BEST AXES | MAY 2018
Axes have been around in some form since the early Stone Age, and have become indispensable tools for every task – from brush clearing to woodworking to wilderness survival. When selecting an axe, it’s important to choose one that is designed for your intended use. Our team has conducted extensive research on everything from build quality to key features for each type of axe listed, so no matter if you’re a novice or pro outdoorsman, you’re certain to find the right axe for your needs. Read more about our methodology.
For those who need a lightweight, durable splitting axe that can handle small- to medium-sized logs with ease, the Fiskars X17 Splitting Axe is our top pick. Precision balance, a shock-absorbing handle and an advanced blade design are just a few features this excellent axe offers at a very reasonable price point.Read full review.
Felling trees and chopping wood has never been easier with the Fiskars X15 Chopping Axe. This product offers exceptional balance and power-to-weight ratio in a lightweight, budget-friendly package. An ultra-sharp edge right from the factory and a virtually unbreakable design make this a fantastic axe for any occasion.Read full review.
The Estwing E45ASE Camper’s Axe provides the same exceptional wood chopping ability as its competitors for a fraction of the price, making it our top choice for value. Its lightweight, compact design means you can take it anywhere, and its drop-forged steel construction means it can stand up to practically any job you throw at it.Read full review.
The Estwing E24A Sportsman’s Axe is truly a camper’s best friend – it can skin a deer, split kindling and post a tent with no extra tools necessary. While some hatchets may feel flimsy or fragile, this axe is made from a single piece of drop-forged carbon steel, so it’s very durable.Read full review.
Best by Category
Best Camp Axe
For the serious outdoorsman who values craftsmanship and durability above all else, the Gränsfors Bruks Small Forest Axe fits the bill. This classic tool of the outdoors is elegant in its simplicity, with a hand-forged, high-carbon steel blade attached to a sturdy hickory wood handle. A vegetable-tanned leather sheath is included to protect the blade and yourself from damage.Read full review.
Best Splitting Axe
The Fiskars X27 Super Splitting Axe is similar to other axes in the Fiskars X-Series line, but this model comes with an extended handle and heavier head to maximize the power and speed of taller users.Read full review.
Best Ice Axe
The Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe is a classic mountaineer’s piolet (ice axe) updated for modern times. A durable aluminum shaft and stainless steel pick keep weight down without sacrificing strength for chopping steps, glissading and self-arresting.Read full review.
Best Survival Axe
The SOG Survival Hawk SK1001-CP is a versatile tool with a number of applications, from obstacle removal to self defense. This compact tomahawk axe has a rugged stainless steel head for chopping, splitting and slicing, as well as several other survival tools packed into one compact design.Read full review.
Best Decorative Axe
Collectors looking for a quality reproduction of an authentic Viking war axe should take a look at the Cold Steel Viking Axe 89VA. This decorative axe boasts resilient construction, a 1055 forged carbon steel blade with robust 10-inch cutting surface and a varnished hickory haft.Read full review.
Axes BUYING GUIDE
Most modern axe heads are made from steel, which is an alloy that contains a mixture of iron and carbon. Older axe heads were made from high-carbon steel to increase durability and retain edge sharpness, but newer models have cut down on the amount of carbon to save money and weight, and make them easier to sharpen. Stainless steel has become a popular metal to use in survival and wilderness-use axes because it requires significantly less care than other types of steel, but it is not ideal for heavy duty jobs. As always, the type of tool you need depends greatly on how you plan to use it.
If an axe is too heavy to swing comfortably, you lose accuracy, and if it’s too light it will require extra energy to chop, split, or slice wood efficiently. Axes used in outdoor logging competitions have heads weighing upwards of 6 pounds because they produce more cutting force, but this is much too heavy for the average person. It’s recommended that most people start around 3 pounds and increase weight as they become more experienced.
Common wisdom dictates that most people should choose an axe that is slightly shorter than they think they need. Longer axes can theoretically deliver more downward force, but if the axe is too long, you sacrifice accuracy with your swing. Especially for those who are beginners, shorter axes will offer more control and more efficient cutting.
There are two types of axe handles: wooden and composite. Wooden handles are more traditional, and can easily be replaced if they break. However, they do not offer much in the way of shock absorption during cutting. Composite handles, on the other hand, are much more forgiving. Many of them are made of fiberglass and have rubberized grips – unfortunately, due to their construction, if a composite handle breaks the whole axe must be replaced.
