Survival Choppers – Understanding Axe Types

As far as blades go in your survival gear there are three basic functions covered by a variety of tools. The first, is to puncture, slice, and cut, the second is to saw, and now we’ll cover the third in a brief outline of the best choices for survival chopping. When you have to drop a tree with your survival axe for some serious firewood you need the right tool.

What Makes Up An Axe?

There are two different parts of the axe that you need to be able to recognize in order for you to be able to select a quality ax that will last you a life time.

Handle

Originally made out of a straight grained piece of hickory, many people now prefer the new metal or fiberglass handles on the market. The handle of an ax is specially shaped for directing the force of your chop on the ax head. (We like the Gerber Camp Axe – tested it and it works)

Head

The head is the part that bites into the wood. The best ax heads are made out of one piece of forged steel, securely fastened to the handle. Some axes such as those made by the Estwing® ax company, are made out of one piece of metal with a comfortable rubber grip attached over the metal handle.

Types of Axes

There are a variety of different axes for different jobs. Here are some of the most common types.

Hatchet

Survival HatchetHatchet, camp ax, tomahawk whatever you wish to call it, has the same basic makeup.

It has a 1 to 1 ½  pound head on a 10 to 14 inch handle.  It is great for limbing, and it is also the perfect size for splitting kindling for a fire. It can easily be carried to the campsite or stowed in your Bug Out Bag for making emergency shelters.

Forest Ax

The forest, boys, or range ax as it’s often called, is the jack of all trades of axes. With a head weighing between 2 and 2 ¾ pounds, and a handle between 18 and 26 inches in length, it is the  perfect mix between the convenient size of the hatchet, and the weight of the felling axe. Survival Axe

Felling Ax

It has a thinner blade than most, weighing about 3 to 4 pounds. Its light weight and thin shape allow for it to be hefted sideways and cut quickly into the side of a trees grain.  Some models have a double blade in the fashion of a medieval battle ax. In my opinion you really don’t need two blades whizzing by your head as you chop.

Splitting Maul

Splitting MaulThe maul is heavy in comparison to its chopping brothers. With a head weighing from 5 to 12 pounds, it is designed to concentrate force downward onto the piece of wood you are trying to split.  The blade is fat and rounded to help keep it from sticking into a stubborn log. Using a maul you will split logs much faster than any other ax.

Machetes

Cold Steel MacheteI do not have the space here to list the endless capabilities of the survival machete so I will explain in brief. A machete isn’t an ax at all, it’s more of a long knife used for light chopping and slashing your way through brush. They are used all over the world by native people for building shelters, killing game, and for many other tasks. Their blades range in length from 12 to 26 inches in length, and have handles made from a variety of materials including wood, plastic, and simply just layers of cloth or string.  Gerber makes an excellent basic machete that is priced right.

Overall

I would recommend at least a forest ax and perhaps a splitting maul for use around the house, more so if you have a wood stove or fireplace to fuel. Also, when you buy an ax, it doesn’t come sharp. A mill file and a good sharpening stone should take care of maintaining the edge on all of your outdoor tools. Please use common sense when working with any and all cutting tools.

How Do You Chop?

Tell us what kind of chopping blades you use the most?



Josh
Written by Josh

Josh is a Boy Scout and an avid outdoorsman. He specializes in knives (and other such tools), various knots & lashings, traditional skills such as blacksmithing & woodworking, bushcraft and fire starting. Read his full interview here. Read more of Josh's articles.

92 thoughts on “Survival Choppers – Understanding Axe Types”

  1. Josh,

    One of the best and greatest axes around is the "Snow and Nealy" they make one that is backpack compatable it has one down fall that i found is its wood handle after time which is many years it will deterioate but other than that is one of the best axes I have ever had the pleasure of using.

    keep your powder dry man,
    Chuck

    Reply
    • thanks man the original Snow and Nealley was founded here in Maine while the logging industy was booming my grand father owned one of the first ones and loved it so i decided to buy one when I was 15 and try it out as i got taught how to work in the woods and survive even today it is dangerous work logging but a lot safer than it was back when they ran the logs down the river. another axe that you forgot to mention was the double bited axe they do serve a great purpose in the woods i own two of those and keep one in my Jeep in the summer months along with my emergency pack.

