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Axes are a group of very old and useful tools. While many things in the past have come and gone, we are still using a variety of axes to get jobs done on a daily basis. Even if you have never used one yourself, you have benefited from someone else using one.
In the pioneer days, cabins were built using not many more tools than an axe or two combined with an enormous amount of hard work. The axe can be used for cutting trees and firewood, butchering, defending yourself, digging and cutting roots, throwing for fun, and much more.
Everyone should have at least a basic hatchet just in case. There are many affordable options that don’t skimp on quality. This article is going to describe 17 different axes and offer a spotlight on one model that represents the style. I have made an effort to only feature well-known brands that are not hard to get and that stand behind their products.
Since space is limited in any article, I cannot even begin to highlight all the high-quality axes that are readily available online. If you really like one or if you had a bad experience with any brand or style in particular, please feel free to share in the comments below.
17 Best Axe Styles Illustrated and Explained
These axes are made with cutting down trees in mind. The handle is usually 32″ or greater. The head weight is often in the 2-4 lb range and tapers to a fine sharp point. A felling axe can be used to chop wood into kindling if care is taken. Of course, a felling axe is also a formidable weapon but it is far too heavy to be considered something that can be thrown.
Good felling axes are not inexpensive tools. Expect to pay $70 or more for a felling axe.
This axe from Council Tool is made in the USA and offers a sturdy 32″ Hickory handle and a 3.5 lb Jersey Style Single Bit Axe Head. This is an axe made for working and it is backed by Council Tools outstanding warranty. The head is hydraulically seated and then secured with an aluminum wedge so you are not going to be worried about the head slipping off at an unfortunate time.
This style is quite modern. There are many different brands out there to choose from which means that there are a lot of off brands that are making poorly made tactical axes.
These military-style axes always have synthetic handles and usually some type of special feature. This could be holes in the blade to reduce weight or it could have multiple functions that you don’t typically find on an axe. These axes are made to serve many purposes from breaching doors to defense and survival scenarios when out in the bush or having to make the best of things while staying in place.
Grub Axe or Cutter Mattock
Unfortunately, these seem like they are harder to find than they used to be. I have been waiting on one to arrive for weeks and I am struggling to find a link to a good one that I can recommend. If Bully Tools still made one I would say go to them.
On the farm, we use this style of axe regularly. The benefit of the cutter mattock is that it can be used to cut through thick roots if properly sharpened. The other side is essentially an adze which is another type of axe that we will discuss later in this article.
If you are planning on homesteading or just bought some land out in the country, I recommend getting a cutter mattock.
These are also excellent for clearing out for a fire line when burning or trying to form a ring of protection in the event of a forest fire.
Well, I actually managed to find a fiberglass cutter mattock for you! The 5 lb head is exactly what you need to get tough jobs done. The fiberglass handle with a cushion grip reduces shock, something that is very important to consider when using a mattock for extended periods of time.
The Hudson Bay Axe
I had never heard of this style of axe until I started researching for this article. I have seen one before but never knew the name for this pattern. It is believed that the pattern organically came from the Biscayne area of Spain and found it’s way to the US and Canada via French Trappers who used it for trading with Native Americans. Of course, it was also a handy tool for felling trees and chopping firewood into kindling.
The distinctive blade is much broader on the cutting side than the head. This is a formidable axe that could also double for defense if needed. It reminds me of the Nordic axe design in many ways.
This axe features a 6 3/4″ head with a 4″ blade height. The blade is made of finely milled and hand worked steel. A beautiful 21″ Hickory handle lends this ax a classic look and strength that is hard to beat.
This popular small axe is particularly useful for preppers that like to get out in the woods or that just want something small and all-purpose for use out in the bush. A hatchet can be used to split wood, fell smaller trees and saplings and most styles can be utilized for butchering game if care is taken.
Hatchets are small enough that some can be worn on a belt although many people just attach them or conceal them in a pack.
Estwing makes their axes in the United States and they are very affordable, especially for the quality you get. This is a larger hatchet at 16″. It is made with full tang construction for strength and durability. It comes with a heavy-duty ballistic nylon sheath. The tool grade steel is hand sharpened and polished.
A broad axe distinguishes itself from other axes by featuring a very wide blade. This of course adds weight which is something you always need to consider when making the decision to add a blade to your collection.
