In everything, I have read about the pioneers in the early United States, other than a gun or a knife the axe was their most important tool. It helped build houses, provided firewood and cleared fields.
A good axe is something we all need to have. But how many people know what kind they need. Different axes are meant for different uses.
- Felling axe – Cuts across the grain of wood, as in the felling of trees. Can be single or double bitted (the bit is the cutting edge of the head) and comes in different weights, shapes and handle types. It has a thinner blade than most axes and the head weighs about 3 to 4 pounds. Its lightweight and thin shape allow for it to be hefted sideways and cut quickly into the side of a tree across the grain.
- Double bladed-has a sharp blade on both sides of the head. Was widely used by loggers. Is considered to be more dangerous than a single bitted axe.
- The single-bit, or single-bladed, axe is the most common style of axe, used for cutting down and pruning trees and splitting wood. The single-bit is safer for beginners because it only has one sharpened edge; the unsharpened end, called a poll, can be used as a hammer head for purposes such as driving wooden stakes, although it never should be used on metal, stone and other hard materials. Handles are usually slightly curved on single-bit axes.
- Forest axe – boys, or range ax as it’s often called, is the jack-of-all-trades of axes. The head weighs between 2 and 2 ¾ pounds, and the handle between 18 and 26 inches in length, it is between the convenient size of the hatchet, and the weight of the felling axe.
- Splitting Mall or Axe – Used to split with the grain of the wood. Splitting axes are wedge shaped. This shape causes the axe to tear the fibers of the wood apart without cutting through them.
- Hatchet – A small, light axe designed for use with one hand. It has a 1 to 1 ½-pound head on a 10 to 14 inch handle. It is the perfect size for splitting kindling for a fire and miscellaneous choices around camp.
These are the styles you are most likely to encounter. Having said that I will tell you about the axe I got today. It is a new Swiss Military Reserve Woodsman Axe made in the 1940s or 50s.. Extremely heavy-with a 20″ solid hardwood handle and a large axe head with a 4 1/2″ sharp blade, 1 1/2 x 2 7/8″ flip-side pounding surface. Weighs 4 lbs., 11 ozs. I received this from Swiss Link, there website is http://www.swisslink.com/products/tools_utilities/new_swiss_military_reserve_woodsman_axe-18-1894/
I have several axes, some of which I have shown in the attached picture. These are all older U.S. or European axes with good wood handles. Most of these were purchased in garage sales for peanuts. they are all in good shape, but some need cleaning up, painting and the handles oiled.
Many of the newer axes are made in China. I have been told that while the steel is not normally too bad, the handles are questionable. I would avoid them.