      Reply
      • I have had some experience with the double bitted axe before, my main complaint is the second blade whizzing by my head when I chop, that and I can't shake the image of the kid in the movie/ book "Where The Red Fern Grows" who fell on a double bitted axe and got impaled.

        Reply
          • josh one of the things that hurts people the most in any situation is an over active imagination I have the same problem. it comes down to we can see the bad things that could go wrong so it makes us a little timid to go all out one of the things i try to do is clear my mind of the images i have seen and just go for it.

            and yes i have seen that movie and read that book but I also have seen worse things in all my years of construction like my fathers accident with a table saw ran his hand right through it and I still us one but i use it a little more cautiously now but one can never be scared or timid of using a tool they have little fogiveness in them if you are scared. Its like the first time i ran into a black bear I was scared at first till i realized so was he lol he is just bigger.

          • Yeah, I ran three fingers on my left hand through a tablesaw when I was six years old or so. Fortunately I didnt cut to the bone.

  2. Now, using a double bit isn't that big a deal. It really shouldn't cause any problems whizzing by your head, since it is going DOWN, not up. And once you get used to using it, it works ok.

    On the other hand, though, it really doesn't give you that much, if you're not cutting wood all day long with an axe. The only advantage you get is two heads, so you don't have to stop and sharpen as often…

    Reply
    • well in a survival situation you need to get the most out of what you have so if you find yourself needing to build a shelter with a more perment base to it the double axe works wonders. you can cut all day and take time at night to sharpen and clean up the axe before bunking down.
      the other thing i like about the double axe is its self defence aplications. would you be all gung ho to attack a guy that can weild a battle axe when you have nothing i think not.

      Reply
        • starvation will make a person do things they never thought they would do when things were normal. I was also talking about the ordinary person not survivalist/prepers.

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          • that is why i trained for years in unarmed combat its great for the body and the soul lol and it helps when you are a bigger guy like myself to get in shap. it also gave me some insight on fighting people with weapons,

  3. I agree with Stevo. having fought with weapons for 26 years, a double bitted axe is a horrible choice for a weapon. The recovery time is way too slow, you cant reverse direction quickly, and it offers crap for hand protection. Cut wood with an axe, and bodies with a good Bowie or a katana if you can't just shoot em"

    Reply
    • i have to agree with you that it is not the best choice but with the situation i was talking is if that is all you had at hand or in your hand I like the reach and just to let you know there is a martial style all in it self that is nothing but the use of a battle axe it is a slower style but inflicts way more damage once it is mastered(i have not mastered it). I know enough to survive in a fight with one but would preferr to shoot them or use a good Bowie knife.

      Reply
  4. My favorite axe by far is the Echo Hawk. It is small and light weight. All you have to do is lash it down to a piece of wood and you have a very versital axe for most survival needs. Takes up less room and is lighter then any other axe I have found. even when it is not lashed down, it makes a great knife.

    Reply
  5. I trained in Tae-Kwon-Do for nine years then some in Tai Chi
    Then I trained with a retired army ranger for three more years,
    As well as street fighting and a little bit of roman wrestling.

    Reply
  6. I made the drive and went to Lehman's yesterday. Really, a great resource that Im happy to live within drivng distance of. Think of it as Ikea for preppers. 😉 For those of you that dont know, Lehman's is a store in the Amish country of Ohio that sells a lot of old-school items and implements. Lots of handpowered items, traditional technologies, and implements and tools that are handmade and constructed for years of real use and abuse. These guys have some really great stuff. I spent an hour browsing their selection of axes, corn knives (Ohio machete! ), and scythes alone. Food mills, lanterns, LP gas powered appliences, composting toilets, woodstoves, candles, oak barrels, bulk grains, canned goods, canning supplies, and on and on. Check it out! Theyre online.

