Learning about the different parts of an axe is useful knowledge, regardless of whether you’re looking to buy or maintain one. In this guide, we’ll take a close look at the axe head; what it is and how it works.

What is an axe head?

The axe head is the hard, metal section of an axe that is used for jobs like chopping, splitting, and hammering. A single-bit axe has one side for the blade and the other has a butt, which can be used usually be used for hammering. A double-bit axe has 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?

Convex profile: For most axe varieties, a convex profile will work best. It provides an excellent balance between efficiency and strength, keeping its edge longer.

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

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

An all-purpose axe has a bevel of around 20° and can be used for any job but doesn’t our perform like a specialist axe would.  

Double bevel: A double bevel axe is extremely strong but isn’t as efficient as 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, transforming a round log into smooth, flat timber. Carvers also use this blade profile for intricate sculpting and carving.

Concave: A concave bit should be avoided, and care should be taken not to sharpen an axe into this profile. It is weak and susceptible to breaking.  

How sharp should an axe be?

The best performing and safest axe bits should be very sharp. Once a blade turns dull, it begins to tear the wood rather than cut. This leads to less efficient chopping and increases the risk of injury. However, if you sharpen an axe to an extreme concave profile, like a straight-razor, it will easily break.

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, it’s main purpose is to help the axe reach a target weight.

Some axe types like a felling axe don’t use hardened steel on the poll. If it gets used as a hammer on hard objects, the poll and the eye can both get damaged. It’s best to use good judgement and only hammer in felling wedges or plastic stakes.

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

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 is rusts easily.

How heavy is an axe head?

Axe heads range in weight depending on their purpose. A felling axe needs to be light for horizontal swinging, and usually weighs between 2½-4 pounds. Splitting mauls use their weight to break through wood and weigh 6-12 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 useful if you use one regularly. You’ll get a better idea of which profile blade is best for needs and maintaining the blade will also be easier.

In most cases, the key to an axe’s effectiveness is sharpness. Without a sharp blade, you’ll have to work a lot harder to get the same results. It’s worth checking out our axe sharpening guide if you want to work with a sharp blade.

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