Mankind has a strong connection with the tools that helped bring civilization within reach. The fact that we still use these same tools is a testament to that special bond. Axes have been around for untold millennia, yet their basic design has remained unchanged. Aside from serving as the go-to tool for cutting, chopping and splitting, axes and axe-like tools were used as weapons of war and we harbour this drive for throwing hatchets to this day.
Keep all this in mind when you look for axes that suit your needs. These needs can be different because people use them on many fronts: to fell or split wood, to clean up their own property, to clear forests, to play games, etc. There is no perfect axe, there is only the axe that will do the job you want to be done. They are, in essence, multipurpose. You can’t make a mistake as long as you don’t use an axe for something it really isn’t supposed to be used for. For example, using it as a hammer can potentially ruin it and you can also get hurt in the process.
Wood Cutting Axe
Splitting axes are the best tool to handle tough Australian hardwood. Usually, these pieces have an extra-long handle of up to 800 mm to reduce the strain while chopping wood. Be careful, because handles that are too long for your physique can affect your precision. Such axe is up against the fuel-powered chainsaw, however, it holds its ground with remarkable resilience. Chainsaws require regular maintenance and are less safe. A high-quality axe can be hastily thrown into a ute along with your working clothes and of you go. It can’t get simpler than that.
This is where the versatility of hatchets as universal utility tools plays an important role. Sooner or later, you’re bound to need an axe for completing technical tasks on your workbench. That being said, if you’re in the process of equipping your garden shed with essential pieces of workshop gear then getting a good axe is a must.
Having an easily portable and water-resistant axe in your backpack or car can be very handy during a camping trip. You can use it to clear your intended camping ground, and once your camp has been set, you can prepare your woodpile for the night ahead. If you are into glamping or RVing, a steel blade axe would provide the needed fuel for your wood stove in a minute. If you are into survival, then you already know that many survivalists include multipurpose axes in their grab bags. These hatchets are usually with fibreglass handles and house an extra survival item (like a Ferro rod, a lanyard, a signalling device or similar).
If only those generations that used to axe their way through the outback could catch a glimpse of our youth throwing axes for fun! What would they possibly make of it? While competitive axe-throwing is still developing down under, one can’t miss the emergence of establishments offering axe games for leisure. These hatchets have an entirely different build as they are not meant to chop wood, but rather hit a designated spot on a wooden pallet attached to the wall. Their ends are sharper to stick to the wood, compared to the regular ones that are made to split it in two.
What to Look for in an Axe
If you take into account all the advice I shared with you above, you won’t have a problem finding an axe that meets your needs. Traditionally, a great deal of care was vested in making bushcraft gear. The choices were limited to wood for the handle and cast metal for the blade. Marks of great craftmanship were valued: the wood grain on a handle should run vertically and at the knob should have narrowly spaced growth rings.
Nowadays, you can easily find hatchets that are completely wood-free. Their handles are made of fibreglass and the blades are made from stainless steel. And if that is not the case, then the axes are treated with all sorts of protective coats that were simply not available in the past. It all comes down to your preferences.
The design experienced some changes too. The North American indigenous tomahawk has a double-bit for a reason – it contributes to a more balanced swing and versatility. The throwing hatchets of today are yet to catch on to the physics of double-bit axes. Chopping trees is definitely best done with a single bit axe. Even those that do have two bits on each side have blades with different degree of sharpness. The razor-sharp end is for felling trees, while the duller end is for limbing an already fallen tree. One would think that an axe head with a bigger weight is more efficient to use, however, the loss of precision during tree splitting proves otherwise.