Over the decades, manufacturers continue to produce thicker handles for their axes. Although size bolsters the tool’s strength, it also causes hand strain and reduces the wood’s flexibility, impact absorption, and accuracy.
If you’d like to know how thick an axe handle should be then keep reading. We’ve created the ultimate handle thickness guide, ideal for first-time axe buyers or anyone considering thinning down their handle.
What’s the ideal width for axe handles?
Although modern felling axe and boy’s axe handles range from ¾-1½” in width, the ideal handle should be around ¾” wide. Axe handles should never be thicker than the head at the shoulder.
The optimal axe handle depth, measured from front to back, should be about 1⅓”. Store-bought axes usually have handles that are thicker than required and should be thinned if you intend to use them regularly. For occasional use, a thicker handle won’t be a big issue.
Tip: If you decide that your handle’s too thick, check out our advice on how to thin an axe handle the right way.
Thickness comparison of modern axe handles
We reached out to all the major axe makers to get the specs on their products. Although axe handles are best with a 0.75” width, you’ll notice that even the smallest handle exceeds this measurement.
|Lamaca||Light Forest Axe||23”||0.79“|
|Council Tool||Flying Fox||16”||0.825“|
|Gransfors Bruk||Small Forest Axe||19”||0.9“|
|Garant||2.25 lbs axe||26”||0.98“|
What are the benefits of a thin axe handle?
All things being equal, a thinner handle will allow for more accurate chopping. With flatter sides, the tool won’t roll in your hands, and you’ll guide it with ease.
A thick handle is rigid and has less flexibility which isn’t ideal if you’re bucking or felling. Less wood on your handle will give it springiness that increases the power of your swing.
If you only use an axe for a few minutes occasionally, a thick handle won’t be a problem. But use it for any longer and you’ll notice it doesn’t flex like a thin handle does, resulting in uncomfortable vibration. Your hands will also feel strained sooner having to wield a larger tool.
Gripping a thick handle requires strength so you’ll wear down much quicker. Professional forestry workers would always use thin handles to help them last all day in the forest. Injuries like tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome are more likely too.
When to avoid thinning a handle
When it comes to axe handles, thinner isn’t always better. Here are some situations where it’s best to leave the handle as is.
Survival and bushcraft: The benefit of a thick axe handle is that it’s robust and can take the knocks. When you’re out in the bush, axes get used for a lot more than just chopping. In this situation, keep the handle thick so that it’s less likely to break. The last thing you want in remote areas of bush is to deal with a broken axe.
Occasional users: An axe is handy to have sitting in the shed, but some people only one a few times a year. If you’re a light user, then it’s not worth the time and effort to thin an axe handle.
Log splitting: You can get excellent efficiency from an axe with a thin handle, but strength will be compromised. If your main use for an axe is splitting wood, then a thick handle is best. You can use the axe as leverage, prying half chopped wood apart, without fear of it snapping.
Commonly asked questions
Why are today’s axe handles thicker than the old ones?
Axe manufacturers have increased handle width to reduce production costs. Making thicker handles allows them to use cheaper wood that would easily break if made too thin.
With less shaping required, axe producers can increase production, providing greater economies of scale. They also have fewer complaints and returns from customers.
How big should an axe palm swell be?
Palm swell is also known as swell knob or end knob and plays an important role in slippage reduction and locking your hands in place. It’s fine to have a palm swell that’s 1.5” or even greater, with some measuring twice the size of the haft.
What’s a good handle width for general yard use?
Axes used for general yard work and occasional use don’t need to be thinned down to ¾” wide. Anything up to one inch will work fine.
How can I prevent repetitive stress injury (RSI) when chopping?
There are several ways to reduce RSI when using an axe. In addition to thinning the handle, try not to grip the handle too hard. This is especially important as the blade strikes its target. Finally, chopping wood at a 45° angle rather than 90° will reduce energy transfer to your hands.
How do I measure the eye of an axe head?
To get the measurements for the eye of an axe head, measure the base of the eye at the widest and longest points.
How do I measure axe handle length?
To measure axe length, place it on a flat surface and use stretch a measuring tape from the top of the are head down to the bottom knob. Although the standard felling axe length is 36”, most people will be better using one that’s 28-31”.
If you’re a regular axe user then you’ll probably need to thin the handle of any new axe you buy. You’ll get greater accuracy, power, comfort, and endurance using a handle that’s around 0.75” wide.
Not everyone is best thinning their handle. If you’re splitting wood or need it for bushcraft, a thicker handle is less likely to break. Also, if you only swing an axe several times a year, it’s probably not worth the time or money to customize your axe.