Because of the variety of axe styles out there, it’s difficult to pin down a specific price range. The general rule with most tools is the more durable its construction, the more expensive it is, but this isn’t always the case. For larger axes in the $30 to $40 range, you can find an axe with a forged head that’s sharp out of the package, and a fairly simple composite handle. Slightly more expensive axes may include a leather or rubberized grip for added shock absorption and comfort. Axes in the $100+ range tend to look more traditional, with polished hardwood handles and carbon steel-forged heads that provide increased durability. Quality hatchets and smaller axes can be had for $40 and up, and specialty axes like ice axes are priced anywhere from $100 to $200+.
FULL product reviews
We research hundreds of products in order to bring you a final, unbiased list of the very best. We also use a proprietary algorithm to score each product in terms of quality, value, and brand reputation. These subscores are then weighted to calculate our overall scores. Read more about how we calculate our scores.
The Fiskars X17 Splitting Axe is an ideal axe for splitting small- and medium-sized logs into kindling quickly and efficiently, saving you time and energy. Its 23.5-inch fiberglass composite handle is both lightweight and virtually unbreakable, and the axe blade has a unique bevel construction that drives through wood to deliver smooth, first-strike splits on every swing.
Why We Recommend It
- Lightweight design. Weighing less than four pounds, the Fiskars X17 Splitting Axe can be used almost anywhere and by almost anyone. Several older users – even those with histories of shoulder injuries – say they had no difficulty wielding this axe and splitting logs with ease.
- Durability. Fiskars claims their X-Series axes are “virtually impossible to break,” with a composite handle that is stronger than steel and an over-molded design that prevents blade and handle separation. Many users back up this claim; several have been using their X17 Splitting Axes for 10 years or more.
- Shock-absorbing handle. The patented FiberComp® fiberglass composite handle is designed to dampen vibrations on overstrikes, and has a textured, non-slip grip for reduced hand strain and improved control.
- Blade coating. The Fiskars X17 Splitting axe comes with a factory-sharpened blade covered in a low-friction coating that helps prevent it from becoming stuck in extra-hard or knotted wood.
- Lifetime warranty. Fiskars offers a full lifetime warranty on this product – simply contact them with any issues and they will send you a replacement axe.
- Blade coating wears off. Several users claim that the factory-applied low-friction blade coating wears off after moderate use. However, they also mentioned that the smooth, tapered design of the blade itself more than makes up for the lack of coating.
- Not ideal for larger logs. Some users claim to have no issues with splitting exceptionally large logs or hardwood, but the majority agree that this axe is better suited for light-to-moderate splitting, not chopping or felling.
- Blade steel can chip. There are several reports from users that the blade steel is too soft, and would sometimes chip during splitting or sharpening.
The Fiskars X15 Chopping Axe is a solid choice for anyone in the market for a compact, powerful woodworking tool. At 23.5 inches in length and just over three pounds, this axe can be taken almost anywhere with the included sheath and built-in handle. Plus, its lightweight construction and hardened forged steel blade will chew through tough wood faster than many of its competitors thanks to an additional friction-reducing coating. This axe has a weatherproof, shock-absorbing fiberglass composite handle that is virtually unbreakable, and an insert-molded design locks the axe head securely in place.
Why We Recommend It
- Excellent warranty and customer service. Fiskars offers a lifetime warranty on the X15 Chopping Axe. Several users with damaged or defective axes mention how quickly Fiskars responded and sent them replacement products.
- Performance on a budget. Users who own multiple axes said they are impressed with how well the X15 Chopping Axe performed compared to more expensive, heavy-duty models. They refer to this as great “gateway” axe for beginners or those on a budget.
- Powerful, efficient blade design. Fiskars claims the X15 Chopping Axe can cut up to three times deeper than other axes. Many users verify that claim, reporting that they were able to chop more wood while using less time and energy.
- Ergonomic and shock-absorbing handle. The patented FiberComp® fiberglass composite handle has a textured rubber grip, making it easy to control. Many users were skeptical because other fiberglass handles tend to have problems with vibration feedback, but praise the X15 Chopping Axe for its strength and shock-absorption.
- Can’t split large logs. While chopping axes can be used to split logs for kindling as well, the X15 Chopping Axe’s blade isn’t designed for splitting, so users report having difficulty with larger pieces of wood. However, the X17 Splitting Axe listed above is perfect for this application.
- Shorter-than-average length. The X15 Chopping Axe is 23.5 inches long, several inches shorter than most other chopping axes on the market. Longer axes can typically deliver a more powerful swing; however, a slightly shorter axe provides more precision, control and portability.
- Blade edge can chip or dent. Some users report slight chips or dents in the blade edge because of how thin it comes from the factory. They advise taking extra care to sharpen the axe and keeping the blade covered using the provided sheath.
