The pickaxe is one of the oldest tools still being used in modern society. It’s a basic hand tool that has a wooden handle connected to a metal head with a chisel on one side and a pointed pick on the other. If you’d like to know what a pickaxe is used for then keep reading. We’re about to run through all its uses on this one page.

1. Cultivating land

A common use for the pickaxe is cultivating the land. For centuries farmers have used pickaxes to break up the earth, mix in fertilizer and aerate the soil. The idea is that a well-prepared seedbed helps plants grow.

Today, the pickaxe has been replaced by the rotavator and other types of farm equipment. However, it is still used by some home gardeners to break up the soil in their vegetable patches before planting seeds.

A worker digging up a field with a pickaxe
Pickaxes are excellent for hard fields.

2. Landscaping

Landscapers occasionally call on a pickaxe to help with landscaping projects. A chainsaw or regular axe can easily fell a tree, but what about the roots? It’s not easy to chop through roots, which is why they use pickaxes to break them into manageable pieces. Cement paths, driveways, and backyards that need to go are made easy work of with the pickaxe.

Highly recommended reading: If you’d like to unleash the power of a pickaxe, then check out how to swing a pickaxe the right way.

3. Demolition

If you need to remove floorboards without heavy machinery, a pickaxe can be used to break them up fast. The pointed end of the pickaxe can easily pierce through wood, allowing it to then be pulled up or pried out. The same technique can be used when demolishing other types of material, such as plasterboard and adobe.

4. Ice breaking

During the depths of winter in snow-prone areas, roads are often obstructed by thick layers of ice. Using a pickaxe to break up the ice and snow is one option for clearing the roads. Once it’s been broken into smaller pieces, shovels or snow blowers can be used to remove it from the driveway or road.

5. Mining

Most modern mines have come a long way since pickaxes and dynamite. But amateur miners looking to strike it rich may still use a pickaxe, searching for veins of minerals like copper, gold, and silver.

A safety hat and pickaxe lying on rocks
Pickaxes are good for mining and other tough jobs.

6. Weaponry

Historically, the pickaxe was used as a weapon by soldiers. A pickaxe is heavy and strong enough to deliver a fatal blow when swung with force.

However, a more popular use in battle was to hook the enemy’s shield and pull it away, making them vulnerable to attack. The idea was that the soldier could then attack with their sword or mace.

Cavalry could be torn from their horses if their pickaxe handle was long enough.

More recently, during the Second World War, German soldiers used a double-sided pickaxe called an entrenching tool to dig trenches.

It wasn’t just used for hand-to-hand combat by armies, farmers also used them as a way to defend themselves from thieves stealing their crops and animals.

7. Emergencies

Pickaxes are one of the tools recommended to be kept in your vehicle at all times for roadside emergencies. In the event of a car crash, a pickaxe can be used to break a window or pry open a door.

8. Climbing

For rock climbers, a climbing pick is a type of pickaxe that can be used as an aid in ascending icy or rocky peaks. It helps with hooking onto rocks and embedded pitons which are metal spikes driven into cracks for use as anchors.

9. Railroad construction

Pickaxes were a common sight on railway lines in past centuries. Their job was to prepare the land for new lines by clearing the terrain, digging holes for the foundations of bridges, and clipping through tree branches that were too close to the track. They also had the job of chiseling out rocks and earth to clear a path for the railway line.

Listen to the audio of pickaxe uses

Commonly asked questions

Can a pickaxe break rock?

A pickaxe is capable of breaking up some types of rock, but it’s not easy. It also depends on the type of pickaxe you use and how powerful your swing is. In most cases, you’re probably better to use a modernized tool like a jackhammer to break up rock.

Can a pickaxe be used as a weapon?

Yes, it can be used as a weapon if swung hard enough. The pointy section will easily be strong enough to penetrate skin and send bones cracking. However, there are better weapons out there for inflicting fatal blows that are less unwieldy.

What is the difference between a pickaxe and a mattock?

A pickaxe has a pointy pick at one end of the head and a chisel at the other. A mattock, on the other hand, has an adze on one side and a pick or axe on the other end. Although they are different tools, both can be used to perform similar functions and the terms are often used interchangeably.

What is the head of a pickaxe made from?

Most modern forge-welded picks are made from steel because it offers excellent durability.

Why does a pickaxe have two heads?

A pickaxe has two heads so it can perform two different jobs. The pick is used for breaking rock and the adze is used for chopping roots, tree branches, and undergrowth. Having two sides to the head also helps counterbalance the weight of the tool.

A vertical collage showing a worker using a pickaxe and two different pickaxes on the ground.

Summing up

A pickaxe is a handy piece of equipment to have in many everyday situations. It can be used to break rocks, clear paths, cut roots and branches, chisel away at the earth, or for self-defense in extreme circumstances.

Are you trying to decide whether a pickaxe is worth buying? Think about the other tools you already own and if you would get better use from a pick. Also, work out what type of ground you’ll be working with to make sure it’s right for the job. If there are roots and hard ground in the way, then a pickaxe is the tool you need. Those who’ll mostly be breaking up rocks may be better buying a jackhammer instead.

If you want to buy one for home use, visit your local hardware store or look online at manufacturers that supply these tools. There are many different types available so there’s bound to be one that fits your needs.

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