Best Bushcraft Axe

Best Bushcraft Axes

If you live in a woody region, such most of the United States, then your outdoor trips will greatly benefit from carrying an axe.

Usable for more than cutting down trees and splitting firewood, a good and well-sharpened axe can be used to assemble shelter or procure food.

However, there are many different axes out there, and not all are good for treks into the brush.

Worse still, department store axes are often made from low-quality metal.

They can break in the field and leave you stranded or even injured!

How, then, do you know how to choose which axe to use for camping, backpacking, or bushcrafting?

Two words: Scandinavian steel.

I’ll expand more on that later. For now, let’s look at why you’d want to carry an axe in the first place.

Uses for an Axe

Estwing sportsmand camp hand hatchet light camping tasks
11. Taking artsy pictures for your Instagram

Nearly everyone knows you can use an axe to do two things:

  1. Chop down a tree (called “felling”)
  2. Split firewood

But did you know you can do so much more with an axe?

Here are some more uses:

  1. Limb clearing, to make space for camp, clear potential dangerous around a tree you need to fell, or in preparation for chopping logs
  2. Chopping logs into sections before splitting
  3. Processing game for meat (make sure to preserve the meat properly afterward)
  4. Hammering tent pegs
  5. Throwing the axe for recreation (I wouldn’t do this in a survival situation, though)
  6. Preparing kindling for the campfire
  7. Lighting the fire (the “steel” part of “flint and steel”)
  8. Cutting ice to get to fresh water
  9. Carving an axe handle (even if your current handle is broken. I told you not to throw your axe when you need it to survive!)
  10. And yes, they make halfway-decent self-defense weapons. Just ask the Vikings. Just don’t carry them in public for this purpose. Check out these other alternatives instead.

Types of Axes

Council Tool Hatchet and Husqvarna Multipurpose Boys Axe Comparison Resized
A Council Tool hatchet in front of a Husqvarna Multipurpose axe, both dexterous tools for bushcrafting

 

There are many different tools you can call an axe. Some are specialized and others are multi-purpose.

We’re interested in the types of axes used for bushcrafting, so construction tools such as broad and carpenter’s axes won’t be defined here.

Hatchet

Council Tool Velvicut Hudson Bay Hatchet 14" camp tool hand ax
A 14″ Council Tool hatchet defying gravity, as you do

A hatchet is a short axe with a handle 18″ long or shorter. Their head weighs about 1 or 1.5 pounds.

They are designed for one-handed use, often for both light chopping and splitting purposes as well as general camp chores such as hammering tent pegs.

Hatchets often have a hammerhead on the poll, which purists would argue means they’re not an axe.

If there’s no broad, flat area with which to strike tent pegs, then you’ve got a hand axe, not a hatchet.

Felling Axe

Also called a cutting axe, these axes are designed to chop into wood across the grain. They have thin cheeks to bite deeply and a lighter head for a faster chopping speed.

So, felling axes are good for chopping trees down as well as cutting up logs. The thinner head makes them worse at splitting apart logs.

Felling axes often have a handle that’s 28-32″ long and a head that weighs 3-3.5 pounds.

Splitting Axe

Splitting axe chop split firewood winter camp fire wedge shaped blade
Note the widened cheeks on this Helko Werk Saxon Splitting Axe

A splitting axe has a deeper bevel and wider cheeks than a felling axe, so the axe head pushes apart logs as you slice through the grain. A heavier

Some even have specially-designed cheeks which curve out like a wedge.

Continue with this line too far and you get splitting mauls.

Splitting axes have a handle about 32-36″ long and can weigh from 4.5 lbs up to 7 lbs.

Double Bit Axe

Early American woodsmen often spent a long time in the woods.

Helko Werk Hinterland double bit bladed Michigan multipurpose axe
Classic American styling

Why carry more equipment than necessary?

So, they took the felling axe and splitting axe and combined them into a double-headed axe.

Sometimes called a Michigan axe, a double bit axe may be a bit heavier and more awkward to carry than a single axe but you save a lot of weight and space over two axes. But since they replace two full-size axes with a full-size 36″ handle and double-size head, they’re not the best for bushcrafting.

 

Limbing Axe

Anybody who’s worked in the woods knows that tree limbs love to get in the way. That’s why the type of axe designed to clear limbs is smaller and easier to use than a cutting axe.

Limbing axes are often a foot shorter than felling axes, at 24″ long, and have a head that weighs 2 pounds.

Boy’s Axe

If a limbing axe is 2/3rd the size of most chopping axes, then a boy’s axe is 3/4th the size of your average felling axe.

A boy’s axe handle is normally 28″ long and the head weighs 2.25-2.5 pounds. The head profile is often halfway between cutting and splitting axe profiles.