These axes were originally used for hewing logs. Hewing is the process of taking the rounded edges of a log and making it square for use in projects. While this sounds like a lot of work, before there were sawmills or if there was none close enough, hewing was what people could do.
The Freyr Axe is a bearded broad axe that can be used for a variety of tasks in the great outdoors. The bearded design allows you to have a safe way to use and hold the axe for close up and precise jobs. This design comes from Elmer Roush of Brasstown, NC. I love that CRKT finds top knifemakers from all over the place and features their designs. The head is 1055 High Carbon Steel while the handle is Tenessee Hickory.
This is the axe we use the most around our place because we use wood heat quite often in the winter and we have to split the firewood my Dad uses as well. A good splitting maul is basic in design. The head weight can vary but is usually 2.5, 3, 5, or 8 lbs.
There is one style of wood splitting maul that I feel the need to warn people about because it tends to throw chunks of wood too far out when you are splitting a round. instead of a smooth and tapered head, this style has outcroppings of metal on each side. The idea is that those pieces will function as a splitting wedge of sorts and make it easier to split. Our opinion is that it doesn’t really help that much and actually creates a safety hazard. Please see below for an example of what I am talking about.
I picked this maul out as an example because it is a classic design. The 8 lb head packs a lot of force so wood splits easily. The head will last forever and the handle can be replaced.
Carpenter style axes come in different sizes. With the larger versions sporting 26″ handles. These axes often have a hatchet side and a hammer side but may have other unique features that could be helpful when doing a variety of carpentry and construction projects. The head is designed to be useful for woodworking including log cabin construction.
Estwing sure makes a lot of different axes for taking care of hard tasks. This axe features a shock reduction grip and forged full tang construction. Like all Estwing products, it is proudly make in the USA. Estwing hammers are great so I expect any tool they make that has a hammerhead on it will perform to the same standards.
Mining Axe (Pick)
This style of axe is sometimes called a railroad pick or axe as well.
These have a pick on each side and are used for chiseling away at stone. One side is very pointy while the other is more chiseled.
On our property, we have used them to more precisely chip away at rock. The sharp point penetrates rock quite well and will shatter if when force is applied in many cases.
The Truper Railroad Pick Axe features a 36″ fiberglass handle and a 6 lb head. A cushioned grip allows for less shock when breaking up rock and hard dirt.
Double Bit Axe
While it may appear that a double bit axe has two sides that are the same, the truth is that usually one side is sharpened to a fine point and the other is a bit more blunted. This was to make it easier to take on multiple tasks. The side that is very sharp could be used to fell trees while the blunt side was more suitable for splitting rounds into smaller pieces or kindling.
People do not use double bits as often as they used to. They are somewhat awkward to carry safely and two heads mean that you are toting around a lot of extra weight. There are plenty of companies that make them but they are definitely harder to find than other types of axe so if you want one, chances are you are going to be ordering it unless you have a really good logging supply store somewhere nearby.
Large Viking style axes are popular but mostly designed for self-defense in mind. They are also used by reenactors. They can be quite pretty to look at too. If you want a decorative axe, the Nordic style is one to consider. Handle lengths can vary a lot so be sure to double-check descriptions.
There are quite a few variations of the Nordic axe. The axe below is a battle axe but there are other designs that are meant to be more utilitarian but could also be formidable in any self-defense situation.
The Cold Steel Battle Axe is a classic design made for defense. The 30″ straight grain Hickory handle offers a good reach. The head is high strength carbon steel.
There is a reason why the tomahawk is such a popular axe design. It is useful for a variety of tasks out in the bush and can even be used to dress some game if care is taken. A lot of people enjoy throwing hawks for sport. The throwing style hawks often have a spike on one side rather than a flatter head that can be used for hammering. Check out my article on tomahawks for more details and a list of tomahawks that you should consider.
I am featuring the CRKT Chogan here because I like the overall simplicity and dual functionality of the design. You get a solid classic tomahawk blade combined with a hammerhead on the other side. This is a superior design in my opinion. I would much rather have a hammer had on the other side than a sharp pick point as I have seen on some other hawks. To me, the pick on the side of some hawks is not worth the safety risk and not something that will be as useful to me as a hammerhead.
Talk about a rare axe. These axes were once quite popular with those in the construction industry. They were used for splitting shingles and nailing them down. Since very few people use wood shingles anymore, this style of hammer is not seen as much.
