When you pick up an axe for hard use, you pick up a piece that is part of a long line of history going back thousands of years. Our ancestors had the habit of using both small cutting tools and large ones. There is ample evidence to prove that it was the development of the axe that helped propel us forward into the world that we live in today.
Fast forward those thousands of years, and I find myself with a large pile of useful hatches, axes, and other large cutting tools. I use these types of tools regularly. Join me here as I share some history in a “dirty dozen” hard-use axes you can pick up today.
- Primitive Stone Tools (thanks to Johnny Faulkner for allowing us to photograph the primitive tools seen here from his collection)
Travel the fields and hills where native people once lived and worked, and you may come across a precursor of the modern axe head. Various types of stone, such as greenstone, iron ore, and granite (and many others), were used to advance native and or aboriginal cultures. That is an important distinction for us now because it proves through thousands of years of history that we need large cutting tools to go along with our knives. You needed proof that a new axe is needed, right? Now you have history to back you up.
- Bag Axe – Beaver Bill Forging Works
There were two types of axes utilized in a more recent period of history for us here in America. American frontiersman who explored the ‘western frontier’ of what is now the Midwest carried either a bag axe seen here, or a tomahawk seen below. A bag axe was typically only slightly longer than the knife that was carried by these great men. What made it so valuable was the simple physics of an ax. This size and shape allowed the user to chop, rather than just cut. In an area and a time when a person would often live and die by the availability of a knife, an axe such as this provided them with another tool to do some light chopping on bones, wood, and other large material. The axe seen here has been used many times on deer hunts. From cutting small limbs to establish shooting lanes, and blocking out large game for transport. Axes of this size are an excellent choice that provides a look into history, don’t weigh enough to notice you are carrying them, and help save your knife from over or inefficient use.
- Frontier-era Tomahawk – Beaver Bill Forging Works
From war to woodcraft, a frontier-era tomahawk was a proven tool then and now. Men and women’s lives were saved using this type of tool. Before scores of people began traveling waterways in flat-bottom boats, frontiersman and explorers were making canoes by burning them out and hewing them with tomahawks. Not only that, but also building shelters, fleshing hides, and so much more. The tomahawk has a reputation as a war tool. There is no doubt that it served in that capacity, but what is missed is the myriad of ways that a person “living off the land” utilized such a tool for maximum efficiency, with minimal carry weight.
- Throwing Tomahawks
Bragging rights, that is what you get when you know how to throw a tomahawk well. These are tools of sport, but they also serve as great intermediate tools to get work done as well. They are lightweight and have a large face (cutting edge). They are great tools to teach mature youth how to use a tool for outdoor adventure safely. You can easily pick up a throwing hawk for little money. You then have a tool to teach someone how to sharpen, throw it for sport, use it to make shelters, and even chop firewood. It is not a toy, however. Use it for education and enjoyment but not for entertainment.
- Small Hatchet – Gransfors Bruk
Gransfors Bruk is world-renown for offering high-quality hatches, axes, and splitting tools. The hatchet pictured here is the lightest they offer but has done a heavy amount of work in my hands. I have used this to split small wood for fires, to remove invasive species for wildlife habitat improvement, and to limb trees on trails. This hatchet’s designer intended the rounded poll (the backside) to serve as a “priest.” These “priests” were used to dispatch fish after being caught. These little hatches come out of the box sharp as a razor and don’t take much effort to keep it that way. It is an excellent choice for a proper woodsman.
- Camp axe - Kobalt
I hope it is ok if shoot straight with you on these. When you want an axe that will be ok at cutting wood, you don’t mind losing or having stolen, and you don’t have much money to sink into one, these Kobalt axes are the ones for you. They do a good job of getting work done. You can choose from a hickory or fiberglass handle. Coming in at 14”, they make great tools to leave at a camp, in the toolbox of your truck or ATV, or next to the woodpile on your porch. These little axes here have served me well on the farm tractor which is where I leave them. I have used them to cut limbs, remove hay from a bound-up bailer, and the pole side as a hammer for removing tires off wagons. At less than a twenty-dollar bill, you can’t go wrong picking one or two of these up.
