Broad axes are ancient tools that have had a variety of uses over the centuries. Today, they’re still in use and popular axe manufacturers like Gransfors Bruks continue to sell them. In this guide, we’ll take a close look at what a broad axe is and its uses.
What’s a broad axe?
The broad axe has a relatively short handle and an expansive blade that is broad and wide. It is typically used for hewing or squaring off round logs. Its large, sharp bit can easily slew off pieces of wood to make a flat surface.
Check out the following video which gives a full explanation of broad axes.
Single and double bevel blades
The two main types of broad axe are single or double-edged. While they are both useful to hew logs, they work in different ways.
A single bevel broad axe’s bit has one basilled edge and one flat side. Also known as a side axe or chisel-edged axe, these tools are excellent for making a surface flat.
They often have a curved handle that bends away from the flat side of the blade. This makes it easier to swing the axe and allows the user to stand in a safer position.
It is important to remember that a single bevel axe can only be swung in one direction. So be sure to choose the appropriate left or right-handed axe.
A double bevel broad axe has no flat sides to its blade. Instead, it has two bevels, making it useful for making scalloped cuts.
This type of broad axe has a straight handle and can be swung from either side. This means one axe can be used by left or right-handers.
A symmetrical broad axe is also useful for notching and chopping, making it a more versatile tool. However, a single bevel axe is your best option if you’re buying it to hew logs.
If you’d like to learn more about hewing logs, then check out this handy resource. It shows the process of hewing logs in detail.
What is a long beard?
Broad axes often have long beards located on the bottom section of the blade. This extended beard increases the cutting area of the blade. Broad axes with a long beard are also called long-bearded axes.
What is a broad axe used for?
Broad axes were historically used as weapons and over time also got used for carpentry, hewing, and chopping. It was a popular tool for making railroad ties, ships, log cabins, and timber frames.
Some researchers believe the first use for a broad axe was as a weapon. They were made light to allow easy swinging and free range of movement.
A broad axe was useful for hunting and could then be used to process the meat. It was also a useful piece of weaponry in war, whether in offense or defense.
Archaeologist Jan Peterson believes broad axes were used as a weapon from the mid-1000s through until the Middle Ages. Source.
While modern power tools have superseded the broad axe, there are still traditional craftsmen using them. Restoring old cabins and furniture the old way has seen an increase in attention over recent decades. This axe is also used in developing countries where modern equipment isn’t as readily available.
A similar style of tool is the carpenter’s axe which makes it easier to deliver accurate cuts. Check out our article on what is a carpenter’s axe to learn more.
Smaller axes make it tough work to create smooth timber for building with. But broad axes have the perfect blade for squaring off round logs and making their sides flat. This was the tool of choice for processing logs until the 19th century.
Of course, there are easier options for getting the job done. A chainsaw may be quick and easy, but it’s also noisy, hard to transport to some areas, and less rewarding.
There are better axes than a broad for felling and splitting trees. But it wasn’t always like that. A century or two back, a broad axe was often used for a range of jobs. From felling the tree to splitting it for fires, the broad axe could do it all.
Quick comparison of axes
Broad axe vs. hewing axe – what’s the difference?
A hewing axe is a type of broad axe used to shape the sides of logs. The term broad axe encompasses a range of axe styles that all have large wide blades. It could be a hewing axe, war axe, or some other variety.
Broad axe vs. adze – how do they compare?
A broad axe has a long handle with a broad chopping blade that runs parallel with the handle. An adze has a blade attached at right angles to the handle. In construction, broad axes were commonly used to square timber and smooth planks, beams, and rafters. Adzes were typically used to level and smooth floor joists and to shape beams and rafters. Learn more about adzes here.
What’s the difference between a broad axe and felling axe?
Felling axes have longer handles providing a more powerful swing and greater leverage. Broad axes have shorter handles for a more accurate swinging action and larger blades.
The broad axe is one of the oldest tools on earth, and this simple tool has had many uses over the centuries. Many think of this axe as a symbol of ancient wars – a powerful weapon brandished by the Vikings. But in the United States, the broad axe was essential for crafting logs into suitable materials for building.
If you enjoy working with traditional tools, then a broad axe is well worth the investment. Combined with an adze and a few other basic pieces of equipment, your options are wide open.