Types of Axes

Types of Axes

There are all sorts of axes in the world.

From pickaxes to forest axes, these tools come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

But they aren’t necessarily compatible.

You won’t want to cut down a tree with an ice axe or hew a log with a fireman’s axe.

Interested in learning all of the different types of axes? Look no further!

Whether it’s a tomahawk or an adze, here you’ll learn about every type of axe!

What is an Axe?

Distilled to the simplest form, axes are wedges attached to levers.

That wedge is the axe head while the lever is the handle.

This setup provides a great amount of force focused on a tiny part of whatever you hit. Even with modern power tools, axes are still preferred for many activities.

Big axes allow you to strike forcefully while small ones can be suitable for delicate work. Provided they are properly sharpened, of course.

Axes are split into two categories:

  • Axes as tools
  • Axes as weapons

While some axes can be used for defending yourself, it’s generally better to stick to their relative specialties. Use a dedicated self-defense tool for that!

Now, let’s delve into specific axe types!

Tool Axes

Forestry Axes

These types of axes are for use on wood. Typically, they are used to take a tree and turn it into usable wood.

HatchetEstwing Sportsmans Axe Camping Construction Hatchet Hand Axe

A hatchet is a one-handed axe intended for a variety of tasks in the woods.

Hatchets are good for smaller tasks. They can fell small trees or turn small logs into firewood. They also have a hammer poll so you can hammer tent pegs into the ground.

A hatchet can weigh from about a pound to over 2 pounds and has a handle 18″ or shorter.

Hand Axe

Hand axes are very similar to hatchets but with one major distinction:

No hammer poll.

So, don’t use the back of a hand axe to hammer stuff into the ground unless you want to deform the eye and damage your axe.

Felling AxeHelko Werk Germany Expedition Felling Axe limbing and chopping

These axes are intended to chop across the grain. They have a moderate-to-light head to keep the cheeks thin, so each strike has a good bite depth.

You can also use them to chop up logs and remove tree limbs, though they may be oversized for this task.

Felling axes typically weigh between 3 and 3.5 pounds and have a handle that’s 28″ to 36″ long.

Splitting Axe / Maul

Chopper1 wood splitting axe rotating levers chopping and splitting
A vintage Chopper1 splitting axe

Unlike felling axes, splitting axes are intended to cut into wood with the grain. They have a larger, wider head, and often weigh quite a bit more.

Some have cheeks which flare out.

There is an art to properly using a splitting axe; you can’t just drop the axe into the log and expect it to split the wood!

There are even splitting axes with spring-loaded mechanisms which push the log apart after the strike! They were all vintage for aw hile, but Chopper1 has started production again..

An especially large splitting axe is known as a splitting maul.

Splitting axes have handles from 32-36″ and can weigh 4.5 to 7 pounds, if not more.

Limbing Axe

Swinging an axe takes up a lot of room. It’s dangerous to do so when in dense woods.

Limbing axes are slightly smaller than felling axes, so they are well-sized for clearing away the limbs of other trees which might catch you as you swing.

These axes are also good for clearing away branches from fallen tree trunks, too.

Multipurpose / Boy’s AxeHusqvarna wood handled multipurpose boys axe Swedish Scandinavian steel

Originally called a boy’s axe, multipurpose axes are smaller than felling axes. They have heads designed to fulfill both felling and splitting functions.

These axes are very useful because of their smaller size. I keep one in my pickup truck, where it’s seen some use.

Calling them boy’s axes has fallen out of favor. I know some girls with a mean axe swing. Axes aren’t just for boys.

Multipurpose axes weigh around 2.25 pounds and have a handle about 26-28″ long.

Forest AxeGransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe for bushcrafting

Take the multipurpose axe concept and scale it down even further and you get a forest axe.

These are perfect bushcrafting axes because they are small and portable yet can be used to fell trees and prepare firewood.

Forest axe heads typically weigh around 2.5 pounds and the handle is on the short side, from 19-24″.

Double Bit Axe

Used by professional loggers in the 1800s, double bit axes combine a felling bit with a splitting bit.

Or, they combine a felling bit with a bit meant for chopping through tree roots, which are next to rocks which can damage the blade. That bit is called a grubbing bit.

Construction Axes

Once you’ve got some wood and have saved it from the fire, you can use these axes to turn them into furniture, tools, or anything else that strikes your fancy.

AdzeNarex adze construction woodworking historic hand tool with leather collar

An adze is an axe with a horizontal, not vertical, blade. They also sometimes have a handle which curves inward.

