The Estwing 12.5″ Sportsman’s Axe is a compact tool for camping, meat processing, hiking, and small jobs around the house. It looks im26pressive on paper, but how does it perform? This article will review the Estwing Sportsman’s Axe to help you understand its features, strengths, and weaknesses.

Quick overview

The Sportsman’s Axe measures 12.5″ in length and does an excellent job of light chopping and splitting tasks. Its size and weight make it a portable option that will appeal to pack campers and hunters. Those who prefer to travel by vehicle will find it easily slips into the back of a truck, toolbox, or glove compartment.

An infographic showing data for the Estwing 12.5" Sportsman's Axe
Dashboard stats for the Estwing Sportsman’s Axe.

How does Sportsman’s Axe perform?

The Estwing Sportsman’s Axe is drop-forged in one piece, which results in a super-tough, durable tool. Its full-tang blade provides a solid swing that stands up to tough wood. Handle shock was reasonable, and the axe took overstrike in its stride when we aimed poorly. 

Use this tool to split kindling and small logs with a single swing. It’s light enough to make vertical and lateral swings a breeze. Pruning branches at awkward angles and lopping down saplings is where this tool out-performs.

An arm swinging the Sportsman's Axe on white background
A small, light hatchet makes swinging easy.

We tested it out on some larger rounds of elm as well. While it’ll get the job done after a lot of swinging, you’re better off with a maul or splitting axe if you have a lot of wood.

The Sportsman’s Axe has a reasonably sharp blade straight from the store. It’s not razor-sharp, so if you love paper-cutting sharp edges, then be prepared to start filing before swinging.

Ultralight backpackers looking to shave weight will find better options, like the Gerber Pack Hatchet.

This axe is also cumbersome for small bushcraft tasks like whittling a tent peg or carving a rustic bowl. The weight ratio doesn’t feel right for this kind of job. With no choke hold finger grips or extended beard, the tool is unwieldy for detailed work.

Features

  • Solid steel with hand-sharpened edge.
  • Premium leather handle grip.
  • Includes a nylon sheath for protection.
  • Tempered for added strength.
  • Curved blade is suitable for varying jobs.
  • Thick convex blade retains its edge.
A Sportsman's Axe on white background with main features labeled
The features of a Sportsman’s 12.5″ hatchet.

Parts of the Estwing 12″ Sportsman’s Axe

Estwing has worked hard to create a tool that provides maximum quality at an affordable price. While we think the Gerber/Fiskars range has more innovative components, the Sportsman’s Axe focuses on outperforming at the basics. Let’s look at some of the main parts of this tool.

Axe head

Many axe brands have a separate head and handle, but this one is a single piece of stainless steel. The result is a robust tool that won’t ever need a handle replacement.

The axe’s cheeks form a concave shape and are relatively thin compared to some hatchets. Combined with a thick, curved cutting edge, it makes for a durable blade that can take on varied roles. 

Closeup of the Sportsman's Axe blade.
A durable blade that is easy to sharpen.

The Sportsman Axe is best used one-handed for cutting tasks. For its price, the tool does a reasonable job of basic tasks. But the thick edge makes stubborn wood difficult to bite into. Splitting bigger logs is problematic as the head is too thin to break through the wood fibers once the blade begins cutting. It sticks and binds easily.

The poll (butt) of the head has squared edges and is excellent for hammering. Use it to bang in tent pegs or anything else that needs to be knocked in.

Zoomed in image of the Sportsman Axe's poll.
The rectangular poll is ideal for hammering.

Axe handle

The Sportsman’s Axe handle is steel, making it somewhat unique. Most of its competition use wood like hickory or composite materials such as fiberglass.

A handle made from steel provides a sturdy, durable tool that is virtually unbreakable. Slam it into gnarly, seasoned logs and overstrike without fear of the head coming loose from the handle.

Some tradeoffs result from using a steel handle. We noticed more vibration compared to wooden or composite ones. Slamming the blade into elm, we found ourselves missing the FiberComp technology by Fiskars.

