How To Choose The Right Ax

Photo credit Andy Carter.

Photo credit Andy Carter.

I received an e-mail recently from a relative interested in finding a good ax. He was less than pleased with the selection at Tractor Supply and other local chain hardware stores. Rather than buying a piece of mass-produced subpar Chinese junk, he wanted something good.

Problem: I’m no ax expert. I’ve never done much wood splitting, tree felling or log cabin building. In fact, I’ve done almost none. Heck, I haven’t even attacked a group of randy adolescents partying in a remote woodland cabin.

You’re probably thinking, “WHAT? Aren’t you a homesteader of some stripe? How come you don’t know anything about axes??? WHY ARE YOU WRITING FOR THE PREPPER PROJECT! THIS WHOLE SITE IS A LIE!!!”

Shhh. Calm down. It’s not my fault. Call it the fault of geography.

I live in Florida and we really don’t have to do much in the way of home heating. I also bought a lot that was mostly cleared when we moved in. I bought a relatively cheap fiberglass-handled ax from Home Depot a few years ago and just use that for occasionally chopping. A lot of the more tropical foliage here is fleshy and easy to cut, so a machete is my main slicing and dicing tool of choice, not an ax. Bananas, moringas, Mexican sunflowers and other useful species can be taken down without resorting to a heavy, high-impact tool like an ax.

That said, I’m no dummy when it comes to good tools. My nursery has a distribution deal with Clarington Forge, since I use their spades and forks in all of my double-digging and I like to provide them to friends and family at a good price.

When I got asked about choosing an ax, I knew where to look… The Internet.

Background Information on Axes

When researching tools for The Prepper Project last year, I came across this highly informative but apparently defunct blog created by Peter Vido and his daughter Ashley Vido. Peter is a master of the scythe and I trust his extensive knowledge. There you’ll find a page with LOTS of information on selecting an ax, along with lots more on the importance of ax head geometry and lots more.

Plus, there’s this great video of Ashley splitting wood barefoot with a neat old “twist” method that allows quick splits without sticking your ax head:

I know, I posted that last year but it’s still very cool. Seeing folks that know how to really use a tool is inspiring.

Beyond Ax Connection, there’s also an in-depth publication by the Department of Agriculture called An Ax to Grind: A Practical Ax Manual that’s available online for free – check that out by clicking here, or pick what you’re interested in right here from the table of contents:

Good Sources for Ax Reviews

When I start hunting for good tools, I’ll often click over to Amazon.com and see what they have for sale. I’m not necessarily going to buy anything there, but I do appreciate their extensive review sections on many products. They don’t carry everything – in fact, a lot of the really good tools are not available there – but at least it’s a jump-off point. I like to read the best and the worst reviews so I don’t get too excited about something that might be junk. You have to make sure folks aren’t just posting reviews on items that are right from the box. When they read “Looks so great, can’t wait to try this out on some necking teenagers,” obviously they don’t have any experience with the tool yet, so I next that review.

After hitting Amazon, I hit YouTube and see if I can find experts. In the realm of axes (and homesteading), this guy seems to really know his stuff, plus his review process is in-depth. Check out this excellent three-ax review:

He’s honest about the tool’s various failings and strengths, plus he shows exactly how much chopping is taking place rather than just rambling. Lots of info packed in there… for free.

Beyond digging through Amazon, if I’m really interested in a topic… I read. And read. And read. For instance, when I decided to start foraging for wild mushrooms, I bought a bunch of books on mushrooms and started reading. Though that doesn’t compare with hands-on training from an expert, it’s the next best thing. With your head full of knowledge, you have a place to start.

One book on axes I’ve seen highly recommended is The Ax Book: The Lore and Science of the Woodcutter.

Now, of course, all this may be overkill when it comes to choosing an ax. Your best resource is, as always, an expert. Search out forums, see if you can get your hands on some tools you can try out, and then start cutting.

Where to Buy an Ax

If I were to go ax hunting right now, I would start in two unlikely places: antique stores and ebay.

Photo credit simpleinsomnia.

Photo credit simpleinsomnia.

Once you’ve identified what you’re hunting for via good research, it’s not a bad idea to hunt out a solid, older, pre-Chinese ax head online or in an antique shop. I’ve bought amazing tools that were still in great working condition. A collector might be horrified, but I believe in using tools – not hanging them up on the wall.

Other than that, I’d look for European or American tool companies and forges that still make good stuff.

Finally – do YOU have good suggestions on choosing an ax or on brands and types? Leave us a comment and share the knowledge with a poor Floridian, won’t you?

About David The Good

David The Good is a naturalist, author and hard-core gardener who has grown his own food since 1984. At age five, he sprouted a bean in a Dixie cup of soil and caught the gardening bug. Soon after, his dad built an 8’ by 8’ plot for him and David hasn’t stopped growing since. David is the author of four books, writes a regular column for The Ag Mag in North Central Florida, is a Mother Earth News blogger and has also written for outlets including Backwoods Home, Survival Blog and Self-Reliance Magazine. You can find his books on Amazon here. David is a Christian, an artist, a husband, a father of seven, a cigar-smoker and an unrepentant economics junkie who now lives somewhere near the equator on a productive cocoa farm. Visit his daily gardening and survival blog here: The Survival Gardener And for lots more gardening info, click here and subscribe to his often hilarious YouTube channel.

