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:
- Brief History of the Ax
- Getting the Hang of It
- Using Axes
- Buying an Ax
- Selected References
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.
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?