Handle design helps maintain a firm grip. Longer handle and heavier head weight give it more power per strike.
May be too heavy and long for smaller users.
Axe head has well-designed shape. Good overall balance. Edge sharpens well. Works best for splitting and felling small trees.
Varnish must be removed from head and handle upon arrival.
Holds a decent edge, even after heavy use. Sharpens well. Short enough length for smaller users.
Needs sharpening upon arrival. Blade chips easily.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
You would think that choosing the best axe would be simple, but when you start thinking about length, head style, handle material, and so on, the task becomes a bit more daunting.
The recommendations for the top five axes, above, stem from our independent research. Each choice delivers an excellent value. For more detail about what makes a top tool, please read the following axe review.
For centuries, folks have been using long-handled axes to chop firewood and shorter axes for trimming branches and cutting kindling. Mention an axe, and most people probably think of this general-purpose tool. But in fact there are numerous different axe types:
Hatchets (also called camping axes)
Splitting axes and mauls
Hudson Bay axes (also called 3/4 axes)
In this article, we focus on general-purpose axes, but if you're looking for something specialized, there are a wide variety of solutions available.
There are two features to scrutinize when choosing an axe: the head and the handle. First, we’ll take a look at the head.
Manufacturers like to say how sharp their axe blade is (the cutting part is actually called a "bit"), and how well it keeps an edge. However, the actual profile of the head is at least as important, if not more so.
A thin blade is great for cutting, but it could get stuck when you're trying to split a log – especially if it's green (freshly cut).
A wide-angle blade isn't as sharp, but it forces the fibers of wood apart for more efficient splitting.
Tree-felling axes have thinner blades. Dedicated splitting axes have thick blades (much like a splitting wedge). Similarly, the back is often designed to be hit with a sledge hammer if it does get stuck.
Most general-purpose axe heads strike a happy medium, but if you do a lot of one particular type of work, it's worth finding an axe head that suits you.
There are two considerations for the axe handle: length and material.
A hatchet is probably the shortest axe. Designed for one-handed use, hatchets tend to be only 10 or 11 inches long. At the other end of the scale, there are axe handles that are 38 inches long. You’ll find many axes with handle lengths in between these two extremes, as well.
A long handle gives you more chopping or splitting power because you get more leverage. However, longer is not always better.
Sometimes you want something small and light to cut kindling, take camping, and so on.
If you often work with undergrowth, you probably don't have room to swing a long handle.
If you're less than average height, a long handle will be uncomfortable and inefficient.
Think about what you need your axe for. Many people end up with both a small hand axe and a general-purpose axe with a longer handle.
Hickory: Traditional axe handles are made of hickory. The material is strong, not too heavy, and has a degree of flex. If you take care of a hickory-handle axe, it can last for years. If the handle is neglected or abused, however, it could split or otherwise deteriorate.
Fiberglass and composites: Fiberglass was the first modern axe handle material to become popular. It's comparatively light, strong, and unaffected by dampness. A number of other composites have improved on these benefits. They can be incredibly durable.
Steel: Steel handles, forged as part of the axe head, are extremely strong and offer immense durability. Because chopping with a steel handle can transmit unpleasant vibrations, some manufacturers fit the tool with rubber or leather grips to absorb the shock.
What an axe handle is made of has very little impact on the price, so it's largely a question of personal preference. For some, there's nothing like the feel and response of hickory. Others prefer the durability of fiberglass, composites, or steel.
You could argue that weight and balance are other issues to consider when choosing an axe.
Head weight can be a benefit when splitting logs (it imparts more force), but technique also has a lot to do with it. You need something you can swing comfortably; this may or may not be the heaviest head.
As for balance, we found that the majority of axe manufacturers do a good job with this. As long as the handle length is the right, a user can shift his grip a little and soon get the feel of the tool.
Q. Is it possible to repair a damaged axe handle?
A. Traditional hickory/hardwood axe handles can be bound with cord and sealed with wood glue. Several websites offer instructions on how to do this. However, it takes time and patience, and there is always going to be a weakness. With new hickory handles available for just a few dollars, is a repair worth the effort? That’s up to you. But with modern handles, it may be easier to replace than to repair.
Q. Does an axe need any special care?
A. Often, a quick wipe after use is enough. If the axe is dirty, warm water and dish detergent do a good job. If you've been cutting sappy wood, you might need some white spirit or paint thinner. Give the head a light coat of oil to keep rust away, and store your axe somewhere dry.
Q. Is a wedge or log grenade easier for splitting than using an axe?
A. These alternatives can be very successful in twisted or knotty wood and with large trunks, but they aren't designed for general splitting – an axe is much faster. On the whole, an axe is a far more versatile tool. After all, you can't cut down a tree with a wedge!