Axes may be a super-useful tool, but they’re also capable of causing serious injuries when used the wrong way. To help you stay safe, we’ve pulled together a handy list of axe safety tips. Follow these to reduce the odds of hurting yourself and others nearby.
1. Maintain a safety circle
Even a small obstacle like a small branch can affect your swing. Make sure the area is clear all around and above you. The distance should be a full arm’s length plus two axe lengths in all directions.
2. Wear appropriate clothing
A wayward swing is most likely to head towards your feet so boots with steel caps are advisable. Avoid overly loose, baggy clothes and anything that could get caught up in the swing like a lanyard, scarf, or neckerchief. Gloves are excellent for avoiding blisters and splinters.
3. Don’t swing in the dark
This may sound like a “no-brainer” but chopping in the dark isn’t a good plan. Even using a headtorch can cause an accident by fooling our spatial perception.
4. Never use an axe when tired
This is a common cause of axe accidents, which often happens after a long day of using an axe. It’s tempting to get that last part of the job finished, but this is when mistakes occur. If you’re fatigued, it’s time for tools down – the work will still be there in the morning.
5. Check the axe head
Before using an axe, check that the bit is crack-free without any sort of damage. Make sure the axe head isn’t wiggling and seems secure.
6. Carry axes with the sheath on
Most axes have a sharp blade so it’s important to attach the sheath when you’re walking further than a short distance. Not only does it reduce the chance of cuts, but a sheath will also protect the bit from damage. Find out more about how to carry axes here.
7. Use a sharp axe
Unless you’re splitting wood with a maul, an axe blade should be maintained regularly to keep the blade sharp. Dull axes are dangerous and require a lot more work to get the job done. Keeping the bit sharp is well worth the effort.
8. Check the handle before use
The haft of an axe must absorb a lot of impact force, which makes it prone to damage. Check for cracks, nicks, and any other signs of damage. At the same time, you may want to wipe down the handle to remove any dirt, grease, or moisture.
9. Take care when passing an axe
You may be surprised how many cuts result from passing an axe the wrong way. The safest option is to place the axe against a stump or tree so that the other person can pick it up easily.
Another option is to hold the handle close to the head and point the handle towards the person for them to grab. Make sure the blade points away from both of you.
10. Use an axe for the job it’s meant for
Use axes for the job they’re meant to do and nothing else. A felling axe shouldn’t be used for chopping roots or digging up rocks. Mauls shouldn’t be used to limb trees or buck a log.
11. Use a chopping block when splitting firewood
A chopping block will help protect the axe’s blade when you slice through the wood or miss the target. More importantly, it’ll stop the blade swinging towards your foot or shin. Chopping blocks are essential for wood splitting but remember to place the wood at the back of the block.
12. Use a wide stance when chopping down
Maintaining a wide stance will protect your legs if you miss everything and the axe hurtles towards you. Instead, the axe will swing between your legs.
13. Safely store an axe after use
Leaving an axe lying around or leaning against a wall is a recipe for injury. Around the home, keep it stored in a box or hang it so that it’d blade won’t get damaged or hurt anyone. In the bush, place it in a hollowed log, tree trunk, or swing it into a chopping block.
14. Choose an appropriately weighted axe
Naturally, you need to choose the right type of axe for the job. But you also want to get the weight right. In general, a longer, heavier felling axe will keep you further away from the point of impact, which is safer. However, you need to be able to wield it safely.
A hatchet places your hand closer to the danger zone, but it’s lighter and easier to land accurate blows. Decide which axe is safest for you before buying one.
15. Keep the chopping area clean
Once you’ve chopped up a log, transfer the pieces to a wheelbarrow or somewhere at a distance. Always keep the chopping zone clear.
16. Check logs before chopping
A quick scan of the log you’re about to chop won’t take long but is worth doing. Look for nasty spikes or nails that’ll damage the axe blade and could cause the axe to deflect dangerously.
17. Don’t play with axes
Treat an axe with respect and don’t treat them like a toy. Forget about waving or doing anything with this tool other than what it’s meant for. The only time it is acceptable to throw an axe is in a suitable environment such as a throwing center or a designated area on your property.
18. Avoid uneven surfaces
Chopping firewood on a wobbly or uneven surface increases the odds of getting an injury. The ground you stand on should also be stable.
19. Fell with a partner
High-risk activities like diving and mountain climbing are much safer when done in pairs. Some jobs like felling trees are another time that a partner could save your life. Having two sets of eyes on a falling tree is always better than one.
Taking a few safety precautions will reduce your chance of injuring yourself. It’ll also help keep the axe in top condition. Most of these axe safety tips are common sense, but they’re easy to forget when you’re feeling tired at the end of the day.