Learning about the different parts of an axe is valuable knowledge, regardless of whether you’re looking to buy or maintain one. In this guide, we’ll closely examine the head of an axe and how it works.

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What is an axe head?

An axe head is the hard, metal section of an axe used for jobs like chopping, splitting, and hammering. A single-bit axe has one side for the blade, and the other has a butt, often used for hammering. A double-bit axe takes advantage of a blade on each side of the head.

Related reading: Find out what a double-bladed axe is used for.

What shape axe head is best?

A convex blade design will work best for most axe varieties. It provides an excellent balance between efficiency and strength, keeping its edge longer.

Bevel angle will vary depending on the type of axe. Felling axes are around 15°, ideal for cutting deep into tree trunks, against the grain. Their thin blade can be a problem for splitting wood as it is more likely to get stuck in the fibers.

A splitting axe or maul has a blade closer to 30° and is much heavier than a regular axe. Its cheeks exert more outward force, cracking apart rounds of wood with explosive force.

Holding a splitting axe
The head of a splitting axe in thick and heavy.

An all-purpose axe has a bevel of around 20° and can be used for any job. It won’t outperform as a specialist axe would.

Double bevel: A double bevel axe is durable but less efficient than a convex profile.

Single bevel: A single bevel axe has a specialized blade that is sharp on one side only. The hewing axe is single-beveled, great for chopping off notches and transforming a round log into smooth, flat timber. Carvers also use this blade profile for intricate sculpting and carving.

Concave: A concave bit is weak and susceptible to breakage. Take care not to sharpen a blade into this profile.

Closeup image of the a Gerber axe blade.
Concave axe blade profiles are a popular option.

How sharp should an axe be?

The best-performing and safest axe bits should have a sharp edge. However, they will easily break if you sharpen them to an extreme concave profile, like a straight razor. Once a blade turns dull, it tears the wood rather than cutting. Poor axe maintenance leads to inefficient chopping and increases the risk of injury.

Note: A splitting axe relies on the axe head’s weight (6-12lb) to smash its way through wood. It doesn’t need a sharp bit to split rounds of wood.

What is the purpose of an axe poll?

On a single-bit axe, the poll is located on the opposite end of the head from the steel blade. Also known as a butt, its main purpose is to help the axe reach a target weight. It also provides balance, making the tool easier to swing.

Some axe types, like a felling axe, don’t use hardened steel on the poll. The head may sustain damage if used as a hammer on hard objects. Use good judgment and only strike felling wedges or plastic stakes.

Specialist axes may have a poll for a specific task. For example, a firefighter’s axe has a spike for crashing and breaking through doors and windows.

Closeup image of the poll of an axe head
Some axe polls are okay for hammering with.

Stainless steel vs. carbon steel axe head

A stainless steel head takes carbon steel and combines molybdenum and chromium. Its surface is non-reactive, requiring little rust maintenance. Plain carbon steel is cheaper to make blades that keep their edge and can easily be sharpened. The biggest issue with this type of steel is that it rusts easily.

How heavy is an axe head?

Axe heads range in weight depending on their purpose. A felling axe must be light for horizontal swinging and usually weighs between 2½ to 4 pounds. Splitting mauls use their weight to break through wood and weigh 6 to 12 pounds.

Related reading:
How to make an axe at home with a forge.
A complete guide to choosing an axe that’s right for you.
Learn how to locate the top of an axe head the easy way.
Why are axe blades curved while others are straight?

Summing up

Understanding how an axe head works is helpful if you use one regularly. You’ll get a better idea of which profile blade is best for your needs, and maintaining the blade will be more straightforward.

In most cases, the key to an axe’s effectiveness is sharpness. You’ll have to work much harder without a sharp blade to get the same results. Check out our axe sharpening guide if you want to work with a sharp edge.

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