Classification of Axes – Hearth World
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Classification of Axes

Posted by Aleksey Krylov on

Generally known as a tool for cutting and splitting wood, an axe (in North America, also can be spelled as “ax”) is arguably one of the oldest manual labor instrument known to humanity. Historians argue that first uses of axe-like instruments by our predecessors were known as early as 1.5 million years BC. Back then only the axe head was used. Later, the handle was attached. And as the instrument’s application gain more specialization, shape of the axe head evolved to fit its role. These days, the axe applications fall into three major categories: 1) Manipulation of wood, which included harvesting of timber, cutting, shaping and splitting firewood. 2) Military, which involved axe usage for defense and attack as a cold weapon. 3) And finally, axes were frequently used as ceremonial and/or heraldic symbols.

Our interest lies in exploring where axe as a tool for manipulating wood, more specifically as it relates to preparing firewood for ones fire pit, wood oven, fireplace or campfire. So what are the different types of axes you should know?

Types of axes

There are numerous ways to categorize wood axes. There are geographic classifications; one can argue each country has some form of wood industry has its own hatchet classification. Numerous axe classifications systems were proposed by axe manufacturers in 1900s and 2000s as they worked to achieve product differentiation. However, probably the most useful classification of axes is through their use. Most wood axes can be defined as forest axes, splitting axes and woodworking axes.

Forest or Felling axes

As the name implies, these axes are to be used in the forest for felling trees. Their distinguishing features involve axe head design optimized for cutting wood across the wood fiber. These design features come useful when felling trees or clearing off the tree trunks of limbs. In this category, we put felling axe, hunting or camping axe, and hand hatchets.


Felling Axe

Felling axes are used for cutting down large trees. The axe head typically has long edge; often the blade has a slight curve to the cutting surface allowing for uneven penetration into the fresh and sticky woods. The blade is both sharp and thick. The axe head is heavy, and can weighs between 2.5 and 5 pounds. The handle is intentionally long, which can be as long as 38 inches. Coupled with heavy axe head, the long handle creates significant leverage, which translates into a powerful cut.

This Swedish Pattern Axe is a classic felling axe with long handle and sharp edge. 

Hunting or Camping Axe

A hunter axe is a smaller forest axe that offers wood chopping capabilities but also portable enough to carry with you on hunting or hiking trips. Envisioned primarily as a tool to prepare campfires, it can also be used for skinning animals after the hunt. This type of axe should be light enough to be handled with one hand. Its weight is rarely more than 2 pounds. Its handle is rarely longer than 20 inches. Sharpness is of particular importance for this tool: Its blade should easily cur through light piece of wood (and animal skin, meat and bone if needed). Some models may have grooves on the handle for a steady grip even with sticky or wet hands.


This Gerber Camp Hatchet is an excellent example of camping or hunting axe. At we carry several axes in this category at different price points, from basic to sophisticated with excellent product warranty guaranteed to serve a lifetime. 

Hand Hatchet

Just like other axes, a hand hatchet has cutting head and a handle. The distinguishing characteristics of this axe is that it has a relatively short handle which rarely exceed 10 inches. Its weight typically does not exceed 1 pound. This axes are excellent for splitting mid to small-size firewood, felling small trees and limbing. The shortness of the handle allows one to hold the axe very close to the axe head, virtually making it an extension of one’s arm. Sharpness of the blade is important characteristic for quality hand hatchet.


This Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet is an excellent example of a hand hatchet. It is small, super light and even has finger cut offs for a more comfortable grip right near the axe head. Take a look a quick video summary for this excellent instrument. 


Splitting Axes

As the name implies these are designed to split precut firewood. They generally have large and heavy heads. Their cutting edge is not very sharp; the blade “thickens” or becomes broad relatively quickly in a straight or concave side. Splitting axes are designed to cut along the wood fibers and push or tear the wood pieces apart, as opposed to “cut” wood as felling axes do.

Splitting Maul

Just as its name suggests, a splitting maul utilizes its heavy weight in splitting through logs. This axe has a heavy head made in the design of a wedge that enables it to rend along the grains of a log. Its head may weight as much as 9 pounds. Its blade is blunt. The handle is long and may reach 35-40 inches. The very wide butt of the maul can be used as a sledge hammer to drive a splitter or splitting wedge (think maul head without a handle) through a piece of timber. These types of axes have one disadvantage, they are very heavy, and therefore they require a lot of energy in using them.


Splitting Axe

Splitting axe is used for splitting medium to large sized pieces of wood. This axe has a well-balanced weight from the head to the handle. It typically has a sharp edge but the shape of the head is straight or concave with a wide butt. The head weights up to 5 pounds. Some modern splitting axes come with a shock absorbing handles made out of fiber glass or plastic. They can be as long as 35 inches. One distinguishing from the maul characteristic is splitting axe is not designed to be used as a sledge hammer; only the cutting edge can be used as a hitting surface.


This Gerber Splitting Axe II is an excellent example of a splitting axe. It has a long handle and quickly expanding axe had for a powerful splitting effect. 


Splitting Hatchet

A smaller version of the splitting axe, splitting hatchet is light enough to be operated by one hand.


Carpentry Axes

These tools are designed to build houses out of logs, carpentry or wood sculpture. This category of axes is less of interest to us, so we will be brief in summarizing their them.

Carving Axe and Hatchet

They range in size and weight, but generally don’t exceed 18 inches in handle length and weight no more than 2 pounds. As the name implies they are designed for precision carving and can be used with one hand. Sharpness of the cutting bit is paramount.

This Woodworker Axe is a great example of this type of tool. It has a long sharp bit and light weight to be able to handle with one hand. 

Straight and Gutter Adze

The distinguishing feature of this instrument is that the cutting edge of the axe is placed perpendicularly to the handle of the axe. It is more of a chisel like instrument, as opposed to wood cutting or splitting tool. While straight adze produces flat cut, gutter adze produces a cut with rounded edges.

Broad Axe

These tools have a very long cutting edge ideally suited for shaping logs before they are used in construction of a log house. This process is also known as hewing.

Mortise Axe

A specialty axe designed for carving out notches and connecting “knots” at the end of the logs in construction of a log house.


(Featured image is sourced from here wiki.)

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