Hatchets and axes are similar handheld tools, but they’re not the same. Each has its strengths and weaknesses and deciding which is best will depend on what you need it for. In this guide, we’ll compare the hatchet and axe so that you can decide on the right tool for you. 

What’s the difference between a hatchet and an axe?

Hatchets are short, one-handed axes that are commonly used for chopping, hammering, and backyard work. A regular axe has a longer handle requiring two hands to swing; it is more powerful than a hatchet, capable of felling large trees and chopping logs.  

  • Both tools often have a wooden handle and steel head.
  • They’re both primarily used for chopping wood.
  • Hatchets are best for light jobs while axes can handle bigger chopping tasks.

Full-sized felling axes are around 32-36 inches long while a boy’s axe is a little shorter at 28 inches. Hatchets measure roughly 18” in length.

Uses for axes and hatchets

An axe has a sharp blade and a long handle that provides excellent leverage when swinging. There are few jobs too big for this tool. Popular uses for an axe include felling small or large trees, hewing logs, firewood splitting, and odd jobs around the yard. 

The hatchet is limited by its size. Swinging a shorter handle with just one hand reduces its power output. However, it is excellent for splitting firewood, felling saplings, and lopping off tree branches. For odd jobs around the campsite, a hatchet is a lightweight option. It’s also a convenient size for butchering animals like deer and ducks.

Pros of an axe

  • A long hand provides extra leverage resulting in more power
  • Having two hands on the axe assists with control and accuracy.
  • Capable of almost any job, big or small.

Cons of an axe

  • The extra weight means they’re harder to wield and smaller people may find them a challenge to use.
  • Transporting an axe is more difficult and their size isn’t suitable for backpacking.
  • They’re more expensive than a similar quality hatchet.
  • No extras like pommels or nail pullers.
A Full size axe in a stump of wood out in the wild
Axes are best used with two hands for extra power.

Pros of hatchets

  • Easy to swing making them ideal for beginners and anyone that struggles with heavy tools.
  • A great all-round tool that can do any small tasks.
  • Light and easy to chop branches above your head.
  • Uses up less space in vehicles and is easier to carry when traveling on foot.
  • Some brands come with extra features like a nail remover.

Cons of hatchets

  • Hard work to chop down bigger trees.
  • Can’t use two hands so there’s less control.
  • Can’t get the same downward force that comes from a longer-handles axe.
A hatchet in a stump in the woods
Hatchets are light and easy to use.

Commonly asked questions

Should I buy a hatchet or an axe for camping?

If you’re traveling by car to the campsite then an axe is a good option if there’s room. Anyone traveling by foot are better to take a hatchet or tomahawk. If you’re just using the tool to cut firewood, you may want to take a folding saw instead.

Are hatchets or axes better for chopping firewood? 

If you only have a small amount of firewood to chop and the logs are small, a hatchet will work fine. For large logs and jobs that require a lot of wood to be chopped, you’re better to choose an axe, splitting axe or maul.

For general yard work, is a hatchet or axe best?

A hatchet is a good option for easy jobs like lopping off small branches, hammering in stakes, and chopping small amounts of firewood and kindling. For bigger jobs you’ll need to power of an axe; a hatchet will quickly cause hand strain. 

Should I buy a hatchet and an axe?

In budget isn’t a concern and you’ve got plenty of shed space, it’s a good idea to buy a hatchet and an axe. For most small tasks, a hatchet is comfortable and easy to use. It’s nice not having to lug a big, full-handle axe. On the occasion that you need to pull out the big guns, your axe will power through more challenging chopping jobs. 

Summing up

For most jobs, an axe or hatchet will do a great job. As soon as you’re faced with a bigger job, like chopping a pile of big logs or felling a tree, an axe will outperform a hatchet all day. For many, these jobs aren’t common, so you’ll probably do fine with a hatchet.

The appeal of a hatchet is its size, which can be used by almost anyone. It also packs into small spaces better than an axe. For those who need to trim small branches above their head, a hatchet would be the preferable option.

Keep in mind that a hatchet or axe isn’t the only option. If you need to split a lot of wood, then a maul or splitting axe should be considered. They’ll do a much better job of processing logs into smaller bits at scale. But their blades are intentionally dull, so don’t expect to use them around the yard or farm for other jobs.

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