I know I have put a lot of Estwing axes in this article but they are one of the few quality manufacturers out there that still make some of the rarer and harder to find specialty axes. One side is a half hatchet head that is useful for splitting or trimming wood shingles. The other side features a milled face hammerhead.
This is basically an adze on one side and a pick on the other. It is a popular tool because of it’s versatility. For some people, it may be better than the cutter mattock that we talked about previously. You may also realize that it is good to have both on hand so that you can cut through roots and bust up rocks with greater ease.
This is a pretty basic pick mattock design. A lot of mattocks have a plastic part on the end to help ensure that the head stays on well and it also adds some strength to the handle.
These are designed to be multi-purpose axes for those that get out in the bush and hunt or camp out with regularity. You can utilize a hunter’s axe for retrieving firewood or dressing medium to large game.
This small axe is lightweight but can take on some good sized tasks. From cutting down small saplings to splitting some kindling or helping out with field dressing some game, this is a nice little axe at a good price.
Axe throwing is more popular than you might think. If you have a backyard space or similar you can set up some targets and have a lot of fun. Throwing axes are made to go the distance so to speak. While they can be used for other purposes, it is important to keep in mind that throwing is their primary design.
Remember that axes can go quite a long ways so be sure that you take good precautions when setting up your target and practice area.
SOG has a good reputation among Backdoor Survival readers. This Seattle based company makes a big range of tactical gear. This throwing axe is also useful for small splitting and chopping tasks. At 23.1 oz, this is a lightweight addition to any bug out bag. The spike on the end can be used to pierce when needed and is pretty standard issue on a throwing hawk.
While this is considered an axe, it is often used more like a hoe for gardening and breaking up soil and roots. You can get an adze with a handle as long as a standard garden hoe.
I was surprised to find out how much a true adze costs. I can see why a lot of people just use standard hoes or get a mattock that has an adze style head on one side. While I found a few lower-cost adze, most were in the $100 range. The one below is from the same company I got our small garden tools from.
We have this same tool except with a cultivator on the other side. This adze is a very good buy for the money. It is made in Taiwan. Our tool feels solid in the hand and has a very comfortable cushioned grip. I was impressed with the quality and heft of the steel and I respected that they actually sent it out already sharpened. Be careful about that. Most tools don’t come this sharp.
The blade is 5.5 inches long and the handle is just 14″ making it a nice little hand tool for gardening.
Some adze are made with a scooped design that makes them useful for shaping wood, particularly hollowing out sections. If you like to carve or work with wood then this may be appealing but for most people, it is a bit too specific to be worth keeping around.
Axes are sharp and have a lot of heft to them meaning they can cause severe injuries or even death if used a certain way. Make sure to take your time when learning how to use different types of axes. Wearing safety glasses when using an axe is recommended because slivers of wood or metal from splitting wedges can shear off.
Always wear good shoes. A tough leather boot or similar is best. Axes can bounce and if you work with wood much you are going to drop a piece on your foot at some point.
Make sure that the area around you is clear when swinging too. Dogs, cats, and small children may not know that they need to stay back, especially if axe use is a new occurrence in a household.
Our old Great Pyrenees, Ruby Pearl, knows that axes are dangerous but if Matt is gone somewhere and I try to split firewood she will get between me and the piece of wood and bounce around. For some reason, she doesn’t think I should be allowed to split firewood if he is gone. I would say it was a coincidence but it has happened several times and she doesn’t do it any other time. Dogs can show love in strange ways sometimes!
The axe is an incredibly useful tool. If you are a prepper then you should consider at least owning a small hatchet. Those that plan on farming or homesteading might discover that they need 5 or more of the various types of axes featured in this article. Choose wisely and do not buy cheap tools. I speak from experience that you will regret it and it will cost you more time and money in the long run.
Wood axe handles can be very nice to use and they are beautiful but they tend to wear out a bit faster than fiberglass. That doesn’t mean they won’t last for a very long time if you take care of them and keep them protected from excessive moisture. It doesn’t hurt to keep a spare handle around just in case, especially if you are prepping for a bug in during an SHTF situation.
Some axes may be harder to find than others due to low demand. Splitting mauls, hatchets, tomahawks, and felling axes are usually very easy to find at brick and mortar and online stores alike.
What is your favorite style of axe? Do you have a brand that you highly recommend? For more axe and hatchet recommendations, check out this post.