Holds its edge extremely well. Easily sharpens. Wood handle is carefully crafted with a straight grain.
Because they're handmade, some customers have received one with an off-center head.
Lightweight with good balance. Straight, clean cuts. Comes with a lifetime warranty.
Plastic handle doesn't hold up as well as metal or solid wood.
Steel holds its edge well and sharpens easily.
Leather handle comes with varnish on it that requires special care.
Compact and lightweight enough to keep in a truck or take backpacking. Holds edge well.
Hollow handle may break under heavy use.
A good hatchet is a versatile tool with many uses around the garden and in the great outdoors. No campsite should be without one.
But which hatchet to choose? When you're looking to buy a hatchet, you'll find a surprising variety.
The hatchets we recommend offer a number of advantages depending on your budget. We also put together a hatchet shopping guide to further explain the features of these handy tools.
We researched several factors you should consider when it comes to choosing the best hatchet for your needs: head, shaft, weight, and length.
There's no right answer here. Length depends on how you'll use your hatchet most of the time.
Longer gives you more leverage.
Longer gives you more power.
Shorter gives you more control. (You can always grip a long handle closer to the head, and some hatchets are specifically designed to allow for this.)
Shorter is easier to carry and pack with your gear.
All hatchet heads are made of steel, but not all steel is the same. Manufacturer's like to quote "carbon steel" as a benefit, but all steel is an alloy of carbon and iron, so it isn't telling you much. "Tool grade" also means little without a specific type.
Likewise, "forged stainless steel" looks good (and doesn't rust), but it isn't necessarily better at cutting. You'll also see descriptions with the letters CR and MoV. These also denote stainless steel.
Blade coatings might sound impressive, but they are largely for the sake of appearance.
None of these things should be taken as negatives. They’re all perfectly acceptable; it's just that the descriptions don't give you many specifics.
Some types of steel carry a number. The higher the number, the more carbon.
Many edge tools use 1070 steel.
Knives use 1095 steel. It’s harder and produces a sharper edge, but it’s more brittle and more prone to damage.
"Hand-forged" is usually an indicator of superior quality. The process is labor intensive, and thus these tools are expensive.
Shafts can be wooden, fiberglass, steel, or composite.
Single-Piece Hatchets: Some hatchets are forged as a single piece of steel, then the shaft is wrapped in leather or fitted with a rubber handle.
These hatchets are almost impossible to break.
Some people don't like the lack of flex when cutting.
Rubber offers good grip in all conditions.
Leather feels good but wears easily. To counteract this, leather handles have a thick layer of polyurethane. It's protective, but takes away that leather feel.
Two-Piece Hatchets: These hatchets come in several forms. Traditionally, the shaft was inserted through the head. On modern hatchets, it's frequently the other way around.
Sometimes the head has a long tang that is inserted into the shaft. The connection isn’t important as long as the head is secure.
Hardwood shafts have been around forever and remain popular. They offer good grip and good feel, and they last if looked after. They're not as strong as modern materials, but they’re cheap and easy to replace.
Fiberglass was the first of the "newer" materials to be introduced. It is light and strong, and it will last forever. However, while it doesn’t happen often, it can shatter. Fiberglass handles often can't be replaced, which means buying a new hatchet.
Composite shafts can be extremely tough, durable and lightweight. Some have been criticized as prone to breakage. It's a good idea to check customer feedback online before you buy. Like fiberglass shafts, composite shafts can’t be replaced.
A hatchet that's too heavy is difficult to use with one hand. Conversely, if it's too light, you'll struggle to get decent impact when trying to fell small trees or split logs.
Survival specialists recommend a "sweet spot" around one or one and a half pounds, though a couple ounces one way or the other won't have much effect.
A good hatchet remains a basic tool, so you don't get much by way of extras or features.
A sheath for the head is a must-have, so the hatchet won't cut you or your gear. And belt loops are a handy addition.
Hatchet prices range from under $30 to more than $150.
You can get a reasonable cheap hatchet for under $30. They're not the best tool in the woods, but they’re fine for occasional use.
At the other end of the scale are beautiful, high-quality, hand-forged hatchets that go for $150 or more.
If the great outdoors is where you spend a lot of your time, a good hatchet is worth the investment.
Q. Does my hatchet require any maintenance?
A. Hatchets often get little care, but looking after one properly only takes a few minutes. If it's dirty, give it a quick wash with dish detergent and warm water. Tough residue like sap can be removed with mineral spirits. Give the head a light coat of oil to prevent rust. Gun oil or spray lubricant are popular. If the handle is wood, it may have a tough protective coating. If that gets scratched or chipped, or if the handle is bare wood, use a rag to give it a coat of boiled linseed oil or other protective wood oil.
Q. What's the difference between a hatchet and an axe?
A. Strictly speaking, a hatchet is just a small axe (some even call it a camp axe), but it's generally accepted that a hatchet is a one-handed tool, while an axe requires the use of both hands. Historically, the hatchet was also a weapon – the tomahawk.
Q. Blade thickness seems to vary. Is this important?
A. It's nice to have some weight in the head because this generates energy when you chop. On the other hand, a thick blade doesn't cut as easily as a narrow one. With a full-size woodchopping axe, this isn't so important because you're generating lots of momentum. With a hatchet, a sharp edge (called the “bit”) is vital. The wider the angle, the more force required, so the best hatchets have a relatively slim profile.
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