Splitting axe

The most common type of axes is the splitting axes – suitable for preparing to kindle or chopping small logs. A typical splitting axe has a handle about 18 inches (45 cm) long and weighs about 2.2 lbs (1.5 kg). But there are also two-handed models that are almost twice as big and can handle larger logs.

Splitting maul

The dimensions of these axes are incomparable to others in the selection. These are the largest models that can handle the biggest logs. Their blade is wedge-shaped, flattened at the back – this is so that you can hammer the axe and cut really wide pieces of wood. The length of the blade reaches up to one meter, and the price increases with it.

Carpentry axe

While the chisel can still be found in some households, carpenter’s axes are really only recommended for professionals. They serve well not only carpenters but also, for example, people working in construction. Their blades are longer and cut out above the point so that you can grip the tool right there and be as precise as possible in your work. The blade is usually around 20 inches (50 cm) long, but there are shorter and longer versions.

Universal axe

The last type is the universal axes. They are similar to carpenters’ axes but adapted for home use, smaller carpentry and construction work, or other garden activities. They are similar in weight and length to the classic chopping models, but their blades are not as thin.

In addition to these common types, there are various ‘axe specials’. In the higher price categories, you will find, for example, double-sided axes or throwing axes (such as the tomahawk, which was formerly used by the Indians as a weapon of war). Another variant is the so-called sapina, which again has a very narrow and pointed blade and is used for carrying and feeding pieces of wood rather than for chopping.

Size

Once you have decided what you are looking for an axe for, it is also important to determine its size. This is marked from S to XL, similar to the way it is for clothes, for example. The idea is that the bigger the axe, the better it will work. However, this is not always the case. It is much more important that the tool fits properly in your hand. That way, you won’t have to exert as much force yourself, and you’ll use more of the power of the swing.

So how do you know the right size? The handle should not be longer than your arm, which can be checked with a simple test:

  • Grip the axe just below the blade
  • Extend your outstretched arm with the axe so that the handle is horizontal with your arm and pointing towards your shoulder
  • Judge how far the axe handle reaches.

If it is already touching your shoulder, we recommend reaching for the shorter version. Conversely, if the shaft ends somewhere near your elbow, this model is too small for you. Of course, this test does not apply to camping axes, which are intentionally smaller. If you buy an axe online and don’t have the opportunity to physically measure it, measuring the length of your arm and comparing it to the dimensions of the axe can help you at least tentatively.

Weight

Weight is naturally related to the size of the tool, but the materials used also have an influence. A wooden top will be slightly heavier than a plastic one. The lightest camping axes weigh around two hundred grams, with around 2.2 lbs (1 kg) for a tool in size category S. XL tools can exceed 4.4 lbs (2 kg) and the largest axes are around 8.8 lbs (4 kg).

Heavier axes can exert more force when swung hard but at the expense of your strength. So it’s important to find a compromise. If you are hesitant, we recommend a little test.

The axe has the right weight if you can lift it from your outstretched hand with just your wrist. If this movement is a problem for you, for your own sake reach for a lighter version. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, you’ll end up doing a lot more work with it. If you’re shopping online, you can do this test with some substitute of equal weight.

Blade

The most important part of the axe. Its quality will determine how easily it will cut through the wood and how much force you will have to exert. It’s essential that it’s forged and not just ground to a sharp shape, which you’ll see with some cheaper pieces. These will also dull very quickly. Ideally, the blade should be made from forged, or at best hardened and ground steel. It can also be Teflon or xylan coated. After such treatment, it will be more resistant to high temperatures and corrosion.

In addition to the material, blades also differ in shape. While the wedge-shaped version is suitable for chipping, the straighter and longer blade will be better for chopping. Manufacturers have managed to design the latest models in such a way that you shouldn’t find the axe getting stuck in a log and not being able to pull it out. If the wood doesn’t crumble under its impact, it should bounce back.

From time to time, you will need to remember to maintain and sharpen the blade. How often you have to do this will depend, among other things, on the quality of the material.

Handle

Although the blade does most of the work, it is important not to underestimate the choice of handle. There are two basic materials to choose from and each has its own specifics:

  • Wooden handle – it is very pleasant to the touch and it is also a cheaper option. It is made of hardwoods such as oak or beech. The blade is fixed into the wooden handle with a wedge, which causes it to loosen occasionally. The blade is not as precise and in rare cases, the blade can come completely out, which can cause injury. With this material it is also important to take care of certain maintenance – do not store the wooden tool in too much heat and lubricate the wedge area from time to time.
  • A plastic top – is most often made of laminate or other composite material. In this case, the blade is firmly embedded in the blade so that it does not come loose. On the other hand, if you break a laminate blade, you cannot replace just this part as you would with wood, but have to buy a whole new axe. There is almost no maintenance required in this case. Another advantage is that the manufacturers can shape the hilts freely – this results in differently curved variants and rubberized handles. Thanks to these features, you will be more confident when working with an otherwise relatively dangerous tool, and the risk of it falling out of your hand unintentionally will be noticeably lower.
MaterialAdvantagesDisadvantages
Wooden+ Lower price
+ Pleasant to the touch
+ Only the top can be purchased if broken
– Risk of the handle coming loose
– More maintenance intensive
– Not rubberized or ergonomic
Plastic+ It’s molded so it doesn’t come loose
+ Ergonomic or rubberized versions
+ Easier to maintain
– If it breaks, you have to buy a whole axe
– Higher price

Some axes have a tape measure printed on the handle so you can measure the size of the logs you’re chopping.

