A bushcraft axe or hatchet is one of the most useful tools that you can have when you venture out in the woods. Paired up with your knife is even better.
These are the different types of axes available, and which to choose for the right job. Also, gaining an understanding of a bushcraft axe.
Axes are like your bushcraft knives, different ones to do different jobs, so finding the right one that you feel would be good enough is a personal choice.
It comes down to what you want to use it for, chopping, splitting or general use. They come in different sizes and of course you will need to think about the weight of it.
An axe is a key element of your bushcraft kit. It needs to feel comfortable in your hands and to use. There are plenty to choose from, just because it says it it a bushcraft axe, it doesn't mean it would be perfect for you. Before you buy, it would be ideal to handle one first, or if you choose to buy online, you can handle it when it arrives and if it feels wrong for you, you can send it back. Just don't use it.
There are many different types of axes you can use for all the jobs you may do. Like a knife, you could have a axe for different tasks, but when out in the woods practicing bushcraft, you would only have one with you. Here is a guide to the different types of bushcraft axes.
Hatchets are used for smaller jobs, basically they are small axes. With a short handle and a smaller head, they can be used for splitting some wood, but I wouldn't recommend anything big. I use for trimming the twigs off branches, as it has a little weight to it. Use it for the smaller jobs around your camp.
Splitting axes are used for splitting wood, hence the name. They have a large and heavy head with a quite thin edge, It is designed this way so the thin edge will bury itself in, then the heavier wider head will follow through, thus splitting the wood. Cutting along the grain is preferred for this type of axe.
If you are only able to take one axe with you, you'll need a forest axe, these are a good all rounder. These type of axes are designed to be used for felling and limbing trees, to splitting small logs. Forest axes are designed to cut across the grain, having a larger head and a longer handle, but you can still fit one in your backpack.
Some safety tips when using hatchets, splitting and forest axes
When using a smaller axe, never, never swing the axe from a standing stance. If you miss what you are aiming for, you will end up getting an injury, as the motion would follow through, and more likely into you. Have a think first, what if I do this? You'll know the answer. Take a kneeling position, which would be a lot safer. So if the axe misses, it would find the ground.
Treat axes the same as you would treat your knife, it is still very sharp and using it incorrectly, can harm you. As as discussed before, a sharp tool, is a safe tool, no point using the axe blunt. Take a sharpening stone with you. My guide for sharpening axes are in the sharpening section.
The same with sheaths, only take it off when you are going to use the axe. Then when finished, put it back on, you don't want other people to get hurt, because you left your axe lying around.
Always check your axe before use, you would normally do this before you set out. Check for splits in the handle, the head is secured and of course, make sure it is sharpened. When you make your camp, have an area where you would do your wood tasks, find a stump to chop on, it's safer this way as if you miss, the axe would go into the stump. Also when using the axe, think about where you are standing, you don't want any part of your body in the way if you miss.
Plan ahead on the wood working tasks, it makes it a lot easier, as you don't want to rush anything, as that can lead to accidents.
As with any sharp tools, always have a first aid kit next to you. If you have any accidents, cuts etc. you'll be glad you had the first aid kit close. If you have a children with you or a dog, please be mindful. A no kid zone when using your axe, also put you dog on its lead, as you know they can run fast and get in the way before you know it.
BUSHCRAFT AXE USES
FINAL THINGS TO THINK ABOUT WHEN CHOOSING YOUR AXE
Axe size and weight
This is depends on the jobs you will be doing whilst in the camp. A small axe or hatchet will be ideal for the small jobs, weighing no more than 0.75kg.
If you want to split a lot of large logs, you will want a Splitting axe, weighing approx.1.2kg to1.5kg and with a longer handle so you will be able to use it from the standing position.
Make sure that your axe has a sheath, this protects both you and your axe when it’s not in use. If not, it would be wise to purchase one.
Make sure the axe will fit into your backpack. Your not supposed to have it on show in the UK. if not, a mounting point on you backpack and a cover for it. Handle length is mainly the issue, making a hatchet the ideal choice if your axe must fit inside of your backpack.
Axe head material
A high-grade carbon steel is ideal for an axe head, heat-treated and hardened. High carbon steel is the best of both worlds as it is easy to sharpen and holds a decent edge, so is excellent out in the woods. You will need to keep your steel oiled up as high carbon steel will rust very fast if left damp and unoiled. A Stainless steel head can hold an edge a little longer but can be tougher to sharpen. One main advantage is that they do not rust so it can be great if you need an almost maintenance-free axe.
Handle length and material
Wood, metal, composite. A traditional wooden hickory handle is favoured by bushcrafters, but it is down to you and what you are comfortable with. 40cm to 60cm handle length would be ideal too.
When you are looking for wood for your fire, some pieces maybe too large, use the axe to chop it down to size, then once you are back at camp, you can cut the rest down to suit your needs.
The poll of the axe head (the reverse side) can be used as a hammer useful for driving tent pegs and stakes into the ground.
You can use an axe for felling trees and trimming the wood (limbing).
Splitting kindling and creating tinder.
Also smaller axes can be used for wood carving.
If you need to chop or breakthrough ice or make a hole to access water, a hatchet will get it done. As you gain elevation, water sources can freeze over. A hatchet gives you a lot more breaking power over a standard camp knife.
Processing game, you wouldn't have a meat cleaver handy. Don't forget to clean it afterwards.