Axes are fantastic tools and one that I believe is important for bushcrafters to master. On our 1 Day Axe Workshop the first thing I do is to look at different kinds of axes and then describe to our students the different parts of an axe. Mostly they’re named after body parts, even if the order they’re in doesn’t make sense! After reading this post you might want to look at this one on axe safety as well as as this one on cross cutting and this one on splitting a log.
The axe in the photo above is mine; it’s a Gransfors Bruks small hunter’s axe that I’ve had for nearly 14 years now.
All axes, regardless of whether they’re designed for felling or splitting, have two main parts, the head and the handle. If we look at the head first:
- The axe head has a cutting edge, called either the blade or the bit, at one end and a butt or poll at the other.
- The top corner of the blade is called the toe.
- The bottom corner is called the heel.
- On either side of the head we have the cheeks; some axes also have lugs.
- The hole where the handle goes through the head is called the eye. Look for an axe with an eye that’s the same size right through. Many axes have a wedge through the handle where it comes through the eye.
- Check to make sure that the axe has plenty of metal behind the eye in the butt.
- The part of the blade that descends below the lugs is referred to as the beard.
- An axe should have a cover for the blade; this is known as a mask.
Onto the handle or haft:
- Many axes have a handle that’s curved for better grip and helps with swinging (mine doesn’t have as much curve as many axes).
- The shoulder is where the head is fixed onto the handle.
- The belly of the handle is the longest part, where it bows in gently.
- The throat is where the handle curves down into the grip.
- The end of the handle is often called the knob.
- Often there is a hole in the knob; I discourage students from attaching a piece of string here as it’s tempting to then wrap it around your wrist. You don’t want 2lb of sharp metal swinging from you on a piece of string if you lose your grip.
If you’re looking to buy an axe, my advice would to be stick with the traditional metal head and wooden handle. These axes have been used for hundreds of years and their design is the result of people using and refining them throughout that period to be as effective and efficient as possible. And not just people who mess about in the woods from time to time, but people whose lives and livelihoods depended on their tools and equipment. Of course, a wooden handle also means that you can make a new one yourself if it should become damaged in any way.
Probably the most important thing when selecting an axe is to understand what you want to use it for. If your answer to that is “Chop things up”, you might want to think a bit more about it. Do you want to fell trees, split wood, carve spoons, make feather sticks? This will determine the type and size of axe.
I would advise that you try before you buy. Ignore reviews online and get to a shop or event where you can pick up different axes; we’re all different and what feels good to me may not to you.
You can see plenty of photos from our Axe Workshop and all of our other courses on our Facebook page.