Many outdoors enthusiasts have a host of modern tools and gadgets they can use when preparing to go into the wilderness. Although many of these top survival tools include high tech modern equipment, speciality knives and GPS machines, one of the greatest tools of the trade for outdoor survival is a simple bushcraft hatchet/axe.
Finding a dependable, well made bushcraft hatchet is actually a little harder in today’s modern age with 1001 different manufacturers and then figuring out which of them is making products for a quick profit using less than appropriate materials, compared to high quality manufacturers who still use only simple hard wearing honest materials to create the ultimate bushcraft hatchets. I will cover what you need to be aware of.
Difference between axe and hatchet
Bushcraft hatchets or axes are different from a traditional style of lumber axe or a hatchet. The differences have to do with the size of the tool, the hatchet is the smallest version of an axe, the bushcraft hatchet/axe is the middle sized and the axe is the biggest. A traditional hatchet is always the smaller version of a traditional axe. A bushcraft hatchet/axe can be called either – the point is that a bushcraft tool is in the between size of the hatchet and the axe – so it can be called either a bushcraft hatchet or a bushcraft axe – they are both the same size and tool.
The traditional hatchet is the smallest at around 12 to 14 inches in length, the bushcraft hatchet is around 22″ in length and a traditional axe is around 36″ in length. The bushcraft hatchet is a tool which is lightweight and easy to carry but is big enough to use with two hands for extra cutting power- allowing the user to use the bushcraft hatchet for the heavier jobs a traditional hatchet would struggle with such as cutting through heavy vegetation and chopping down trees.
As the bushcraft hatchet is slightly smaller than a tradtional axe it can be used for the lighter jobs too – cutting kindling or cutting joints into timber for construction projects or pairing back bark from trees.
A good quality bushcraft hatchet is one of the most essential tools used for survival and will provide you with a portable tool that is comfortable to carry over long distances. If you are interested in getting one of these trusty partners for your outdoor adventures, you should read the information on the main features i have listed below.
Easy to carry and versatile
The goal of a bushcraft hatchet is to be a highly versatile tool that is also extremely portable. It should never feel like a burden when brought along inside a camping pack or carried alongside your tools on a belt. Image bringing a chainsaw, the fuel and oil and spare chainsaw chains with you on a camping weekend – it doesn’t even bare thinking about!
The smaller and lighter construction ensures that you can easily use it with a single hand or the longer handle design allows you to use it in two handed operation for felling trees as well.
The more compact nature of these axes makes them very easy to carry along and extremely simple to control. You can do fine and detailed work with them as well as the more substantial work also.
Steel axe head
Older bushcraft axes were often made using whichever materials were available during that era. Iron heads used to rust quite quickly and the blade would lose its sharpness with minimal use, thankfully there are not too many iron axe heads made today.
Modern axes have many different ratings and types of steel to choose from, so its important to know the differences between them. Axe heads are usually made from carbon steel, the three types are low, medium and high carbon steel. The standard for ratings these steels is known as SAE Society of Automotive Engineers or AISI American Iron and Steel Institute.
Low carbon steel has a number rating of around 1020, medium carbon is around 1050- 1060 and high carbon steel is anything from 1070 and above. The majority of all axe heads will use medium carbon steel and this will perform very well for most applications. There is also 5150 and 5160 steel used in axe heads. These contain chromium which gives the axe added corrosion defense althought not as much as stainless steel.
Axe head shape
It can often be difficult to choose a bushcraft axe until you are more familiar with the functions of different blade/head shapes. Depending on what you most commonly need to do with your axe, you may want to choose from a couple of different shapes.
A smaller blade is lighter and more versatile for chopping up kindling, cutting shavings or making precise cuts. The longer or wider style blade is better for clearing brush and removing bark. The drawback to the larger style blade is that it is often heavier resulting in more weight to carry. If you need the added versatility of a longer blade however, it could be wise to choose this style of axe even with the extra weight.
Most reputable axe manufacturers will have chosen either a high quality hardwood or a synthetic polymer handle. A good quality handle will ensure the axe stands up to the abuse of hard work for many years to come. Many of the traditional bushcraft axe handles are made using Hickory. This is a strong wood which is relatively light which makes it a popular choice with many of the better brands of bushcraft axes. If you decide to a purchase an axe with a polymer handle be aware that not everyone likes them. Test have shown they are stronger than a wooden handle but they are springy feeling and if you ever do have to reshaft it – it is much more difficult than to reshaft a wooden one. My preference is a wooden handle – i like the stiffness of the shaft and nicer feel of it in my hands.
Axe handle shape
The handle should feel comfortable in your hands, especially if you use your bushcraft axe for long periods at a time. Usually there are two types of handle shape to choose from. Straight handles (tomahawk handle) and the traditional s shaped handle (hatchet handle). The traditional s shaped handle is more comfortable to use. Also beware of rubber covers over the handle as these may seem soft initially – but over time they will be more likely to cause blisters on your hands than wooden handles, as they grab and pull the skin – a wooden handle will not.
The axe wedge
A quick inspection of the wedge that holds the head and shaft of the axe together can be important. Doing a quick inspection to make sure that there are no empty spaces along the side of the wedge and that it is fully drove into the end of the shaft. A broken wedge with a piece missing makes an axe a very dangerous piece of equipment.
A quality brand name for a bushcraft axe is not the most important feature you should look for, but it can help if you are still not sure what to look for. Choosing a top name brand can help ensure that you are getting a product that has been properly tried and tested as many of the best brands have been around for a very long time and have had the benefit of customer experience and feedback over a long number of years.
An unknown brand axe may or may not be constructed using inferior materials, the problem lies with the fact there may be no customer reviews to guide you in your choice.
Established brands like Husqvarna, Wetterlings, Hultafors, Gransfors Bruk and Hults Bruk – Note the number of Swedish manufacturers, these are all well-known brand names that can fast track you to picking a worthy bushcraft hatchet/axe.
My Pick of bushcraft hatchets/axe
Hults Bruk Torneo Compact Felling Axe
Handle Length: 26 inches
Head: Solid Swedish steel
Handle: Solid American Hickory
Hults Bruk is a leader in hatchet and axe making, they have been hand forging tools in Sweden since 1697. They have always made beautiful tools and this is no exception. I have a Hults Bruk which i use almost every day, and i love it. Swinging this is pure pleasure – I cannot emphasise enough how nice it feels to use a beautifully made tool. See what others have to say about this axe by reading the reviews on Amazon click here.