- Traditional Forest Axe - Husqvarna
Husqvarna knows how to cut stuff down. Weed eaters, chainsaws, and this little gem of a traditional axe. In my estimation, this is the best “bang for your buck” in all of those listed here. I, and many other woodsmen, have used this axe to fell trees, limb branches on logs and trees, and to clear invasives from woodlands. This axe regularly gets tossed on the ATV with me as I head out to build wildlife habitat improvement areas. I have used it numerous times for clearing trails for easier hiking and ATV travel. At 26” handle length, it is also a safe alternative in the backcountry, without being too bulky, for this type of work.
- Hewing or aka Finishing axe
Woodcrafters such as bowl makers typically have a nice hewing axe to utilize on various projects. What makes a finishing axe so special is that the face is sharp on one side and purposely dull on the other side. This creates a face like a chisel, which allows the user to take off smaller strips of wood material instead of digging deep into the wood. I can easily take a rounded log and convert it into a flat piece of lumber. Sometimes this is the start of making a bowl. Other times its purpose is to make lumber pieces for building projects. Although the modern hardware store makes getting flat pieces of wood rather easy, this sort of axe is what gives you some hard-earned callouses to make that next handshake more telling. In a world where hands are soft from technology, this axe will offer the user hard-earned determination and effort.
- Camper’s Axe - Estwing
I must admit that this is the only “queen” of those listed here, meaning I don’t have extensive use with this axe. I must thank you, though. I used this written piece as an excuse to get one for myself. Research is what I like to call that. This axe has the reputation of being a tougher than nails choice for any user. It is one single piece of forged steel for the head and handle. I am going to use it as a toolbox axe, meaning it may see work on a fence, barn, trail, or the road on the way home after a storm. It has a broad 4-inch cutting face, which can get some work done. It weighs in at 2.8 lbs. so I may take it car camping, or at the deer camp but will not be hauling it around for long backpacking trips or similar.
- Gerber Gear – Gator Combo
I was given this set of axes as gifts at Christmas many years ago. I used the larger one and gave the smaller one to my son when he was smaller. He got the chance to be like dad and learn the important pieces of maintenance, safety, and use of a large cutting tool. I used the larger combo for many years in my tactical scout tracker kit. That is the reason you see it is painted camouflage. When developing hides for man trackers, both the axe and small saw were very handy. It has a rubberized grip that makes it easy to use in cold weather while wearing gloves, or in rainy conditions. The forged head is durable and has taken a good beating through the years. I must admit I was wary of it when I first receive it, as the handle is nylon. My initial thoughts were removed after a decade of hard use.
- Tree Felling Axe - Condor
When you need or want to cut a tree down, this is a great choice for you. At over three feet long with an axe face around 7 inches, this is a beast of an axe. As I suggested, the one pictured has cut down numerous trees. Don’t get me wrong. I have a chainsaw that will make that work easier. If, however, when I need a good workout, and a tree is in my way, this axe comes out to get that work done. This axe is not to be used by the faint of heart. As you cut things down, it will build you up.
- WRATH Crash Hawk – Doublestar USA Blades
When you need to have an axe that will cut off the roof of a car, this is it. The designer of this axe, Rob Cabrera, did exactly that when developing this breaching tool. He used it to cut through the A-pillars of a car. They used 80CRV2 steel to make this tool, completely indestructible. With that said, when I received this one, I promptly took it out and made some feather sticks with it because it is razor-sharp. In a world where military, law enforcement, and prepared civilians need an axe to cut nearly anything at all, this axe will do it. The handle has plenty of texture, so you will not lose grip at any point during use and, at the same time, not destroy your hands while working with it.
I know you needed another excuse to get yourself an axe. You have thousands of years of history to prove their worth, and this article to map your way to your needs. There are many choices out there, and I am thankful to have waded through many of them with you here.