These may be smaller than an “adult” axe but they are still very capable while saving weight.

Husqvarna multipurpose Hultafors boys axe for bushcrafting inexpensive
My first non-vintage axe, the “Husqvarna” Multipurpose Axe is a boy’s style axe made by Hultafors. It lives in my truck and has gone through much wood, but I chose not to include it as one of the best axes because of quality control issues: the logo stamp created a weak point in the blade. The current ones supposedly don’t have this weak spot so it’s still a good budget axe, but not one of the best.

Forest Axe

Aren’t all axes designed to be used in a forest?

Yes, but forest axes are intended for people exploring the woods on foot who may need to process some wood rather than professionals who need the best tools and can deal with bulk.

Forest axes, therefore, have short handles of 19″ to 24″ with a relatively heavy multipurpose head, typically weighing more than 2.5 lbs.

This makes them compact yet still capable of cutting down a tree.

Tomahawks vs Axes

CRKT Woods Chogan Tomahawk hand axe throwing weapon suitable for chopping wood
CRKT and Cold Steel ‘hawks are pretty good, though just not as useful at camp tasks as is your standard hatchet

Tomahawks are one-handed axes, sometimes with a hammerhead. Why not use one of those as a bushcrafting axe?

Well, tomahawks are weapons foremost and tools second.

The problem lies in the tomahawk’s head. It’s lighter, with much thinner cheeks. Thinner even than the thinnest cutting axe; the two sides are typically parallel until the metal reaches the eye.

You lose cutting potential because they lack too much weight and, oh boy, you lose so much splitting ability as well.

Good luck using a tomahawk to split logs. The blade doesn’t push the halves apart so the whole thing gets stuck in the grain!

That said, tomahawks are good for carving, processing meat, and throwing, so it’s not a bad idea to carry one with you anyway.

Don’t even think about “tactical” tomahawks such as the ones made by SOG, though. I like SOG, especially the SEAL Pup Elite, but those ‘hawks are for mall ninjas, not outdoorsmen!

What to Look for

Now that you know the different types of axes, let’s figure out which one will work best for you.

Each axe out there has different qualities. Let’s look at those qualities so you can make an informed decision on the type of axe you need.

Head Weight

The head’s weight has a massive impact on how good the axe is at certain duties.

Can you cut down tree with splitting maul axe head how heavy
A heavy head like on this Gränsfors Bruk splitting maul is good for splitting logs but not for felling trees

Basically, the heavier the head, the harder you can work the tool.

A heavier head will have more oomph behind each strike, which is good for splitting wood.

However, that heavier head is harder to use for more delicate tasks and is also slower when used to chop against the grain.

It’ll also weigh you down as you hike.

Generally, 3 to 3.5 pounds are recommended for optimally chopping down a tree. That should be the top end for a bushcrafting axe, as they won’t see long-term heavy log splitting.

I’d even recommend going a bit lighter. My most-used axe has a 2.5-pound head and I’ve used it for light felling and splitting.

I wouldn’t heat a house all winter long with it, but I’ve used it to make campfires.

Head Profile

The axe’s shape also affects how it can be used. As mentioned in the tomahawk section, really thin cheeks are good for getting the axe stuck in a log.

Too-thick cheeks are only good for splitting and cut down on how well the axe can be used for other tasks.

For bushcrafting, I’d recommend an axe that widens from bit to eye with a bit of curve right before the eye.

Handle Length

Gransfor bruks hand hatchet how long handle length for hatchet axe chopping felling splitting wood
Just a baby, one day this Gränsfors Bruk hand hatchet will grow up into a beautiful axe!

While the head may do the actual work, a long handle lets you swing the axe more efficiently.

The longer the handle, the better the leverage, the deeper the bite with each swing.

But a yard-long handle is extremely awkward in the field, so for bushcrafting, I would recommend a handle 28″ or shorter.

Once you get to 18″ the axe turns into a one-handed tool. You can still use two hands but expect harder tasks, such as felling a tree, to take much longer.

Honestly, this is the most personal choice, as your own body will affect what length works best for you.

If you’re curious, my axe’s handle is 26″ long.

Handle Material

Wood, all the way.

Ash and hickory are the best. Even European axe makers prefer American Hickory.

Those two woods can handle repeated shocks without complaint and feel nice in the hand.

I don’t like polymer handles. They don’t feel as friendly to your skin and if they break, you can’t replace the handle with wood from a tree around you.

Metal handles are generally too heavy for exploring the woods. They can also transmit the reverberations from a strike into your hands.

They have a place with hatchets, where there’s less vibration and the weight doesn’t matter as much, but I still prefer wood.

A good hickory handle coated with linseed oil feels amazing and will survive years of hard work.