Accessories

Axes are simple devices and do not need many accessories. However, there are a few gadgets that can make working with an axe more comfortable.

  • Sheath – usually made of leather or fabric. Its primary purpose is to encase the blade and prevent someone from cutting it, for example, while carrying the tool.
  • Grinders and files – make maintenance much easier. Many variations are available, some of which resemble kitchen knife sharpeners, and others are shaped like hockey pucks. You’ll often come across double-grit grinding stones, with the coarser side used to sharpen the blade more quickly, while the finer side is used to finish detailing afterward.
  • Wedges – these help when the point is not firmly anchored and the blade is in danger of coming loose during the swing. Wedges are round or triangular in shape and are made of wood or metal. Once anchored, they fill the space between the blade and the point, thus contributing to greater safety.
  • Gloves – not part of the equipment without which the axe cannot function, but an indispensable accessory for frequent and long chopping. This is also why some manufacturers offer work sets that include gloves as well as tools. A good quality working model with thumb and forefinger protection is ideal.

Price

And how much can you get such a tool for? For a few hundred, but also for several thousand. It depends on how demanding your requirements are. We’ve tried to put together four price categories that will give you a better idea of what you can get for how much money.

Up to $10

You can get an axe this cheap too, but don’t expect any miracles from it. For a couple of hundred, you’ll only get small camping axes and usually still only with a wooden handle. We don’t even recommend these for chopping firewood at home.

From $10 to $25

This category is dominated by splitting axes for home use. You’ll come across smaller sizes, and tools with plastic handles are slowly making their way into the selection. They will suit you more when working with softwoods, but may not cope adequately with knotty material.

From $25 to $50

If you look in e-shops or various hobby markets, you’ll see that you can get some pretty handy pieces for this price. Tools with plastic handles or even carpenter’s axes are common. The camping ones will already be of really good quality at this price, and you don’t have to worry about buying classic splitting or all-purpose products either, although they will still be rather smaller products.

From $50 to $250

You’ll find the best quality pieces from well-known brands, including Fiskars, for example, for well over $50. Such products already do a real job and last a long time. In addition to these, large and powerful chisels are starting to appear above this price.

Above $250

You probably don’t fall into this price category as a regular user, but we’re including it for completeness. Of course, you’ll find some really high-quality tools here that will also come in handy for felling trees – so-called undercutting axes. But in addition, there are also curiosities such as throwing axes, artistically carved pieces, hunting axes, and double-sided axes. It would be hard to find an upper limit. You can find pieces for ten or even $1,000.

Maintenance

As we have already mentioned, even an axe requires some care to ensure that it lasts a long time and that it is not only effective but also safe to use. Fortunately, it is not complicated or time-consuming.

  • Storage – Especially for axes with wooden tops, proper storage is essential and should be kept dry, but not too dry to prevent the wood from drying out and shrinking. If you are putting the axe away for a long period of time, coat it with grease or oil to prevent rusting. Before using the axe again, make sure that the blade has not come loose in any way, if it has, there is a risk of injury.
  • Proper use – The axe is intended for chopping only, not as a hammer for hammering nails, for example (unless it is directly stated). If used improperly, it can break and injure you. Of course, you can drive a nail into the ground with a camping axe.

Sharpening the axe

Every axe wears out with use, dulling the blade and creating unsightly teeth. Working with an unmaintained tool is longer and more tiring. That’s why it’s worth checking and resharpening your axe from time to time. The procedure is simple and the tools you can use are varied. To get you started, we have written down some general points that we recommend you follow.

  • If you have an axe primarily for chopping wood, it is not necessary to sharpen it to the sharpest possible point at all costs. In fact, when splitting, the aim is not to cut the grain, but to split it apart. When cutting across the trunk or branching, the sharpness requirements increase.
  • If the axe is so neglected that you can’t tell for sure whether its arc is symmetrical, trace it on white paper. This technique will also reveal inconspicuous teeth or an axe ground at the wrong angle (for splitting wood, it should be between 15 and 20 degrees).
  • The fastest way to sharpen the blade is to use an electric grinder, but this tool already requires a bit of experience. Use a slow speed and cool the blade with water during the process. This is because the electric grinder operates at high temperatures that change the degree of hardening of the metal, which can make the blade more brittle. You can tell if the steel has been damaged in this way by the bluish tint.
  • For those who cannot or do not want to use an electric grinder, files are available. These are particularly suitable for axes made of softer steel. The blade should be filed evenly on both sides, in the direction opposite the blade.
  • You can use grinding stones or a very fine emery cloth for the final sharpening. It is advisable to soak the grinding stones in water or oil while working, as this will make the grinding more efficient. If you use abrasive stones, choose the finest grit for the final finish. Move it in a circular motion as you work.
  • For extra protection, you can use anti-corrosion oil after sharpening.

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