Axes vs Hatchets

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If you call a hand axe a hatchet, most people will know what you’re talking about.

A few grognard-types will grumble about it though, much as if you called a gun’s magazine a clip,

Interesting note: There is such a thing as a clipazine!

But there is a real difference between hatchets and small axes.

It’s not academic either. This difference means disaster if you use an axe like a hatchet!

So, what is that difference?

And why should you care?

The Differences Between an Axe and a Hatchet

Gary Paulsen Hatchet survival story novel not an axe or a tool its a book
No, not this type of hatchet!

Axes and hatchets are very similar.

In fact, hatchets are one of the many types of axes.

But, just as you wouldn’t use a firefighter’s axe to hew a log, hatchets have differences which hold them apart from other axes.

There are two ways to differentiate an axe from a hatchet, though one of them is rather small:

  • The size
  • The butt

Let’s look at those in detail.

Axes vs Hatchets: Size

Most axes are large, two-hand tools. Splitting axes can have handles up to 36″ long and forest axes, often used for bushcrafting, can have handles 20″ long or shorter.

Hatchets, however, are one-handed tools. Their length maxes out at 18″ and can often be as short as around 12″, such as on the Estwing Sportsman.

You’d be excused for thinking that all one-handed axes are hatchets, but that’s not the case.

One-handed axes without the next difference are merely hand axes.

Helko Werk Germany Expedition felling axe splitting hand axe size differences

Axes vs Hatchets: Butts

The main feature which separates hatchets from all other axes is the hammer head opposite the blade.

Most axes have a butt, also called a poll.

It’s flat and seems perfectly capable of driving a nail into wood.

But most axes have non-hardened steel for their poll and eye, so hammering tasks will deform the axe and cause permanent damage!

Hatchets, however, have a hardened poll and are designed for repeated strikes irrespective of direction.

Anatomy of an Axe

Axes, though basically a hunk of wedge-shaped metal, have multiple named parts.

Some of them overlap; for example, the toe, heel, edge, and bevel are all part of the bit. Part of the cheek, too.

The metal part of an axe is its head. Head + handle = axe.

Axe and Hatchet Anatomy Parts Chart Similarities Differences Labeled

  • Bit – The front part of the axe, which gets driven into the wood
  • Edge – The sharpened cutting part of the blade
  • Bevel – An angled continuation of the edge which stops at the cheeks
  • Toe – The top corner of the blade
  • Heel – The bottom corner of the blade
  • Beard – The part of the bit that extends below the neck
  • Cheek – The sides of the axe head, thin for chopping and thick for splitting
  • Eye – Where the axe head thins and goes around the handle
  • Wedge – A piece of metal or wood inserted into the top of the handle to apply lateral pressure and affix it to the axe head
  • Neck – The bottom of the axe head where it meets the handle
  • Butt/Poll – The opposite of the axe head from the bit

Anatomy of a Hatchet

Anatomically, hatchets are very similar to axes, so there’s no reason to list everything again.

Estwing Sportsmans Axe Hatchet metal handle hardened steel butt poll
Also, hatchets sometimes have metal handles, which removes the deforming-eye problem entirely

There is one major difference:

The poll and eye are hardened.

Wood has springiness so the axe head isn’t shocked as hard when striking wood.

Metal, however, is less elastic, so the axe head experiences more force upon impact. This can deform the soft steel eyes found on most axes.

Hatchets, because they are half hammer, are designed with hardened steel eyes and polls.

They won’t deform when hammering nails.

When to Use an Axe

Unless you’re using a mattock or pickaxe, axes are for working with wood and never metal.

Felling axes are used for cutting down trees.

Splitting axes are used to split logs for firewood.

Carpenter’s axes, such as broadaxes, are for shaping wood.

Forest axes are good for bushcrafting, where you need a small two-handed axe for felling, limbing, hewing, and splitting.

The use depends on the specific axe, but it all deals with wood.

When to Use a Hatchet

Hatchets, however, are a more general-use tool which can handle all sorts of camp tasks.

You can use them to fell, limb, hew, and split wood. Though, they won’t be as efficient at this task as larger axes.

But that’s not all.

hatchet hand axe good for making camp splitting wood and other bushcrafting skills

Hatchets are much more dexterous than other axes, so they can handle finer jobs.

This means you can also use a hatchet to fulfill many knife tasks, such as carving sticks or preparing game meat.

Also, you can use a hatchet to chop through hard ice to get to fresh water.

Plus, one-handed axes like hatchets make for better self-defense weapons against aggressive animals than a much-shorter survival knife.

Finally, you can use a hatchet like a hammer.

Need to push tent pegs into the hard ground? That’s an ideal job for hatchets!

A hatchet’s poll won’t last as long as your normal carpenter’s hammer but it’ll get the job done in the woods.

Just make sure to sheath the axe first!

You don’t want to accidentally catch yourself with a bare blade.

If you do, then you can follow these tips to deal with a wound in the wild.


Hatchets are a type of axe.

They are smaller and designed for one-handed use.

Though they may be a specialty axe, they may be the most multi-purpose of all axes because a hatchet can:Schrade SCAXE10 stainless survival everyday bushcraft camp hatchet

  • Chop
  • Hew
  • Split
  • Carve
  • Hammer

and more!

They are an overall great camp tool, albeit not the best at going through a lot of wood.

Unless you really need that workout.


Is a hatchet a good survival tool?

Hatchets are excellent survival tools because of their small size and versatility.

You will have a bad time if you try hammering or chopping down a tree with a knife!

However, like all axes, hatchets aren’t the best choice everywhere. It depends on your environment.

If you need to clear brush more than you need to chop wood, then a machete might be a better choice.

What’s the difference between an axe and a tomahawk?

Much like hatchets, tomahawks are a specialized type of axe.

Tomahawks are weapons first and woodworking tools second. They are very lightweight, which is good for throwing but not good for chopping or splitting.

Some tomahawks can still take the place of a hatchet, such as the Cold Steel Rifleman’s Hawk with its hammer poll, but it won’t be that great at turning trees into firewood.

I have one of those. Its thin cheeks get it nice and stuck in logs.

Can you chop wood with a hatchet?

You can chop wood with a hatchet.

I wouldn’t want to take down even a moderately sized tree with a hatchet, though.

The short handle means you don’t get much leverage, so it won’t bite nearly as deeply with each swing as you would with a felling axe.

But, in a survival situation, you’ll be able to get the job done with a hatchet!

What size is a hatchet?

Hatchets are one-handed with a head that weighs about 1 to 2.5 pounds.

Their handle is between 12″ and 18″ long.

Longer, heavier hatchets will be able to work harder with less effort at an obvious cost:
They weigh more and will slow down your hiking!

Do you need both a hatchet and a knife?

There are arguments for all sides of this question.

Some people think you only need one blade. Even that camp is split between people who think you need just a hatchet and those who think you need just a knife.


I prefer having both a hatchet and a knife.

Sure, a good hatchet can do everything a knife can do. But you should always have an EDC knife at the very least.

Two is one, one is none. And these tools aren’t too heavy.

Plus, if you have both, then you can turn your knife into a hunting spear without worrying about losing your last cutting tool!

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