Adzes are used to shape wood. They were often used by shipbuilders, barrel makers, and other woodworkers of yesteryear.

Broad Axe

A broad axe has a wide, thin head with a one-sided edge. They are also used for shaping wood.

Carpenter’s AxeGransfors Bruks Draxe Road Tool Carpenter's Axe one sided blade

These axes are hatchets except meant for woodworking instead of camp tasks, though you can use them for such.

They typically have a notch in the blade by the handle so you can get a higher grip, which allows you more fine control.

Some also have a notch for pulling nails.

Hewing Axe

A hewing axe is a larger broad axe, designed to turn logs into flat lumber.

Mortising Axes

A mortising axe is an alternative to a chisel and mallet for starting the process of creating a 90-degree cut in wood.

Utility Axes

These axes are for use on non-wood targets. Well, mostly.

Crash AxeOff Grid Tools Crash axe emergency survival airplane escape tool

These axes are often stored in airplanes or other vehicles.

The idea is, after a crash, you can use this axe to cut your way through the fuselage and get out of the crashed plane.

They also tend to have other survival tools as well.

Firefighter’s Axe

Larger than a crash axe but with a similar design, firefighter’s axes are designed to break through residential doors quickly.Black Diamond Raven lightweight climbing ice axe

They also have a pick on the back for greater deconstruction versatility and are brightly colored so you can find them in an emergency.

Ice Axe

Also called a climbing pick, an ice axe is thrust into the ice. It holds in place and allows climbers to pull on it so they can ascend to the summit.

Mattock

A mattock is either an adze and an axe or an adze and a pick.

It’s primarily a digging tool, with the adze intended for moving dirt.

If there’s an axe, it’s for chopping through roots. If there’s a pick, it’s for breaking up rocks.

Pickaxe

Pickaxes aren’t true axes, because the axe side isn’t intended for chopping through anything.

Instead, you break rock with the pick side and use the other side for prying.

Weapon Axes

Melee Axes

Need to take out an opponent in melee combat? These axes are for you! Note: this is no longer the medieval era, so I’d recommend one of these other self-defense weapons.

Archer’s AxeArcher's axe medieval battle replica weapon wall hanger steel

These axes were basically hatchets also intended for warfare.

Archers were susceptible to cavalry, so you could use the hammer to put pegs in the ground then sharpen them into anti-horse points with the axe side.

Then, if the enemy got too close, bury the axe in their face.

Battle Axe

Many people think of huge, heavy weapons when they think of battle axes.

In reality, battle axes had smaller blades. This allowed you to concentrate your force on a small area to effectively cut through armor.

Also, lighter blades are less fatiguing to use.Norse Tradesman One Handed Hand Engraved Battle War Axe

Battle axes could be one-handed, two-handed, or even attached to a pole, which turned them into polearms such as a halberd.

Viking Axe

Viking axes, or Dane axes, were the weapon of choice by Vikings.

They served triple duty as weapons of war, family heirlooms, and even as forestry tools if necessary.

Throwing Axes

Do you like throwing your weapon away? If so, these axes are for you!

TomahawkCold Steel Pipe Hawk Tomahawk throwing hawk camping tool Native American

Tomahawks were the one-handed axe of choice by Native American warriors. They became popular amongst the European colonists, too.

Tomahawks could be used as a one-handed melee weapon but they shined when used as a throwing weapon.

In fact, tomahawk throwing competitions still continue today, and you can buy them at outfitter stores such as Cabela’s.

Part of what makes tomahawks such good throwers is because the handle is not permanently attached to the blade.

Lots of force gets transmitted from the blade to the handle upon impact. This floating design lets the handle pop out instead of breaking!

Though you can use a tomahawk as a hatchet, their very-thin cheeks aren’t great for splitting wood.

Hurlbat

A hurlbat is a sort-of metal cudgel with an axe head.

If you don’t get them with the sharp blade at least you’ll bludgeon them from afar!

Conclusion

There are many types of axes and not all are used anymore. Still, if you are interested in using or collecting axes, it’s good to know the differences.

Next time you visit the flea market, you’ll be able to differentiate a broad axe from a hatchet.

You’ll also be able to figure out whether it’s a good idea to keep Grandpa’s axe at home or to use it in the woods.

Your grandfather didn’t leave you an axe? Why not check out these bushcrafting axes and start a tradition of your own?

And, hey. If you happen to see a vintage splitting axe with those levers in the blade, send it my way, would you?

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