If you’re looking for an axe that’s tough, versatile and from a brand known for quality craftsmanship, the Estwing E45ASE Camper’s Axe is for you. This axe is short enough to be used by almost anyone, and at just over three pounds, you won’t mind packing it in your hiking bag. It also comes with a ballistic nylon sheath that includes a belt loop for extra carrying options. As for chopping power, the axe has a hand-sharpened and polished head with a tempered four-inch cutting edge that stays sharp after repeated abuse.
Why We Recommend It
- Versatility. With a 26-inch handle, the Estwing E45ASE Camper’s Axe is larger than a hatchet but smaller than a full-sized axe. This allows stronger users to swing it with one or two hands, making it ideal for a variety of applications such as camping, hunting or farm use.
- Durable construction. Because the axe head and handle are one solid piece of forged steel, there’s no need to worry about the handle breaking or head coming apart, which are common issues with fiberglass- or wood-handled axes.
- Trusted brand. Many reviewers say they were drawn to this item because they recognized the Estwing brand’s standard for quality craftsmanship with similar rugged tools like hammers.
- Lightweight materials. The Estwing E45ASE Camper’s Axe is easy to swing for beginners and offers enhanced control and efficiency for expert outdoorsmen.
- Factory-sharpened blade. Many users report the blade was extremely sharp upon receiving the axe, and it stayed sharp under light to moderate use. They also claim to have no issues with keeping the blade sharp with minimal care.
- Increased vibrations with use. Though Estwing claims their rubberized grip helps reduce shock from overstrikes, many users say that in practice this is not the case. This is most likely due to the axe being a single piece of forged steel instead of two pieces like traditional wood- or fiberglass-handled axes.
- Can’t drive steel wedges. The Estwing E45ASE Camper’s Axe is only designed to drive wooden or plastic wedges using the backside of the axe head. Users report that driving steel wedges would slowly cause a bend in the handle of the axe.
- Not easy to choke up on. Typically, an axe is held higher up on the handle to increase balance for more precise actions like scraping or shaving wood. Because the handle is metal and tapers near the axe head, it’s not comfortable to grip anywhere besides the textured rubber-coated section.
Two words best describe the Estwing E24A Sportsman’s Axe: simple and effective. Made from one single piece of hand-polished steel, its hand-sharpened blade has a tempered three-and-a-quarter-inch cutting edge that’s ideal for chopping, splitting and slicing. The conventional solid-shaft handle is wrapped in stacked genuine leather washers to give it a traditional, outdoorsy feel. Its compact design is meant to be used with one hand, and the axe is well-balanced for both aggressive and precise woodworking activities. Includes a ballistic nylon sheath for protection and transport.
Why We Recommend It
- Full-tang steel construction. The Estwing E24A Sportsman’s Axe is made from one single piece of 1055 carbon steel, which means it’s extremely durable and will hold up under constant abuse. Users report that the backside of the head can even be used to drive in tent stakes if needed.
- Rugged design. Many users comment on how much they enjoyed the look of this axe, from its polished steel head to leather-wrapped handle.
- Lightweight and compact. The handle is only 14 inches long, and the whole axe weighs less than two pounds. Quite a few users mention how easy it was to pack this axe into their hiking backpacks for camping and other wilderness excursions.
- Excellent entry-level hatchet. Several users who had never owned a hatchet previously say they decided to buy the Estwing E24A Sportsman’s Axe because of its bargain price and durable construction.
- Leather grip needs extra care. Users report the handle has a factory-applied coat of varnish that does a poor job of protecting the leather from rotting. Many of them resorted to sanding off this varnish and applying their own oil treatments, with good results.
- Not great for carving. While users claim the axe is decent for chopping or splitting wood, its thick blade edge and tapered handle near the axe head made it difficult to use for woodworking projects like shaving or carving.
- Limited carrying options. The axe handle does not have a lanyard loop, and the nylon sheath has no belt loop like others axes in its class.
BEST BY CATEGORY
Best Camp Axe
Similar in form and idea to a hatchet, a camp axe is slightly larger, both in weight and length. It can be used with either one or two hands to fell smaller trees and do some light splitting of logs for firewood. Because of its size, a camping axe is more portable than a normal felling axe, making it an essential tool on long camping trips where weight is not an issue. However, backpackers who are fine with sacrificing wood-splitting capabilities in order to shed weight will probably want to go with a hatchet.
