In the United States, the Michigan axe gained popularity in the 1860s. It was designed for felling big trees that were often frozen or challenging to cut through.

The Michigan head pattern had several unique design features at that time.

  • Curved head: a curved edge bit deeper into wood than the many straight-edged blades commonly used. This made it easier to fell big white pines in the Michigan area.
  • Tempered bit: a tempered bit helped the axe head hold its edge for longer.
  • Rounded corners: the head’s heel and toe were rounded, resulting in a more robust blade that was less prone to chipping.
  • Heavy poll: the poll, or butt, of a Michigan, was heavier than most other axe patterns in the 1800s. This feature provided extra power, allowing loggers to increase productivity. 

Michigan axe patterns were produced as single and double-bit axes that were both popular options.

The advantage of having two blades was that one axe could be used for two different jobs. For example, one side could clear limbs while the other would do the felling.

Alternatively, if one blade became dull, the feller could swing with the other side. Check out the uses for a double-blade axe here.

Single-bit Michigan heads had a slightly rounded poll which weren’t hardened. They were unsuitable for hammering jobs. Michigan heads sold today often have flat polls, making it possible to hammer wedges and other objects that aren’t too hard.

The head of a Michigan typically weighed 3-7 pounds. Heavier axes were useful for bigger felling jobs but were hard work to swing all day.

The wooden handles on a Michigan ranged from straight to very curved. They were always long, allowing the user to deliver maximum power.

What was a Michigan axe used for?

The primary use for Michigan axes was to fell trees. Their unique blade and heavy poll were explicitly designed for chopping down white pine and other tree varieties growing in the Michigan State area at the time. It set the benchmark for tree-felling axes for many years.

The Michigan was an excellent tool for chopping against the grain, swinging laterally. However, it wasn’t made for splitting wood as it lacked the required weight to power through wood fibers. Its curved blade and relatively thin cheeks would stick in wood easier than a splitting axe.

Video explainer

Watch this video which provides valuable information about the American axe patterns. Bernie Weisgerber demonstrates various types of axe heads and their uses.

Commonly asked questions

How was the Michigan axe pattern named?

Many axe patterns are named after the state where they originated from. The Michigan is no exception; an axe that was developed in Michigan to deal with local industry requirements during that period.

Is a Michigan axe or splitting axe best?

A splitting axe is recommended for powering through tough wood and large logs that other axes would bind into and get stuck. They are too heavy to swing horizontally to the ground. Michigan axe patterns are lighter and have a blade that easily penetrates wood, making deep cuts. While it tends to get stuck when splitting wood, it is ideal for chopping down standing timber.      

Are Michigan axes still made?

Michigan axes are still being manufactured in the United States. The Kobalt and Truper are both 36” axes with 4lb heads. Truper is a more traditional axe made from hickory, while the Kobalt’s is made from fiberglass.

If you enjoyed learning about the Michigan axe, check out our list of axe types to discover more.

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