The Estwing Sportsman’s Axe isn’t recommended if you enjoy carving and intricate carpentry. The shoulder of the handle is wafer-thin, and getting a stable choke-up grip is challenging, especially if you have big hands.   

A label showing the dimensions of the handle where it meets the head
Holding the handle close to the head is difficult.

Another tradeoff from an all-steel handle is added weight. The balance takes some getting used to in hand. Also, a lighter handle would mean a heavier head could be used which offers more power.

The handle has a leather grip which looks impressive but isn’t always functional. Without gloves, we found the lacquered coating slippery in hand. You may want to sand this varnish off with sandpaper, then apply some oil or beeswax. It’s a quick and easy job that makes the handle easier to hold safely.

Closeup shot of an Estwing Sportsman's 12.5 Axe leather handle
Leather provides a nice-looking finish.

Protective sheath

The axe comes with a dome button nylon protective head cover. It reduces injuries and keeps the blade in top condition when not in use.

A strap on the sheath allows the axe to be attached to a belt or tied onto a pack. It won’t weigh you down or get in the way at less than two pounds total weight.

Holding the Estwing axe with a sheath attached to the head.
A sheath keeps the bit chip-free.

Strengths

  • One-piece design is durable.
  • A portable, lightweight axe.
  • Affordable if bought in North America.
  • Butt makes hammering easy.
  • Easy to sharpen blade profile.
  • Leather handle looks impressive.
  • Quality tool made in the U.S.

Weaknesses

  • Handle varnish is a little slippery.
  • Heavier than hatchets with composite handles.
  • Awkward in a choke-up grip.
  • Tedious work splitting anything significant.
A woman holding the Estwing hatchet at waist height with isolated white background
Like any tool, this tool has pros and cons.

Commonly asked questions

How do I sharpen the Sportsman’s Axe?

The blade can be sharpened like a regular axe using sandpaper, files, or an electric tool. The thick, concave bit makes it quick and easy work to achieve a decent edge.

What is the best alternative to the Estwing 12″ Sportsman’s Axe?

There are plenty of alternatives to the Sportsman’s Axe worth considering. Those focused on reducing weight may want to look at the uber-portable Gerber Pack Hatchet. A similar-sized hatchet with a handle that’s easier to grip and a handy tent peg remover is the Black Estwing 14″ Camper’s Axe. Consider the Estwing 26″ Campers Axe or the DeWalt 3.5lb axe for more powerful chopping axes.  

An range of axes arranged on the ground that make useful replacements for the Estwing Sportsman's Hatchet

Where are Estwing axes made?

The Estwing axe range is manufactured in America. The production facility is in the northern Illinois city of Rockford, roughly 90 miles out of Chicago. Since commencing business in 1923, the company has grown into a respected nationwide brand.

What’s the difference between the Estwing Sportsman’s Axe and Camper’s Axe?

While both tools are considered small hatchets used with one hand, the Camper’s Axe is a little longer and includes a notch for removing tent pegs. The Sportsman’s Axe is slightly more portable and will appeal to those who appreciate a leather handle.

A hand holding the Camping and Sportsman axes in a cross shape.
The Sportsman and Camping Axes are similar tools.

Specifications

Infographic of the Sportsman's axe product specifications.
The specs of the Estwing 12.5″ Axe.
Total length12.5”
Head length3.25”
Total weight1.2lbs
Head material1055 carbon steel
Handle materialsCarbon steel and leather
Country of manufactureUSA

Summing up

We used the Estwing Sportsman’s Axe for a week and held nothing back. Over that time, a few weaknesses were discovered that have already been discussed above: a slippery handle, difficulty with intricate, detailed chopping and carving, and limited power. 

At this point in the review, you could be forgiven for thinking that we aren’t fans of this axe. However, those wanting a budget tool that will keep chopping for years will do very well with a Sportsman’s Axe.

Proudly made in the United States, it’s built tough with an all-steel design and an edge that doesn’t easily chip. Treat it mean, but it’ll stay keen. Just remember to deal with that handle varnish before heading into the outdoors.

Vertical infographic of various shots of the Sportsman's Axe
Review of the Estwing Sportsman’s Axe

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