November 9, 2020


Some people are into collecting vintage axes. I am not. Every axe I have is something I will use. However, I would much rather use an interesting and unique axe than something that I could just go buy off the shelf at the big box store.

What I have been told is that axes of modern manufacture are not as desirable as the old classics. Kelly and Plumb are well regarded old names, but there are plenty of others. The USFS says you want a 4 or 5 pound axe to drive wedges and do work to support bucking with a crosscut saw. Most axe heads I see weigh about 3.5 pounds, so probably this weight includes the handle.

Note that chopping and splitting axes are two different things. A splitting axe will have a more blunt taper so it won't be getting stuck endlessly when splitting like a chopping axe would.

The videos are very good. The first "Axe to Grind" covers hanging and sharpening, the second heads out into the field and covers a lot of history and variety in axes.

For the kind of thing I do, a two bited axe would not be ideal. I need to use the other side of the axe to drive wedges. On the other hand, the video notes that he uses one side of the double bited axe for "grubbing", chopping roots and such and keeps the other side pristine for chopping.


When limbing down logs, whenever possible chop on the opposite side of the log. If you must chop on the same side you are standing, never let the axe head drop below your hands. Flex your knees as needed to ensure the axe never goes beyond parallel to the ground. Strive for accuracy, not power. Beware small branches that can catch and deflect the axe -- remove them before chopping.

Modern Axes

The Fiskars chopping axe was recommended during my crosscut saw class as a good axe you can simply go out and buy almost anywhere these days. An affordable quality item. The synthetic handle is more durable, but also transmits more shock to the user, so you have the usual tradeoff.

The company Husqvarna makes what look like nice axes, but the heads have a reputation for breaking, and right across where "husqvarna" is stamped on the head. Clearly some kind of mistake in manufacturing and something to avoid from my point of view.

Gransfors Bruk makes spectacular axes and hatchets. They are in Sweden. There is only one bad thing and that is they are very expensive.

Hanging an Axe

Putting a head on a handle is called "hanging" an axe head. There are many ways to do this. Metal wedges seem to be poorly regarded. One tip is to leave about 3/16 of an inch of wood above the head, don't cut it nice and flush.

I bought my axe handles from "House Handle", specifying unlaquered wood and a select handle. One nice thing is a selection of lengths (I chose a 32 inch handle). Handles at my local big box store were all 36 inch (and lacquered).

An axe should reach to your fingertips if you put the head under your armpits. So the ideal length is different for different size people. For me, that would be about 32 inches.
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