For a simple tool, axes come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. The splitting axe and chopping axe are common types, but they often get mixed up.

While it’s possible to use each of these tools interchangeably, it could make the job harder. This guide compares the splitting axe vs. chopping axe so that you know when to use each.

What is the difference between a splitting axe and chopping axe?

Splitting axes are made for chopping upright logs into firewood and kindling. They chop with the grain and typically have wide cheeks to force the wood fibers apart.

Chopping axes have a sharp blade and thin cheeks made to cut into wood against the grain. They are best for felling saplings and trees or bucking logs into manageable pieces.

1. Head design

A splitting axe head has thicker cheeks than a chopping axe. The blade makes the initial cut, but the wide profile keeps the momentum going and disperses wood more efficiently. Splitting axe bits are often straight, bolstering blade strength to help it absorb the extreme strike impact.

Chopping axes have a tough job as they need to cut through wood fibers instead of with them. A sharp, thin blade helps the axe cut deeper, while curved edges provide more power at the point of impact.

Man holding a splitting axe and firewood with trees in the background
Splitting axes are made for processing firewood and kindling.

2. Swing motion

Splitting axes are mostly raised above the head and brought down vertically. Gravity pulls the axe head downwards, helping the user deliver more powerful blows.

Swinging a chopping axe to fell timber takes more strength as there is no gravity to assist. Lateral swings rely on accurate blows and power. Chopping axes (aka felling axes) are also helpful in cutting horizontal logs into smaller pieces. This job requires a similar up-and-down technique to a splitting axe.      

3. Number of swings

When splitting wood, the goal is to deliver one-strike splits by working with the grain. That means firewood can be processed quickly and with less effort. While this is easy with wood like willow, it may take multiple swings to break up seasoned elm.

A chopping axe will rarely get the job done with one swing. Working through the fibers is challenging, and making dozens of swings is common.

Regardless of the tree’s diameter, it is possible to split any round in one strike. However, the number of swings needed to fell or buck a tree will increase depending on trunk size. A large oak could take hundreds of swings, depending on the logger’s experience.

Closeup of a chopping axe, or felling axe, cutting a notch into a small tree
Chopping axes cut against the grain.

Can I use splitting axes and chopping axes interchangeably?

While each type of axe can be used in place of the other, it can make simple jobs much more work. Try to use tools for their intended purpose.

To split rounds, a sharp and thin chopping axe blade will cut deep into logs and often get stuck. Getting the head out of the wood can be frustrating work.

The thick cheeks of a splitting axe will stop the blade from cutting deep into a tree trunk. It will take a lot of extra swing to fell or buck a tree.

Summary comparison: Chopping and splitting axe

 Splitting AxeChopping Axe
Best useSplitting logs for firewood and kindling.Felling saplings and trees, bucking logs.
Blade profileSharp and thick.Very sharp and thin.
Swing motionVertical.Lateral or vertical.
Number of swingsOften one, may take more.Usually many strikes.

Which is best for me?

Without wanting to state the obvious, buy a splitting axe if you mostly need to split firewood; invest in a chopping axe to fell trees and process them into smaller rounds.

Do you need to split and chop regularly? If the budget permits, consider buying both axes. You may prefer a versatile, multipurpose axe like a hatchet or a DeWalt 3.5lb axe. They’ll do a reasonable job of both tasks but won’t outperform in either.

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