Blade material

Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet high carbon Scandinavian best steel for axe blades
I don’t have a specific steel type and number for you because good axes are more about workmanship than factory specifications

Forged Scandinavian steel is the best, followed by vintage American Northeast axes.

The Scandinavian countries have a concept called “everyman’s right,” which is the freedom to roam. Bushcrafting and outdoor exploration are well alive in those countries.

This right to roam has helped keep Scandinavian axe-making traditions alive despite the introduction of chainsaws, so the highest-quality axe heads come from those countries.

Many modern mass-produced axes in the United States are made to a worse standard, with poor tempers and uneven forgings. This leads to a frustrating chopping experience.

Unlike a much-narrower knife blade, you don’t need the fanciest of steels for an axe. Focus on the workmanship, not a specific type of steal.

Best Bushcraft Axes

ModelHead WeightHandle LengthRatingPrice
Gränsfors Bruk Scandinavian Forest Axe2 lbs25"4.6$$$$$

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Hults Bruk Akka1.5 lbs24"4.5$$$$

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Helko Werk Saxon Splitter6.2 lbs31"5$$$$

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Helko Werk Classic Forester2.25 lbs31"4.7$$$$

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Gränsfors Bruk Small Forest Axe1.5 lbs19"4.5$$$$

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Estwing Sportsman Axe1.7 lbs12.5" or 13.5"4.4$

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Gränsfors Bruk Scandinavian Forest Axe – Best Overall Bushcraft AxeGränsfors Bruk Scandinavian Forest Axe excellent axe for bushcrafters camping

Specs

  • Head Weight: 2 lbs
  • Handle Length: 25″
  • Handle Material: American Hickory

See full specs

Overview

Gränsfors Bruk is, flat out, the top axe manufacturer around today.Gränsfors Bruk Scandinavian Forest Axe ax head bit blade close up hand forged steel

Around for over 100 years, Gränsfors Bruk’s employees hand forge each axe in a village in Gränsfors, Sweden. Everything from forging to fitting the handles is done in their shop.

And what axes they are! Their Scandinavian Forest Axe, model #430, is an excellent jack-of-all-trades axe that can clear the area around a tree, fell it, limb it, chop it into logs, then split the logs for firewood.

It’s somewhat compact, with a 25″ handle, and is quite lightweight, with a 2-pound head and 2.6-pound overall weight.

The forged head looks rustic and badass, and you can clearly see the temper line so you know how far you can safely sharpen the edge.

ProsGränsfors Bruk Scandinavian Forest Axe leather blade mask sheath holster strap

  • Compact and lightweight
  • Good for all tasks
  • Very well made

Cons

  • Not as good in each role as specialized axes

Recommendation

If you want one axe to do everything everywhere then Gränsfors Bruk’s Scandinavian Forest Axe is the best choice for you.

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Hults Bruk Akka – Best Camping AxeHults Bruk Akka axe for clearing camp site preparing fire

Specs

  • Head Weight: 1.5 lbs
  • Handle Length: 24″
  • Handle Material: American Hickory

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Overview

Hults Bruk is the other old, great Swedish axe manufacturer. Their foundry has been used continuously since 1697!

The Hults Bruk Akka is a forester’s axe with some design elements good for camp chores and downtime.

It has a 1.5-pound head atop a 24″ hickory handle for a combined weight of 2.2 pounds, which makes it great for hiking to and from your campsite.

Once you’re there, it can easily process wood. What makes it so good for camping, though, is a finger notch so you can easily choke up on the handle for fine carving.Hults Bruk Akka leather sheath protects axe American hickory handle

Pros

  • Better for carving than other axes of this size
  • Lightweight and travels easily

Cons

  • The lightweight head may not be suitable for felling medium-sized or larger trees

Recommendation

If you want an axe which can handle clearing a campsite and other camp chores but don’t want to be constrained by the small size of a hatchet, the Hults Bruk Akka is the best axe for you.

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Helko Werk Saxon Splitter – Best Axe for Splitting WoodHelko Werk Saxon Splitter splitting logs into firewood inna woods overstrike protection collar

Specs

  • Head Weight: 6.2 lbs
  • Handle Length: 31″
  • Handle Material: American Hickory

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Overview

The Helko Werk Saxon Splitter is a German-made splitting axe with an American Hickory handle made in Switzerland.

Each piece is hand-forged with excellent workmanship to a Rockwell hardness of 52-56 HRC.

The axe head has a wedge shape to it that gets thicker right before the eye, which very efficiently pushes the logs apart.

If you’ve ever split logs before then you know how easy it is to damage the handle right below the head. The Saxon Splitter has a steel plate installed there as overstrike protection.