    Reply
    • I live in Va. I have never been in a store like it. It's not walmart. If you had a free day even if i's a 100 mile drive, take friends to help with gas. You will find something you need. Rickugg

      Reply
    • yea I go there a few times a year my self and they do have about anything you need that don't need electic but they are way over priced on about ever thing they sell and you need to watch what you buy other than that it's a good place to visit and get some good idea's

      Reply
  7. I trained in Tae-Kwon-Do for nine years then some in Tai Chi

    Then I trained with a retired army ranger for three more years,

    As well as street fighting and a little bit of roman wrestling.

    Reply
  8. I bought the Eastwing light camping AX and i've cut trees 12" in diameter. I sharpen it on my diamond stone and you can shave with it, it gets so sharp. It holds a good edge and comes with a sheath that is BOB friendly. It was around $30 bucks at the time, solid steel construction and a comfortable handle. This one goes with me in the tool box of the truck, and has come in handy many times hunting in the swamps…..LOVE the site ..Keep up the good work !

    Reply
  9. I carry a tomahawk. The one I have is a French style which was carried by many of
    Washington's troops. It was made by a blacksmith from out east. Useful tool won't go hunting without it.

    Reply
  10. I carry two, if you don'y count my 14" Cold Steel Bowie. A hand forged teardrop tomahawk and a 2 3/4 – 3# double-bit ax with a short 16 or 18" handle. It is a light ax that came to me from my father who used it in the forests of northwest Montana. It is made of forged, or possibly drop-forged, metal and was used for limbing, if memory serves. I like the double-bit for heavy work and when needed it fits nicely strapped to the side of my pack. The advantage of a double-bit, taught to me by my father – with 15 years in the woods of MT., is that you can put a work edge on one side and a fine edge on the other. Also, when your cutting something big, with no fine edge, you can turn from one edge to the other for twice as much chopping power.
    Now, that said, if I was fighting I would pick my tomahawk and either my bowie or my scalper. Two weapons are always better than one, just ask Musashi.
    When in doubt, send a scout. Scouts out.

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  11. Quick word added about my short handled double-bit ax. I can stick it fairly accurate at ten and twenty paces, handle down. Split the difference, 5,15,25, for handle up, though I rarely,if ever throw over 15 paces. So, if it came to it I could throw my double-bit and then rush the person with hawk and knife.
    Remember, within seven yards a knife can be put into play quicker than a gun. Scouts Out

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  12. I have a Gerber hatchet, that has a small knife inside the handle secured by a CRAZY STRONG magnet. I have heard people say "that hollow handle wont last long", but I have used it through 6 hunting seasons so far. The knife is great for field dressing a deer and holds an edge very well, the hatchet is great for limbing when I am in my tree-stand and holds an edge pretty well (also works PERFECT for splitting the breast bone of the deer). It's pretty light to, around 1.5lbs and I am fairly good at throwing it. ***Old Scout brings up a good point to, even if you don't hit them, throwing a hatchet at someone can distract them long enough for you to draw a knife and close some serious distance… Do you think he is gonna worry about you while there is a heavy blade flying towards him?!
    I carry a full size Gerber pack axe sometimes to, works well for trees 10-12" but I wouldn't want to do much more than that. But it's pretty lightweight compared to most of the others I have seen.

    At home I have a 10lb wood maul that my grandfather made, mounted on a hickory handle that I carved and kiln dried. It has been working for the family for over 50 years, 5 of which are on my handle. I also have a felling axe that he made, the handle is again hickory, but he carved it… it's got about 10 years on the handle and about 20 on the head.

    I am looking at the ATVTAC tactical tomahawk, looks intimidating and one of my buddies in "the sandbox" used it to save himself and a fellow Marine.

