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Of the two basic axe styles-single and double bit-single-bit axes are most popular. Single-bit axes are used to fell, trim or prune trees, to split or cut wood, or to drive wood stakes.

They are the easiest and safest for an inexperienced woodcutter to use because they have only one cutting edge. The other end of the head forms a hammer for driving wooden stakes; it should never be used to strike splitting wedges, steel posts, stone or any hard object. Single-bit axes should never be struck by another striking tool.

Double-bit axes, with two cutting edges, perform the same functions as the single-bit versions. These are used by professional lumbermen.

Quality axes are manufactured through a hot-forged process, then heat treated and tempered. The best grade of forged axes has beveled blades to reduce binding in the wood.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has published safety standards on axes and their use. Copies are available through ANSI’s sales department in New York City (1430 Broadway, 10018).


Axe handles are made of hickory and range from 20″ to 36″ long. The most common is 36″. Handles for single-bit axes are curved to help increase leverage. Double-bit axes have straight handles because the handle must be symmetrical with the double-edge head.


Axe pattern refers to the shape and type of cutting edge. Standard patterns for double-bit axes are Western, Michigan, Swamping and Reversible. Those for single-bit axes are Michigan, Dayton, Kentucky, Connecticut and New Jersey.


Belt axes have light, camp or utility use. These single-bit models are equipped with a sheath for wearing on a belt. The Boy Scout axe is the most familiar belt axe.


Log-splitting axes can split most woods in one stroke. Rotating levers in the head convert each downward stroke into a direct outward force, preventing the blade from sticking in the log. Newer models feature handles of high-impact plastic molded around a fiberglass shaft, making them virtually unbreakable.


Hatchets are a combination tool, part hammer and part axe.

Some hatchets, such as half hatchets or carpenters’ hatchets, are for general use; others, such as flooring, lath and shingling hatchets, are used for special tasks like laying hardwood floors and installing drywall or gypsum board.

The striking face is intended for pounding on nothing harder than common nails. It should never be struck with another hatchet or a hammer.

Quality is determined by the grade of steel in the head, material in the handle and how it is attached, and type of tempering and sharpening.


Wedges are made of steel, aluminum and plastic. Steel wedges are forged from a solid piece of high-carbon steel and may be heat treated. Aluminum and plastic wedges are designed primarily for use with chain saws and crosscut saws to hold the kerf apart to prevent binding. A woodchopper’s maul is similar to a sledgehammer, but one end of the head is wedge shaped. That end is used to make a starting notch. A wedge is inserted and struck with the hammer end of the maul head.

An axe can also be used to make a starting notch and a maul used to drive the wedge. Wedges should be struck with a sledge or woodchopper’s maul having a larger striking face than the head of the wedge. Never strike the steel wedge with the cutting edge of the maul.

Safety goggles should be worn when using these tools. In addition to possible chipping of the tool, if it is misused, flying wood chips could strike the eye of the user or somebody nearby.

Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Information in this document has been furnished by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. Neither NRHA, any contributor nor the retailer can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.