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Axes Buying Guide

The original building and hunting tool of our forefathers, the axe has been around for thousands of years. Extremely important to both the cultural and technological development of society, the fundamental design of the axe has changed very little over this period of time. As technology progressed and new metals became available, the axe became stronger, more efficient and much more reliable. Often overlooked in favour of modern tools, a high quality axe is a valuable addition to any workshop.

Anatomy of an Axe

Anatomy of an Axe

Every axe has two main components, a head and a handle. Looking at the head of the axe, the blade or cutting edge, often called the bit, begins at the top which is known as the toe and finishes at the bottom, called the heel. The sides of the axe head are known as the cheeks and the shape of the cheeks vary according to the function the axe was designed for.

The mounting hole for the handle that runs through the axe head is called the eye and the back of the head is called the poll or butt. Splitting mauls feature specially extended polls that can be used like a sledgehammer to drive splitting wedges in to logs.

The handle or haft as it is also called, has the axe head mounted on it at the shoulder. Often featuring a gentle, sweeping curve, the longest part of the handle is called the belly. This slight curve improves the swing of the axe. The point towards the bottom of the handle at which the handle bends is known as the throat and this signifies the beginning of the grip.

Two hands should always be used to operate an axe with one hand on the grip at all times. ©

Types of Axes

Tree Felling Axes

Felling axes are used for tasks that require you to cut across the fibres in the wood. Axes in this category are used for tree felling and removing limbs and branches from logs. These axes feature a sharp blade bevelled to an acute angle on both sides to allow it to slice into the wood more efficiently. ©

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Log Splitting Axes

Splitting axes are designed for tasks that require you to cut along the fibres in the wood. These axes are used for a wide variety of work such as making shingles, splitting logs to create boards and in the production of fire wood. Broader in width than the cutting axe, yet longer in the bit than a splitting maul, splitting axes feature double bevelled blades that are set to a blunter angle than a cutting axe. This shape allows them to split the wood more efficiently and prevents the axe head becoming stuck. ©

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Log Splitting Mauls

Splitting mauls are used for large scale splitting tasks such as the initial splitting of a trunk or the creation of large boards. Similar in shape to the splitting axe, these mauls feature a broad, double bevelled blade set to a blunter angle than the cutting axes. Unlike splitting axes, mauls are shorter in their bit length to focus the strike power more effectively. Mauls also have extended polls that can be used like a sledgehammer to drive splitting wedges into a log or trunk to make splitting the wood easier. ©

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Log Splitting Wedges

Splitting wedges help to split trunks and logs along the fibres in the wood and prevent the wood from closing back in on itself. Used in conjunction with a splitting maul, a wedge can be driven into a starting split in the wood to keep the split open or it may be driven in further to widen the split. As the name suggests, splitting wedges are wedge shaped and are often ridged or have a slight twist to their shape to make them more efficient at splitting. ©

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Features to Consider When Buying an Axe

Features to Consider When Buying an Axe

1. Hickory Handle

As a commercial hardwood, hickory is unique for its combination of strength, density, stiffness and ability to absorb high impact shocks. This is why the very best axes all feature hickory handles. ©

2. Head Weight

The weight of the axe is important. The heavier it is, the better suited it is to large tasks such as tree felling and log or trunk splitting. However for jobs such as cutting kindling, wood carving and more controlled cutting, a lighter axe is preferable as it is easier to handle and will not fatigue the user. ©

3. Axe or Maul?

When choosing a splitting axe, it is worthwhile considering the size of log you will be working with. For large logs, a splitting axe on its own may not be enough and wedges may be required. Wedges help to split the wood and prevent the log from closing in on itself during splitting. If the job requires you to use wedges then a maul rather than an axe is the better option. Mauls have extended polls which can be used as a sledge hammer to knock wedges in to the wood. ©

4. Handle Length

A longer handle will give you a greater swing when cutting and splitting, increasing the hitting force of the axe head. Large cutting tasks are performed more efficiently with a longer handled axe. For more controlled cutting and shaping a shorter handle is preferable as it gives better control of the axe head. ©

Tips From the Experts

1. When using the axe, place one hand firmly at the bottom of the handle and the other at the top of the handle near the head. As you swing the axe, let the hand close to the head slide down the handle to meet your other hand. This allows you to make the most efficient use of the length of the handle combined with the weight of the head. ©

Axe Swing

2. The fastest way to cut a log to length using an axe is to make a V shaped cut. Cut into the log at an angle from one side and then repeat the cut coming in from the other side. Cutting the log in this way prevents the axe head from binding or becoming stuck in the log. ©

Cutting

3. When splitting logs, always use a chopping block. ©

Splitting

4. When using an axe for splitting, always attempt to strike the wood at 90 degrees. This reduces the risk of missing and causing injury. ©

Strike

5. Always use both hands to hold the axe. ©

6. Let the sharp blade and the weight of the axe do the work for you. Don't force it. ©

7. To give a more effective split when splitting logs, twist the axe slightly at the moment of impact with the wood. ©

Sharpening & Maintenance

Sharpening

It is important that you sharpen your axe as soon as you notice a drop in its performance or if you find that it is requiring more force to make a cut. This will prevent damage to the blade. ©

When sharpening an axe, it is extremely important to preserve the bevel angle of the blade. Axe bevels should be convex, never concave, as this allows the blade to maintain its physical strength. ©

Axe heads can be sharpened mechanically using a whetstone grinder or manually using either sharpening stones or files. Care must be taken when sharpening not to heat the steel axe head too much as this will destroy the temper of the steel causing it to become brittle. ©

Maintenance

Always check that the axe head is tightly fixed to the handle before use. If not, tighten the screws or drive the fixing wedge further into the handle until the head is firm. ©

A regular coating of light tool oil will protect the axe head from rust. ©

Check the handle regularly for signs of damage. Cracked or damaged handles must be replaced immediately. ©