    Reply
  13. I use a oxy accetiline torch carbinizing flame !
    and quench in water or oil !
    or find a piece of hardox or ballistick steel (sorry about the spelling )
    or a tread of a bulldozer cleat and cut it out and shape with a grinder then a file then a stone !
    check with your local metal shop or machine shop will have heat treatable steel!

    Reply
    • Would a MAPP torch do it? I have been making knives for about a year now, and have recently gotten in to traditional blacksmithing. After consulting with a very good friend who has been welding for the past 20+ years, I have decided to get into oxy-fuel welding, and my preference is MAPP over Acytelene for the time being. If you have any input I would be glad to have it.

      Reply
  14. I'm pretty pleased with my Fiskars/Gerber axes – keep one in my vehicle, and one strapped to the back of my BOB backpack. I'll replace the crap plastic sheath when I get "a round tuit' . Easy to sharpen, hard to break. I'd get a "Gransfors", but out of my price range – I'll get more beans instead 🙂

    Reply
  15. I have a Machete , but looked at an axe . Coldsteel makes a ” Vietnam Tomahawk ” it looks good and is cheaper than a lot of their stuff . If you haven’t been on their website , Its worth a look just for the demonstration videos . Very entertaining .

    Reply
    • I had the privelage to accessorize a CS tomahawk for an Army General as a retirement present. When I got to handle it it looked like a great tool.

      Reply
  16. I have used a double bit axe for the last 35 years. In that time I have replaced the handle three times. It needs another. The double bit is better balanced and that counts when you split a lot of firewood. The single bits dont have the same balance. I also have an Estwing axe which I have used on several canoe trips. I now take the double bit as its less work than the too light Estwing.
    I have three different models of the steel handled splitting mauls. They are not nearly as comfortable as my 12 pound steel maul mounted on a hickory handle,( better balance). Seems as thought the above comments fall into a couple of categories. Woodcutters toolsor weapons.
    I recently picked up a True Temper hatchet with plastic handle. I am of the opinion that my boy scout hatchet with hickory handle is much more efficient with better balance.
    If you split 2 cords of wood every year by hand you will want the best axe, maul, hatchet and plastic and fiberglass handles will leave you tired at the end of the day. Use a wood handle and buy a spare. By the way, get a decent bow saw as the complement to the axe for camping or long term living off the grid.

    Reply
    • Obviously you have never experienced rebound or you would never again use a double bladed ax for splitting. You've had 35 years of good luck. I wouldn't press it any farther if I were you.

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  17. A double-bladed axe is used to help cut the notch when felling trees. It allows a logger to work twice as long between sharpenings. It is NOT meant for splitting. A rebound can have fatal results.

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  18. i have a funny axe with a long curved blade also . i guess its what some call a bush axe . it is rzor sharp and heavy duty and with my shrew hawk im good to go

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  19. If I may suggest a good tool/ax, http://www.gatewayknives.com/Marbles-Firemans-Axe
    Marbles Firemans Axe
    Measures 15 1/8" (38.42 cm) overall with a carbon steel blade with red coating.
    Cutout opens fire hydrants and oxygen tanks.
    Wooden handle wtih brass rivets and red coated end, full tang, and lanyard hole.
    Nylon belt sheath and includes sharpening stone.
    We have one of these in everyone get home bag.

    Reply
  20. Though it may be a bit bulky I own a "Kaiser" axe or as some call it a "Brush" axe. It's an outstanding piece of equipment, if for some reason I found myself in a somewhat undesirable location in the wilderness I could easily clear an area for the night or it could be used as a last resort defensive weapon…It's fairly menacing.

    Reply
  21. I spent 15 years in Tallmadge, Ohio about 45 minutes from Amish Country. I don't remeber the stores names, but when we needed a farming hand tool for any reason I remeber the trips into the area to pick up the best quality tools. Next time I am up to visit family I will hae to make a stop in to take a look. Thanks for the trip down hard working weekend memory lane, if it was a hand tool I was the one going to be using it.

