Axes are one of the most versatile hand tools ever made. They’re typically used to fell trees and chop logs down to size. But there are plenty of smaller models, hatches to be exact, that are made for more precise cutting jobs.
What is a Hatchet?
Hatchets and tomahawks are probably the two most confused types of axes. They are both one-hand tools, shaped almost identically, and serve many of the same purposes. However, there are three distinguishing factors between the two: the eye, the balance point, and the handle.
Hatchets have narrow, triangular eyes (connecting point between the blade and handle), whereas tomahawks have rounder eyes. This has nothing to do with performance but rather the simplicity of crafting tomahawks which predate modern hatchets by several centuries.
The balance point on a hatchet is higher than on a tomahawk which offers more control when making intricate cuts. Hatchets are typically wielded near the bottom for more leverage but less accuracy.
Finally, the hatchet’s handle is significantly stubbier than that of the tomahawk. However, you may come across tomahawks fitted with hatchet handles which make them suitable for carving.
Ultimate Carving Ax Buying Guide
When browsing through online shops, you’ll need to know the fundamentals to find the best carving ax. In this guide, we’ll go over what key features to look for and how they affect carving performance.
Size and Weight
To have full control of the hatchet, it needs to be short and light enough to twist and turn comfortably when shaping and dimensioning small boards or stakes. We would recommend hatchets with a maximum weight and length of 15 inches and 2 pounds. A lighter hatchet may be ideal, but when it becomes too light, then you need to worry about the handle’s durability.
When it comes to axes in general, you have three choices: wood, metal, and fiberglass. Wood is an excelling shock-absorbing material and is easily replaced. Metal isn’t that great at softening blows but are extremely durable. Fiberglass handles are easier to hold and come with cushioned grips for extra comfort. For your carving ax, any of these materials will suit you fine since you won’t be swinging wildly over your head and won’t deal with tremor-inducing shocks.
As we mentioned earlier, a hatchet’s balance point – the part of the handle that juts forward in the direction of the blade’s edge ever-so-slightly – should be closer to the blade rather than the tail-end of the handle. This is where the user grips the blade firmly to deliver swift, repeated cuts to shape and carve stock. The “ideal” balance point varies from person to person, so try and find the most comfortable fit.
The alignment of the blade to handle is crucial in determining how well-built an ax is. The check for the ax’s alignment, lay the ax horizontally; the middle of the blade bit and end of the handle should make contact with the ground. The second assessment involves looking at the ax from above. The blade should be perfectly perpendicular to the handle. If the carving ax meets both of these criteria, it’s perfectly aligned and will cut accurately.
The eye is the connection point between the handle and blade. Metal carving axes can be made of one solid piece of steel, but those with fiberglass and wooden handles need some sort of fastener to keep the blade from wobbling. This is the weakest point on any ax, so make sure the blade does not have a wiggle to it upon purchasing the ax.
Though not a part of the ax’s performance, covering the blade in a sheath can extend how long the ax performs. Whenever storing or transporting the carving ax, make sure that the blade is covered at all times. If accidentally dropped, it won’t leave chips in the blade’s edge which would require re-sharpening and honing to get back into shape.
Ax Handle Maintenance
The ax’s handle requires just as much care and attention as the blade. At any point of the wooden handle feels loose or has extensive damage due to missed swings, you should replace it as soon as possible – the blade can go flying when you take the next swing. Furthermore, wipe the blade down after each use when to get rid of moisture particles that could weaken the handle’s structure. Polishing the blade with linseed oil will seal any pores that water droplets could find a home in.
To get the most use out of the ax blade, consider investing in an ax sharpening kit. These should come with a sharpening stone and an abrasive honing stone for restoring the edge to its former glory. You may also achieve the same results with a grinding wheel, but the speed of the wheel may take more off the blade than you initially intended.
Carving Ax FAQs
Left or right bevel?
The bevel of the blade refers to which side is flattened and which has honed at an angle. Some users prefer using an ax with a bevel to the left or right, but this is a matter of personal preference. If you’re not completely sure which to get, play it safe and get a double-bevel axe.
Can the backside of the blade be used to hammer or drive stakes?
Ax blades usually take the shape of a wedge. This allows the backend of the blade to be used to hammer and drive stakes. Note that using a carving ax isn’t the most effective nor efficient stake-driving tool since the blade and eyes are smaller. Too hard of an impact can knock the blade loose from the handle.
How do I fix a loose blade?
If your ax arrived with a loose blade, then check to see whether you can retighten the fasteners. You may also want to hit the blade from above with a blunt object to drive it further down the handle. After doing so, consider soaking the eye in oil so the handle will swell and retain its enlarged shape. If you have a fiberglass or metal handle, return the tool and/or ask for a replacement.
Carving axes are a lot different from axes used to chop and split logs. Carving axes are considerably smaller, but this increases accuracy with each cut since there’s very little risk of overswinging and damaging the stock or your limbs in the process.
The size and weight of the carving ax are the most important factors to consider. It needs to be short enough to control easily while also just heavy enough to deliver a more impactful cut per swing. But if you’d like to get season after season of use from the ax, make sure it’s made of high-quality materials and is made with no or easily fixed imperfections. You may also want to consider getting a sharpening kit and an ax-care kit to make the tool last a lifetime.