Choosing the right axe is easy once you know what to look for. This guide will help you choose an axe without wasting money on the wrong tool. 

It’s worth checking out our guide to the parts of an axe which is super-useful if you’re looking to buy one.

What to consider when buying an axe

Before purchasing an axe, think about how it’ll get used most of the time. A splitting axe is best if chopping firewood is the priority. Chopping axes with lighter heads and sharper blades are easier to swing. They’re ideal for felling trees with lateral swings and various other jobs.

Whatever type of axe you choose, more power results from a longer and heavier tool.

A hatchet with a wooden handle lying on the ground
Hatchets are small, versatile, and easy to use.

Features of an axe to consider

Axes are simple tools but come in a wide range of shapes, weights, and materials. After deciding on the type of axe needed, look at the various brands of offer and compare the handle, head weight, and blade profile.

Handle length

A longer axe handle increases the power thanks to increased leverage. But that doesn’t mean the longest axe is best for your needs. They’re cumbersome and take more skill to control. Unless you understand the basics of swinging, the full benefits of the axe won’t be realized.

A full-sized felling axe usually has a handle that is 36″ in length. Unless you’re working in forestry or entering lumberjack competitions, it’s probably too much. For a 6-foot adult, a 31″ “boy’s axe” will allow better control and more efficient chopping. It’s an excellent tool for occasional at-home jobs. A compact hatchet may offer the best tradeoff between power and easy storage for hunters and campers.

Closeup of a wooden axe handle
Handle length impacts the tool’s power.

Axe head weight

The heavier the axe head, the more powerful the stroke. For beginners, selecting a lighter axe and focusing on technique is best. The right swing will go a long way toward increasing force.

A two-pound boy’s axe is a great option to allow plenty of control. Three pounds will be sufficient if you opt for a larger felling axe. We’d only recommend large six or seven-pound axes for competitions or Thor-style men and women.

If you’ll be carrying or traveling with the axe, choose the lightest and most compact option to provide sufficient chopping power.     

Closeup of a metal axe head
Lighter axe heads are excellent for accuracy.

Handle material

New technology materials are durable, light, and suitable for most situations. If they get damaged, they’re hard to replace. Some axe manufacturers produce handles made from reinforced plastic, fiberglass, metal, and composite material like Fibercomp.

Axe handles can be made using wood like birch, ash, dogwood, oak, birch, and walnut. Many axe enthusiasts prefer hickory in the United States, while birch is often the wood of choice in Scandinavia. The European hornbeam (Carpinus Betulus) is popular in European countries.

Before investing in an axe, inspect the wood for the following:

  •     Check that the wood grain runs parallel to the axe bit for maximum strength.
  •     Inspect the wood rings to make sure they’re close together. The tighter the rings, the stronger the wood.

Handle shape

Curved vs. straight handle

Choosing between straight and curved handles is mostly a personal preference. A straight handle offers more versatility; curved shafts adjust your hand relative to the axe’s center of gravity. They affect the blade’s behavior on impact. Experienced wood choppers use this angle to make powerful swings with more impact.

Double-bit axes always come with a straight handle, while single-bit axes may be straight or curved. It is best to visit a local hardware store and test how each feels.

Thick vs. thin handles

Axe makers more commonly produce thick-handle axes as they’re less prone to breakage, and the person swinging is less likely to get injured.

Thick handles are fine for small jobs, but a thinner one is best if you’re felling trees or splitting a big pile of rounds.

Thin handles are more flexible, reducing the impact each time the blade strikes. Smaller grips are also more comfortable, reducing hand fatigue and pain. 

Varnished vs. unvarnished

Varnished axe handles look great and help protect the wood. A smooth surface means blisters are less likely. However, a varnished handle becomes slippery in the rain or if you’re chopping up an animal when hunting. Most seasoned experts suggest sanding off the varnish to get more control.

What will the axe be used for?

Before buying an axe, consider its likely use. Here are some everyday tasks and our suggested tools for getting them done.

What do you need to get done?Recommended axe
Hunting, camping, bushcraftHatchet or tomahawk
Tree felling – all dayFelling axe
Tree felling – occasionalBoy’s axe or felling axe
Wood splittingMaul, splitting axe, hatchet
General yard workHatchet or boy’s axe
Woodwork and carvingCarpenter’s axe

You can also check out our guide to the types of axes to understand what’s best for your needs.

Price vs quality

Axes range significantly in price. If you’re only going to use the tool a few times each year, then spending over $50 is overkill. High-end axes like the Gransfors Bruk, a Swedish brand, can cost more than $300. This product is best for professional tree fellers and axe enthusiasts seeking a well-constructed tool.  

What size axe is best?

  • Small axes, like hatchets are versatile tools used to chop small trees, split firewood, clear brush, and limb trees. They’re easier to travel with and can be swung with a single hand. Check out 17 uses for hatchets here.
  • Medium axes, like a boy’s axe, have more chopping power than a hatchet but are still light enough to be used with one hand if needed. They’re easier to wield than a full-sized axe and cost less. 
  • Large axes are made for big jobs. They’re suitable for chopping down big trees or splitting large logs. Full-sized axes are hard work and take some skill to use correctly.

Summing up

If you’re unsure how to choose an axe, then work start by giving some thought into what it’ll get used for. There’s often a temptation to get the biggest axe on the rack in-store, but that’s usually unneeded. For most occasional use, a smaller axe is easier to use, safer, and still effective.

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