Whether you’re a carpenter or simply want an axe with excellent stability and control, the carpenter’s axe is worth considering. It’s a small tool that offers plenty of versatility. But do regular hatchets offer better value for money? In this guide, we’ll take a close look at the carpenter’s axe and whether it’s worth the investment.

What’s a carpenter’s axe? 

Carpenter’s axes are small axes that have pronounced beards and a recess in the head. This exaggerated cavity makes a handy space for holding the handle in a choked grip.

The axe’s design gives the user precise control, allowing the hand to get close to the cutting edge. This is especially useful in carpentry, sculpting, and other types of woodwork.

A recess makes well-defined chopping easier.

Features of a carpentry axe

A carpenter’s axe is typically a little longer than a hatchet. They’re light enough to make small, sharp cuts that require accurate swings. But the handle usually allows for two-handed swinging, bringing extra power to the table when it’s needed.

Compared to a felling axe or hatchet, the edge of a carpenter’s axe is straighter and longer. It also has a thin blade with a bevel that has a low angle. It’s possible to use this tool in a similar way to a wood plane – precise crafting of dry wood is where this axe excels.   

The handle on a carpenter’s axe is straight, unlike many chopping and felling axes which are made for delivering powerful blows. A bend-free handle means it won’t get in the way as small, on-target cuts are made. This feature makes planing planks to exact angles possible and carving easier.

Uses for a carpenter’s axe

  • Woodwork: A carpenter’s axe is an effective tool for traditional woodworking, where cutting and shaping wood is required. In building projects, it is excellent for working on joinery and for planing wood to accurate specifications. A carpentry axe also does a good job of lopping off excess wood and shaping tenons and beams.
  • Hammering: Carpenter’s axes often have a poll (opposite to the blade) that is hardened for hammering stakes and nails. This is a helpful feature as most axe manufacturers advise against this to avoid damaging the steel.
  • Removing nails: While antique carpenter’s axes are fairly basic, newer models may include extra features. A popular add-on is a groove that’s super-useful for pulling out nails.  
  • Chopping: Don’t keep this tool for occasional woodwork projects. It’s useful for everyday chopping tasks like removing branches from trees or lopping down saplings. You wouldn’t use this to replace a splitting axe, maul, or felling axe, but it’s okay for odd jobs.
  • Camping: A carpenter’s axe is well-suited as a travel axe. Whether you’re hunting, hiking, or camping, this tool can do the job of most hatchets. Chop firewood, clear brush, and process meat into manageable pieces with one tool.   

What is a Japanese carpenter’s axe?

A Japanese carpenter’s axe has a wooden handle and a steel head with a very large beard. It is a popular tool in traditional Japanese construction projects that are primarily made from wood. Builders often carry different-sized axes for various jobs.

One-handed hatchets are ideal for intricate work and removing edges. Larger versions of the carpenter’s axe are better suited to the task of squaring beams.   

The entrance of a large wooden building in Japan and a Japanese carpenter's axe.
Japanese carpenter’s axes are prized in Japan.

Commonly asked questions

Can you carve bowls and spoons with an axe?

A carpenter’s axe is fine for larger carving projects, but utensils and bowls are too small for this tool. You could get the job started with one and finish it off with a hook knife or an adze.

What’s the difference between a hewing axe and a carpenter’s axe?

A hewing axe has a large blade with one bevel for squaring large logs. A carpenter’s axe is best for shaping wood that has already been hewn.

Can you use a carpenter’s axe for hewing logs and beams?

A well-sharpened carpenter’s axe can be used to hew small to medium-sized logs. Larger timber is best hewed with a broad axe. If you’re in a pinch and have to use a carpenter’s axe, be sure to practice before proceeding. You don’t want to remove too much wood, which can easily happen with this axe.

What is a rigger’s axe?

A rigger’s axe is a multi-purpose tool that’s a combination of axe and a hammer. Its blade is useful for shaping wood, prying, and removing nails. The oversize diameter of the hammer face makes hitting the nail on the mark a little easier.

A top down shot of a rigger's axe lying on a white surface.
A rigger’s axe has a hammer-axe head.

Rigger’s axe vs carpenter’s axe – what’s the difference?

A rigger’s axe has a hammer-axe head while a carpenter’s axe has a blade and pole. While both axes have a recess in the blade for a choked grip, the rigger’s axe is the longer and heavier option of the two.

Why do carpenter’s axes have a notch?

The deep rounded notch on the bottom of a carpenter’s axe blade provides a space for the user’s hand. Bushcrafters and woodsmiths can get their hand in behind the blade for better control.

Tasks like fine cutting and carving are possible thanks to this notch. By placing a finger on the side of the head, swinging is even more precise.

Final words

A carpenter’s axe is a practical tool to have in the tool shed. It’s easy to handle and can be used for light jobs around the home or out in the forest.

The best reason for owning a carpenter’s axe is that it’s easy to make accurate cuts. Holding the top of the handle, against the head, gives incredible control.

Woodsmiths and builders who don’t have access to power tools will love this axe. Likewise, those who prefer the old-school traditional way of working with wood will appreciate its simplicity.

For everyone else, there are better options than carpenter’s axes. Outdoor enthusiasts will do better with a hatchet. They have similar features, are easier to find, and usually cost less.

Those who have a specific job in mind, like felling trees or splitting wood, will do better with other axes built specifically for these jobs.

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