    Reply
  22. I have one hatchet for survival situations a simple all metal design with a cord wrapped handle, honestly I dont remeber what the brand was that rubbed off long ago. I do think it's time for a new one I have sharpened my current one so many times it's almost a metal stick. I do play around with a few of the cheap throwing tomahawks and in a pinch they would work for a awhile, but I would not sugest any type of hatchet or camp axe with a straight handle.

    Reply
  23. For backpacking/survival etc I have a Gerber Gator combo axe. Its a little axe with a saw stowed in the handle. Very cool. At home Im a big fan of Fiskars. Im have a few of them now. I love em.

    Reply
  24. I'm thinking mobility here… A simple composite handle camp axe (hatchet) is lightweight, rugged, cuts well, useful as an axe, a weapon or a hammer and is easily stored and/or carried. You can pick these up at any hardware store or even Harbor Freight for next to nothing.

    Reply
  25. I have used a machete in the past, not happy with anything found at corporate hardware stores made in China with crap steel and machine forgery that are dull. So, I took a closer look at Swedish axes, and saved money for food by going with a Wetterling Large Hunters Axe for 77.00, opposed the beautiful Gransfor Bruks Small Forest Axe, which was 120.00.

    Reply
    • I have a swedish Sven Saw and a Gransfors Bruks Carpenter's Axe. If you survive for long in a shtf situation you'll appreciate a tool that lasts. I also have an H+ B tomahawk which is better for chopping/ fighting than the Carpenter's Axe, but in any long term survival situation I would want to be able to craft wood, not just burn it.

      Reply
  26. I don’t have a heavy duty ax yet but I do have a latin machete and a norse hawk hatchet from cold steel. When I do get a heavy duty ax it will probably be from them also. I have several items from them. All of them are quality items that will last through a life time of heavy use. It’s only my opinion but I think that Cold Steel makes some of the best mass market cutting tools out there. You should check out there website at http://www.coldsteel.com

    Reply
  27. I have an Estwing axe and I agree that it is a fine one but is not made for cutting hardwoods especially the mesquite that we have in deep south Texas. Perhaps I cut a little too vigorously, it was a dry piece of wood or I cut for too long a period of time and heated up the head, but in any event, I bent the blade. I straightened it out while it was still "warm" and it still cuts fine,…I only use it on lighter, green mesquite or other soft woods. I would have to say I favor my Plumb Boy Scout axe over the Estwing for use down here. In an article posted in Outdoor Life magazine within the past two years, an Alaskan fur trapper recommended the Estwing over any wooden handled axe as the wooden handles have been known to freeze and snap on first or second blow where the Estwing's steelhandle will not break. There you have it – my 2 cents worth.

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  28. Pre-dating today's messenger bags described herein as specifically for bicycle messengers, fashion brands had been creating "messenger style" bags modelled after military map case bags and document pouches featuring a shoulder strap intended for wear across the chest for over a century.

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  29. They were also the first to make the Madrassa system a public domain under the control of the Caliph. The Nizamiyya madrasa is considered by consensus of scholars to be the earliest surviving school, built towards 1066 AD by Emir Nizam Al-Mulk.[citation needed]

    Reply
  30. I prefer the Estwing 45A longer handled axe, I have done about 10 cords a year in AK for the last 6 years and find that this tool is great for limbing large trees, felling any size of log, or splitting smaller logs. I got my chainsaw stuck a few times and had to use this baby to free it up. For serious splitting I use a 5 lb maul with the "wings" on ths sides of the head, like the "true temper" I bought a 12 lb triangle shaped sledge monstrosity but it is too tiring to use efficiently. I have owned every kind of axe type there is, but If I had to choose one axe to go with for the rest of my life it would be this Estwing. It is not very packable however so I have it in my truck. For backpacking/hunting I use the riflemans hawk from cold steel, the blade is as sharp as a knife and you could easily replace the handle out in the woods using the head to fashion a new handle for itself. With the hammer on the back side of the hawk you can put stuff together in the woods using the old "bore a hole in 2 pieces of wood and slam a pin into it method."