Each Gränsfors Bruks Small Forest Axe is handmade in the small Swedish city of Gränsfors, and the axe head bears the unique imprint of the initials of the axe smith who forged it. In the age of mass production, that level of craftsmanship means you can expect this camp axe to last a very long time. It’s ideal for chopping or splitting up to medium-sized pieces of wood, and the 19-inch handle is long enough to be used one- or two-handed depending on the activity. Gränsfors Bruks stand behind the quality of their blades with a 20-year replacement guarantee.
Why We Recommend It
- Incredible brand reputation. Gränsfors Bruks is considered the top name in axes among bushcraft and woodworking enthusiasts. They hand-forge each axe, and offer a 20-year quality guarantee for their blades.
- Unmatched durability. Several users came back to update their initial product reviews and reported their axes were still going strong many years later.
- Excellent all-around ability. The Gränsfors Bruks Small Forest Axe has a unique blade construction that lets it tackle small-to-medium chopping and splitting jobs with ease.
- Portability. A 19-inch handle and two-and-a-half-pound head make this axe perfect for stowing in a bag or hanging on your belt during camping and hunting trips.
- Wooden handle. Many reviewers say they prefer traditional wooden handles over steel or fiberglass materials, but they also are the most susceptible to breaking during use. Be aware that Gränsfors Bruks’ warranty does not cover broken handles – you’ll have to purchase a replacement.
- Price. Though most users say that this axe was well worth the purchase, it may be a bit too expensive for some people. It’s possible to buy two – potentially three – of the same style of axe for the price of a Gränsfors Bruks Small Forest Axe.
Best Splitting Axe
While splitting axes are great for making quick work of your wood pile, you won’t find them used in any outdoorsman contests. These axes have a single wedge-shaped blade that’s perfect for splitting vertically placed logs into firewood in a single swing, saving you time and energy. They’re often made with composite handles that offer shock absorption as well. Splitting axes aren’t as portable as camping axes or as durable as felling axes, but if you’re stockpiling firewood for the winter, this tool is indispensable.
At 36 inches in length, the Fiskars X27 Super Splitting Axe has the longest handle of any Fiskars axe, allowing taller and stronger users to put extra speed and force behind each swing. While the eight-pound head may be heavy for other splitting axes in its class, it’s much lighter than comparable splitting mauls, which means less fatigue and more logs split per session. The blade has a unique wedge construction that splits even the largest logs with ease, and the FiberComp® handle is stronger than steel, which helps prevent damage and excess vibration from overstrikes.
Why We Recommend It
- Splits better than competitors. The added weight and length of the Fiskars X27 Super Splitting Axe provides extra downward force while splitting logs, allowing users to split more logs of a larger size than most other splitting axes on the market.
- Comfortable, ergonomic handle. Many users enjoy how well the fiberglass composite handle and textured rubber grip felt in their hands, and claim it significantly dampened vibrations from overstrikes.
- Weighs less than a splitting maul. Traditional splitting mauls are like a combination of a sledgehammer and splitting axe. They use their significant weight to split large pieces of wood, even against the grain. Several users report the Fiskars X27 Super Splitting Axe was actually better at this than their own splitting mauls, and felt much lighter.
- Not very portable. Unlike shorter and lighter splitting axes, this axe is much too long and heavy to transport in a bag. However, if you do most of your wood splitting in one area, this shouldn’t be an issue.
- Too large for smaller users. Several users claim they bought the Fiskars X27 Super Splitting Axe because they thought a longer, heavier axe would make splitting easier, but had to return it for a smaller size because it was too large to use comfortably.
Best Ice Axe
Unlike other types of axes, an ice axe isn’t capable of slicing or chopping wood. Its primary use is as a multipurpose climbing tool for mountaineers traversing through icy conditions during ascent and descent. It can be a walking stick, a tether for climbing ropes, a pick for digging out footholds, and in extreme cases it can act as an anchor to save you from a steep fall or slide. Ice axes can be made from a variety of materials as lightweight as aluminum or as heavy as steel alloys. Sizes vary depending on your height and expected terrain.
Hikers interested in conquering the steepest, iciest slopes know they need a dependable ice axe to help them traverse safely. The Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe is the perfect tool for the job. This CEN-B certified ice axe is crafted from 17-4 investment-cast stainless steel for the pick, spike and head, with an aircraft-grade aluminum shaft that sacrifices weight without sacrificing stability. This axe comes in a variety of lengths from 50cm to 75cm, and is designed in the classic curved-pick mountain axe style.
Why We Recommend It
- Ergonomic heads. Several users mention how comfortable and secure the Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe felt while using it as a walking stick. The rounded head has a wider grip area than most other ice axes on the market.
- Extreme durability. The aircraft-grade aluminum shaft and stainless steel pick can stand up to plenty of abuse without even the slightest scratch, according to many reviewers.
