What Is An Axe? What Is An Axe Used For?

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An axe is a handheld edge tool used primarily to chop wood. An axe consists of a flattish metal head with a sharp edge on one side (occasionally two sides) and a handle which is traditionally made from wood.

The axe is used for and has a history of being used for felling trees, forestry management, carpentry roles, outdoor pursuits, preparing firewood, as a safety tool and as a weapon.

The axe is one of the oldest tools known to man with roots back to the Stone Age. Over the ages the axe has roughly stayed the same in function with variations evolving through technological advancements and specialist job roles.

There are many types of new and old axe available to see today, the largest variety of different axe types which have survived are from the 1750’s – 1950’s. During this time period there were bountiful amounts of axe types produced for a host of different trades and on top of this there were regional differences in the designs of some of these axes.

What is a hand axe?

hand axe

A hand axe is a short handled axe that can comfortably be wielded with one hand. The most common type of hand axe is referred to as a hatchet.

austrian side axe

What is an Austrian side axe?

broad axe

What is a broad axe?

coopers axe

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kent pattern axe

What is a Kent pattern axe?

felling axe

What is a felling axe?

firemans axe

What is a fireman’s axe?

goosewing axe

What is a goosewing axe?

miners axe

What is a miner's axe?

side axe

What is a side axe?

topping axe

What is a topping axe?

There are numerous modern axes which base their design on old axe types, some have modernised the handles with new technological advances, some have continued with the traditional wooden handle but all the axe heads I have seen are based upon old designs.

Axe Parts

A typical axe consists of the following parts:

axe parts

  • A - Handle / Shaft
  • B - Blade / Head
  • C - Cutting Edge
  • D - Makers Mark
  • E - Wedge(s)

Typical axe uses include:

  • Woodwork - e.g. Shaping wood in preperation for finer work
  • Preparing Firewood
  • Forestry Management
  • Outdoor Pursuits
  • Gardening

What to look for when buying a axe?

  • When buying a axe you should make sure the tool is comfortable to hold.
  • Ensure the handle is the right length for the work in hand.
  • Ensure the blade is the right size for the job in hand.
  • Ensure the blade profile/orientation is the correct profile/orientation for the intended use.
  • It is a good idea to ensure the blade is made from good steel - this will mean the axe will hold a sharp edge for longer which in turn results in less time needed sharpening the tool.

Extra things to look out for when buying a secondhand axe

  • Make sure the head is tighly secured to the handle – a handle with movement will result in loss of control which will slow the process and may lead to mistakes. It will also be very dangerous as the head of axe could fly off.
  • Check the cutting face for pitting and faults – if the flat face is full of holes and divots, especially near the sharp edge of the blade, it will make sharpening the tool to a good edge much more difficult and if the pitting is really bad it may be impossible to get a good edge. The reason being, when these pitting holes correspond with the edge of the blade being sharpened it will result in the cutting edge having nibbles and not having a complete uninterrupted sharp edge. If the cutting edge has nibbles then the axe will not cut smoothly.
  • Make sure the handle has no cracks or damage that may result in the handle breaking while in use. Of course a new handle can be refitted.
  • Check the handle is free of woodworm holes. If there are woodworm holes, try to assess if the holes are fresh or old/treated. If there are any holes it is always best to treat them. If there are large numbers/clusters of worm holes it can compromise the strength of the wood.

Axe Makers

There have been many makers of axe past and present, below are a list of a few well known axe makers:

Old Axe Makers:

  • Brades
  • Elwell
  • Fenner
  • Gilpin
  • Greaves
  • Talabot
  • Whitehouse

New Axe Makers:

  • Bahco
  • Condor
  • Faithfull
  • Fiskars
  • Gransfor Bruks
  • Northwood
  • Silverline
  • Wetterlings

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