    Reply
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    Thanks for your concise and relevant insight

    Reply
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    Reply
  33. I carry a Granfors Bruks Forest Axe in my Jeep. The jeep is 10 years old and the axe went in when I bought the vehicle. It has been used extensively and served me well, easy to backpack with due to lightness. When camping, I supplement it with a Plumb brand hatchet I have had since 1965. When tinkering around rocky areas, I don't like to damage the much more sharply ground Forest Axe, and reserve it for its purpose. The Plumb hatchet looks like a GI hatchet, but has a better quality wood handle set with epoxy and a high quality edge that never chips. I have used it to cut the lower legs off deer while field dressing, split firewood, hammered tent pins and lots of other chores. If I had to chose only one, it would be the Plumb hatchet. Sadlly, Plumb, one of the finest brands of American axes, are no longer made. I once had a double bit Plumb Michigan axe, but lost it somehow during a divorce. It was peerless. One edge was sharpened to near razor sharpness for limbing trees, and the other more bluntly sharpened for power chores, like taking town a tree or light splitting work.

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  34. In my bug out bag I keep a hatchet. I dont know the brand it is old one piece steel with leather handle. In my bug out vehicle I keep a full size 36″ fire dept. hammer axe along with a Haligan tool (pry bar) known in the fire dept as a set of “Irons” together they are extremely useful.

    Reply
  35. I love my coachmaker's axe, a asymmetrical axe used for shaping coach parts in almost a paring manner. The heads vary in size, some styles taking on a "bearded" effect, hence the nickname "bearded axe." These axes are almost exclusively of European origin.

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  36. I use the hatchet by Estwing and it’s a very solid piece of metal. It’s weight at 1.6 pounds may be little too much but the fact that it comes as one solid piece is reassuring, you never have to worry about broken handles or head coming loose. I like it the best.

    Reply
  37. I pack a Hand Ax from Swedish Ax Works (SAW). It has a hand-forged head and cuts wood like butter. Pricey, at $65, but has proven itself for 12 years now. For my machete, the Camillus Carnivore. Seriously sharp titanium-bonded blade.

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  38. A Cold Steel "Trailmaster" is a good tool for a quick campfire. It is able to split light stuff on wet days. My boy Scout hatchet, made in Bridgeport, Maine, has become part of my grandson's kit.
    The older Plumb youth/ 3/4 axes (one with the standard head and one with the 1/4# heavier head) are in the Jeep and in the truck. Both are wonderful tools and are at the point weight wise and handle length where they can be used with one hand or two. I purchased both daughters Eastman axes (about the same size as the Plumb axes), with the all steel handles. This dad didn't need to concern himself with replacing the handles when someone misjudged the distance when they were learning to split wood. I did find because they are good carbon steel tools a wipe once in a while with auto wax kept the rust away.
    A couple of full sized felling axes are at home around here. The added head weight and handle length make a big difference when you have work to do. At some point I inherited my grandmother's double bitted axe. I wondered why the handle was curved since both sides of the head were mirror image. I've found it does make a difference if you are able to switch hit chopping on a downed log.
    The newest addition is a Gerber extra large axe. It appears to have a full sized head, however the handle is 3/4 length. It was purchased to ride on the 4-wheeler. I wanted a handle that would take the abuse of constant bouncing. The belling at the handles end really helps control. Contrary to what someone else reported, the cheap plastic sheath seems to be working quite well-I'm pleasantly surprised.

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  39. Just an opinion, but in my experience, batoning is a waste of time and effort.
    My "boys ax" does the job juuuuuust fine,
    and at 2 1/2 pounds it doesn't add excessive weight for the utility it brings to the table.
    This way a massive knife can be safely relegated to the position of "novelty", where it belongs.
    I ain't crocodile dundee..and would be foolish to try to appear as such.
    Plus, how many raps on the spine of my zombie sword would be needed to accomplish what 1 or 2 thumps from my small ax provides?

    Reply

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