- Robust construction. A few reviewers have stories of using this axe to arrest themselves during slides or falls, with both user and tool emerging none the worse for wear.
- Extra weight. The weight of an ice axe will increase as its length increases, but several buyers noted the Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe was slightly heavier than more expensive models. However, they noted this axe also feels sturdier and stronger than axes made with lighter materials.
- Aluminum shaft is slippery. Many users claim they resorted to wrapping paracord or grip tape around the axe’s aluminum shaft to help them keep their grip during heavy use.
- Missing leash. Some users dislike that this axe does not come with a wrist leash and it must be purchased separately.
Best Survival Axe
Survival axes are popular with military personnel and first responders because of their multipurpose functionality. Features may vary on axes in this category, but survival axes typically have at least one extra feature, like a built-in hammer, pry bar, or saw hidden in the handle. In addition, survival axes are designed to be used in self-defense, and are well balanced in both hand-to-hand combat and as a projectile. Key features include a compact size, an extremely sharp blade, and a single piece of molded, full-tang steel for increased durability. Survival axes are designed for one thing only: to keep you alive.
The SOG Survival Hawk SK1001-CP was designed for the survival prepper who wants to maximize utility without sacrificing carrying capacity. Its 420 stainless steel head with razor-sharp blade is mounted to a fiberglass-reinforced nylon handle with a wrapped paracord grip. Though this survival axe is only 12 inches long and weighs just over one pound, it also packs a nail puller and hammering head, plus a ferrocerium fire-starting rod hidden in the handle. It also comes with a ballistic nylon sheath to keep the three-inch blade sharp and protected.
Why We Recommend It
- Compact design. Buyers were impressed with how small and light the SOG Survival Hawk SK1001-CP is, and how easy it is to swing as a tool or in self-defense.
- Useful multi-tool. SOG was able to integrate several essential survival tools into a single 12-inch tomahawk, like a hammer, fire starter and nail puller. Many reviewers note how useful it is to have all those tools in a single package.
- Full-tang stainless steel construction. Several reviews point out how sturdy the axe feels to use as a chopping, splitting and hammering tool. There were very few complaints about chips or dents in the blade after use.
- Rugged looks. A survival tool needs to look the part, and many users agree that the SOG Survival Hawk SK1001-CP is a serious-looking axe. Its matte black finish and reflective paracord handle are particularly eye-catching.
- Paracord handle is loose. A good number of users report that while the extra paracord is useful, it doesn’t make for the best handle grip and will come undone easily.
- Fire starter breaks easily. Many users note that the ferrocerium rod stored in the handle is not very strong, and can shatter while the axe is being used.
- Sheath construction. The provided sheath is not very visually appealing to most users, and doesn’t offer many options for carrying the axe comfortably.
Best Decorative Axe
Not every axe is meant to be used for splitting, chopping, or slicing. Some people prefer to showcase axes of exceptional quality as art pieces or collectible items. Decorative axes are characterized by their ornate designs, are usually made by hand, and can be inspired by – or are replicas of – real axes from a period of history. They are non-functional, which makes them excellent as display items or used as props in historical or fantasy role-playing. Decorative axes can also be designed as memorabilia from a popular television show, movie, or video game.
The Cold Steel Viking Axe 89VA can function as a display piece, part of a period costume, or an effective self defense weapon, depending on your mood. Made to the exact specifications of ancient Viking warriors, modern materials allow it to be surprisingly lighter than expected at just under five pounds. The forged, dual-pointed steel blade sits atop a 48-inch haft made from Maine hickory wood, and though it’s only three millimeters thick, the axe bit is tempered to withstand high-impact, high-stress use.
Why We Recommend It
- Authentic design. The Cold Steel Viking Axe 89VA replicates the look and feel of a traditional Viking axe, making it ideal for use as a display piece or roleplaying item.
- Forged carbon steel blade. Reviewers point out that the axe’s blade comes factory-sharpened, and is of exceptional quality for what is essentially a decorative axe.
- Sturdy haft. The staff, or haft, of the Cold Steel Viking Axe 89VA is made from stiff hickory wood and is lightly varnished to protect it from weather damage.
- No hard contact. A number of reviews claim that the axe’s instructions advise against using it to chop or split wood, as the blade is not designed for this activity.
- Assembly required. Many reviews mention that the axe needs additional tools to fully assemble, which may not be ideal for those who lack the equipment or skills.
- Sheath not included. This axe does not come with a sheath or blade cover, unlike the majority of axes on the market. Potential buyers will have to make their own, or exercise extreme caution around an unprotected blade.