Choosing the right axe is easy once you know what to look for. This is a no-nonsense guide to 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 are the features of an axe?   

If you’re looking to buy an axe, the type of axe and its purpose are the most important considerations. Other important features to consider when buying an axe are handle length, weight of head,

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. A longer handle is more difficult to control, so unless you’re a skilled axe user, 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 overkill. For a 6-foot adult, a 31” “boy’s axe” will allow better control and more efficient chopping. It’s a great tool for occasional at-home jobs. For hunters and campers, a compact hatchet may offer the best tradeoff between power and easy storage.

Axe head weight

The heavier the axe head, the more powerful the stroke. For beginners, you’re best to go for a lighter axe and focus on technique. The right swing on its own will go a long way towards increasing force.

A two-pound boy’s axe is a great option that’ll allow plenty of control. If you opt for a larger felling axe, three pounds will be sufficient. 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 that’ll provide sufficient chopping power.       

Handle material

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

Lumberjacks usually prefer axe handles made using wood like birch, ash, dogwood, oak, birch, and walnut. The European hornbean (Carpinus Betulus) is often used in European countries. Many axe enthusiasts prefer hickory in the United States while in Scandinavia birch is often the wood of choice.

If you get the chance to inspect an axe before buying, be sure to take a closer look at the wood. Look for the following:

  • Check what direction the grain runs through the wood. It should run 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: If you’re looking to buy a double-bit axe, then you must buy a straight handle. Single bit axes are a much more popular option though. For these, you’ll need to decide whether a straight or curved handle is best.

Whether to choose a straight or curved handle mostly comes down to personal preference. Visit your local hardware store and test out how each feel – you’ll soon know which is best for you. In general, a straight axe handles are a little more versatile. A curved blade adjusts your hand in relation to the axe’s center of gravity, affecting the blade’s behaviour on impact. Experienced wood choppers know how to use this angle to their advantage.   

Thick vs. thin handles: Axe makers are more commonly making thick-handle axes that are chunky. This is most likely because they’re less prone to breakage (and injury).

Thick handles are fine for short jobs, but if you’re going to be felling trees, a thinner handle is recommended. They’re more flexible, reducing the impact each time the blade strikes. Smaller handles are also more comfortable in the hand, reducing hand fatigue and pain.  

Varnished vs. unvarnished

Varnished axe handles look great and help protect the wood. Your hands will also be less prone to blisters with the smoother surface. The downside to a varnished handle is that it becomes slippery more easily in wet conditions or if you’re chopping up an animal when hunting. Of course, you can always sand the varnish off if you’re looking for more control. 

What will the axe be used for?

Before buying an axe, ask yourself what it’s going to be used for most of the time. It’s well worth checking out our guide to the types of axes to understand what’s best for your needs.

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

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 probably overkill. High end axes like the Gransfors Bruk, a Swedish brand, can cost more than $300. This type of product would be best for professional tree fellers and “axe enthusiasts” seeking a well-constructed axe.   

What size axe is best?

  • Small axes like hatchets are excellent all-round tools that can chop small trees, split firewood, clear brush, and limb trees. They’re easier to travel with and can be used 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.  
  • Large axes like a felling or splitting axe are made for the big jobs. They’re a good option if you’re chopping down big trees or splitting large logs. Full-sized axes are hard work, and they take some skill to use properly.

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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