Not only is the Saxon Splitter great as a splitting axe but it does this while remaining relatively lightweight and portable.Helko Werk Saxon Splitter wedge shaped blade and long handle for powerful strikes

Pros

  • Lightweight for a splitting axe without losing effectiveness
  • Steel overstrike protector

Cons

  • Too heavy for fine tasks

Recommendation

If you need a purpose-built splitting axe for multi-day trips into the forest (or just at home!), then the Helko Werk Saxon Splitter is a great choice. Though, I would say it works best if you have a partner to carry a felling axe, such as the…

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Helko Werk Classic Forester – Best Axe for Chopping Wood and Felling TreesHelko Werk Classic Forester axe for felling chopping down tree fast

Specs

  • Head Weight: 2.25 lbs
  • Handle Length: 31″
  • Handle Material: American Hickory

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Overview

Another German-made axe (don’t worry, their stuff is up there with Scandinavian steel), the Classic Forester has a 3.5 bound head atop a 31″ handle.

This gives it the heft and leverage necessary to let you chop down trees without breaking a sweat.

Well, not too much of a sweat.

It even has a polished head, which reduces the amount of friction as the blade bites into the wood.

Polishing also makes the high carbon steel head more resistant to corrosion, so it’s an all-around win.

ProsHelko Werk Classic Forester polished axe head less friction deeper bite into wood

  • Fast and effective cutting
  • Polished head for reduced friction and increased corrosion resistance

Cons

  • Comes with a dull edge
  • Poor choice for splitting

Recommendation

The perfect companion to the Saxon Splitter, the Classic Forester axe is the perfect choice when you want a felling axe without worrying about splitting capability.

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Gränsfors Bruk Small Forest Axe – Best Axe for BackpackingGransfor Bruk Small Forest Axe best compact portable bushcrafting axe

Specs

  • Head Weight: 1.5 lbs
  • Handle Length: 19″
  • Handle Material: American Hickory

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Overview

Remember the best overall bushcrafting axe, the Gränsfors Bruk Scandinavian Forest Axe?

What if you want something even more compact and portable?

Then you want the Gränsfors Bruk Small Forest Axe. It weighs 2 pounds because of its 1.5-pound head and 19″ handle. Any shorter and it’d be a hand axe.

As it is, it fits inside or attached to a backpack without weighing you down.

Despite the small size, this axe has serious chopping power. It can split, too, but only small logs.Gransfor Bruk Small Forest Axe light head lightweight easy to travel small powerful axe

Pros

  • Effective for most camp chores
  • Very compact and lightweight

Cons

  • Unsuitable for felling larger trees or splitting larger logs

Recommendation

Bushcrafters in the woods, on internet forums, and across the world praise the Gränsfors Bruk Small Forest Axe for being a powerful and compact axe.

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Estwing Sportsman Axe – Best Hatchet Under $50Estwing Sportsmans Axe for camping construction cheap inexpensive hatchet

Specs

  • Total Weight: 1.7 lbs
  • Overall Length: 12.5″ or 13.5″
  • Handle Material: Stacked leather over metal

See full specs

Overview

One of the few axes or hatchets you can buy in big departments stores that is worth the money, the Estwing Sportsman’s Axe is a nice looking and effective hatchet.

It’s available in two lengths, 12.5” or 13.5“, though you’ll see them labeled as 12“, 13“, or 14” on various websites. The only difference is a slightly longer handle.

I’d recommend the longer handle for more leverage but it does add some weight, so get the smaller one if you’re saving as many ounces as possible.

The handle is a solid piece of drop-forged metal that’s one piece with the head. Stacked sanded then lacquered leather protects your hands from vibrations while looking handsome.

The metal is hand polished to keep the axe looking nice and functioning without corrosion in the elements.

As it is a hatchet, this axe will have a hard time felling a tree. You can do it though, but be prepared to put in lots of time!Helko Werk Hinterland double bit bladed Michigan multipurpose axe

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Metal and leather handle that won’t break
  • Polished head

Cons

  • The glossy grip can be slippery
  • The straight wedge shape can result in the axe sticking when trying to split logs

Recommendation

Good axes easily cost a lot of money. The Estwing Sportsman’s Axe is a handy little hatchet, capable of most camp tasks, for a lot less money than bigger axes.

Check Price at Cabela’s Check Price at Amazon

Conclusion

Moreso than other tools, I recommend not cheapening out on your axe.

A good axe can make your wilderness trip easier or even save your life by providing firewood.

A bad axe can break and injure you.

The overall best bushcrafting axe is either one of the Forest axes by Gränsfors Bruk. Which one is better for you depends on whether you favor function or portability.

No matter which one you choose, when you hold onto the American Hickory handle and gaze upon the traditionally-forged axe head, you’ll know you made the right choice.

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