View all posts by David The Good

15 Responses to “How To Choose The Right Ax”

  1. charlie Says:

    Please take a look at Council tools Axes.
    They are made in USA in Southeastern NC.
    Widely used by forestry and forest fire fighters.
    I have no connection to them I just appreciate their products.
    http://WWW.counciltool.com

    Reply

  2. Terry Says:

    Try Lehmans.com for the best axes and hatches.

    Reply

  3. Gene Henry Says:

    How to buy a great ax!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Silly me, I expected you to give an answer, or at least an opinion. Instead I found “study, study, study, then make the right decision.” And what a dip-shit bare foot wood spliter! Splitting boxwood set on rocks?????????????? Who would risk a good ax like that. How about some oak? Pure fluff by a hit counter……

    Reply

    • Maduro Dan Says:

      I’m with you !!! I am fed up with accessing up an article with a misleading headline, only to find that it doesn’t tell me what the headline makes me believe I will read. Study is one thing, but testimonials are equally valuable. And as to that barefooted safety freak splitting wood with a double bit axe, let’s see her do that with some rounds of live oak. Won’t happen. My hydraulic splitter has trouble with them. Even live oak that’s was felled 10 years ago won’t split. If you can’t burn a whole round in your fire place, don’t even bother to bring it home.

      Reply

  4. JJM Says:

    Sorry questions not comments
    Barefoot Girl, is the twist performed immediately prior to striking the wood, immediately upon impact or is the entire swing with the head out of alignment?
    The Estwing with the metal handle might be the best choice to avoid splintering and replacing of the handle. For those of us with imperfect aim what are best handles for striking tools such as Axe, Sledge, Maul, etc? Wood, Fiberglass, Metal and is metal available on all these tools?

    Reply

  5. Ray White Says:

    Personally, I use a maul for splitting wood. The heavier head makes for cleaner, easier splits. I only use an axe for cutting down trees and some limb lopping (though I mostly use a chainsaw).

    Reply

    • Loki Says:

      Right, also if your cutting with a camp axe, just dont cut limbs so big, cut out all the splitting instead. For one your not having to cut thru as thick of logs, and now you jus need to carry them n cache them away or use as is. Half the chopping none of the splitting
      no splitting

      Reply

  6. Beth Says:

    While I do not claim to be an expert in the area of choosing an axe I have lots of experience from wood hauling, splitting, Kindling splitting, trimming trees etc.. I typically use a chainsaw to fall trees and cut them up into rounds. I use a maul, they come in many different weights, with a fiberglass handle for splitting the rounds. I use an axe for a multitude of reasons to include knocking dead limbs from the fallen trees. Axes come in different weights as well. I have several different sizes and weights which I choose at the time of use by what I am doing and how I am feeling that day. I have an Eastwing hatchet for splitting kindling and doing small, more intricate, work as well. The best advice I can give is go to different places that sell the tools of the trade and try different ones. What feels good in your hands, how long (hours or minutes) are you going to be using this tool at one time? Do you want it heavy or a lighter more manageable weight? Double edged(recommended for experts only) or single edge. There is no simple answer for this question. If you may never use it and want it for when/if SHTF then maybe there is not a need for a super expensive tool. All things to consider.

    Reply

  7. Loki Says:

    when you purchase a new axe/pick/sledge/maul, or even hammer with a wooden handle with a wedge tac soak the head in about a foot of water for a month in a wash pan or old bucket let it dry naturally and it will swell solid. Now if the handles free of knots you’ll have to break or burn it out… Im not an expert but I did industrial tar roof tear-offs and construction for 8 years and all of tools I mentioned the above were severely abused daily… That said, Fiberglass or Steel is not as high risk of breaking so when things need to last use metal and carry the extra weight or use the light weight fiber, most fiberglass handles are lifetime warranty because they can handle abuse…

    Reply

  8. Ron Conradi Says:

    My 40 year old Plumb axe has never failed me. As Snuffy Smith says I’ve had that axe for 50 years only had to replace to heads and 4 handles.

    Reply

  9. john Says:

    i used to think an ax is just an ax but this is most enlightening.proves that there is a science behind everything.knowing that weight mattered is a no brainer never considered the rest.learned a lot thanks to all who contributed time and info

    Reply

  10. nd woods Says:

    I tell you what, I have several axe heads but use just a high quality single bit, that is what’s called a jersey bit and a double bit cutting axe. I use a maul to split smaller rounds and a wedge to split larger ones. and I have done that for 25 years to heat with wood and wood projects around the old homestead. now as for the girl splitting the wood with no shoes she may be one of the poor souls that live in the Appa llation mts. and can’t afford shoes or she KNOWS what she’s doing. and if you look at her apparently she does. and I didn’t see her hit any rock at any time.and if you can use an axe like she does you can put the rounds on a hard surface without smashing the axe head. another thing if you look real close at the axe head it’s more of a splitting double bit, which is more compact than cutting or felling axe.

    Reply

  11. Ellen Says:

    Ask a logger which axe is best.

    Reply

  12. John Says:

    Bailey’s Saw Shop in Laytonville, CA
    a is a major supplier to the logging industry. They have a website and are full of excellent advice about anything for dropping or dissecting trees.

    Reply

  13. John Says:

    Looks like Bailey’s has moved to Long Beach, WA.

    Reply

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