Rick is a former news reporter who decided that the corporate world wasn't for him and took off to travel the world. He's been to every continent (yes, even Antarctica!) and has tried out a multitude of outdoor gear along the way. From tents to hiking boots, he's probably tested it all. Now, he's one of our full-time product testers and experts.
Bryan is one of our leading experts since he's got a vast expertise in practically everything connected to the outdoors. He's been hiking since he was a young boy, was an organizer of kayaking tours which later led to another passion of his - kayak fishing. Now, he's a part-time expert consultant involved in our multiple product tests and topic research.
Last updated: June 04, 2022
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Bushcraft axes date back to Australia and the first axe designs as well as some of the finest axe designs, today these axes come in varying shapes and sizes for different tasks that include whittling, wood carving, and even general felling. Each design features attributes which change the overall use of the axe for particular wood types or types of cutting, from straight edges for slow accurate carving to longer handles for increased momentum. Some of the biggest stars of timber sports and wood crafting hail from the down under, and they certainly only use the best bushcraft axes.
In researching these axes and their varying designs – and also for ranking purposes and choosing truly the best of the best – we considered every facet of each axe. We examined the width of the handles for grip and the length of each handle – as well as wood type used – which can greatly increase the speed and accuracy of a swing; additionally, we took a look at the craftsmanship of each design, such as metals used, fusing, and overall shaping of each axe head. For general carving and precise cuts, we particularly considered some exceptional straight edged head designs.
Our research included reaching out to manufacturers as well as professional lumberjacks to get their opinions of certain products, particularly the axes they use/prefer and the way these axes are designed; we also talked to verified customers for each and every axe to gauge how their experience has been thus far. The following best bushcraft axes are organized into a table with in-detail reviews of each product, along with the buying guide that further details the intricacies of felling and wood carving with a bushcraft axe.
More features: 20-year warranty, vegetable tanned leather sheath included
If you’re looking to chop wood in a professional and traditional way, don’t look any farther than the Gränsfors Bruks Forest Axe with its broad 3 ¼ head with an impressive cutting edge. It’s refined from Swedish high-carbon axe steel – reportedly one the hardest and steels which makes for the sharpest edge. The head is quite lightweight at 1.5lbs out of an entire axe weight of 2.25lbs; meaning really anyone could handle this axe (so long as they’ve been trained).
Additionally, the head is crafted with an intense curve for cutting into resinous wood and handling large trees with the wide arch of a long handle with considerable power. The handle is 19.5 inches long, made from American hickory wood, and finished/treated in a fine coating of linseed oil. The blade is ultra-thin and the handle is likewise on the short side for easy backwoods carrying but a long enough swing for sufficient power. Its overall shape is ideal for fitting into a portage pack or backpack; for all your trips this axe is ideal for splitting small logs and sticks for a campfire as well as for whittling.
Purchase of this axe comes with an amazing 20-year manufacturer’s warranty, which sets a high standard that other axe brands typically fail to meet; it also comes with a vegetable-tanned leather sheath.
Why is it special?
Amazing 20-year manufacturing warranty.
Comes with a vegetable-tanned leather sheath.
Made from Swedish steel and American Hickory wood
What are the flaws?
Distributor does not include the manufacturing seal which helps further ensure the warranty.
More features: hand-forged, leather edge protector included
Coming in at 2.8lbs for the entire shaft and head, any beginner would be perfectly happy to start bushing or whittling with this beautiful product. It’s hand-forged with folded and heated high-grade carbon steel – meaning it’s just as strong as any steel axe, but much sharper by merit of the carbon alloy.
The forging tradition goes as far back as 1697, and the steel head is struck 40-60 times to increase density and durability to the head. Shorter than your typical Swedish design, the solid American hickory handle is only 20 inches long, but it’s created with an impressive curve for advanced swinging speed. Hickory is used because its strong while also naturally absorbing shock from hard striking blows. This model comes from a very trusted Swedish brand, Hultafors, which has been making axes since the 1700’s.
This axe is known to have a very broad head with increased density and durability, making very deep and wide cuts; though with somewhat decreased precision. All facets of the head have a clear tempered zone, allowing it to be sharpened while not detracting from the strength of the edge. Purchase includes a leather edge protector.
Why are we impressed?
Made with trusted Swedish steel
Curved handle for increased speed; no slippery varnish
Hand-forged with folded and heated high-grade carbon steel
What negatives must you be aware of?
Handle comes with perpendicular grain pattern
Edge is polished upon arrival but not really sharpened
More features: hand-forged, heat treated and oil-hardened, 53-56HRC (Rockwell), leather adjustable sheath included
German-made axes, like this one crafted in Wuppertal, are among some of the best felling-devices in the industry – their smaller counterparts are ideal for clearing away branches and for carving intricate designs. With an impressively handy 38-centimeter length from the butt of the handle to the C45 high grade carbon steel head, this axe will get the job done!
The head itself is folded while hot and then hand forged and beaten until it gets its necessarily broad and refined cutting edge, while the linseed oiled hickory handle is handmade in Switzerland which explains its traditionally long length as well as the motion-curved handle shape for faster swinging speed and accuracy. The entire weight of this felling axe is only 2 pounds in total, with 1.25 pounds going to the steel head. Professionals will love this tool as it’s easy to handle and clearly heat treated for upper strength with oil-hardening for lower handle durability.
The entire purpose of this open face drop-forged, heat treated, and oil-hardened design is to create an axe with an impressive 53-56hrc on the Rockwell hardness scale, while also getting all those perfect angles for the best swinging speed. All in all, this axe is professionally made and ergonomically balanced; it’s the choice for clearing your property and making works of art from wood. Purchase comes with an adjustable leather sheath.
Why are we impressed?
53-56hrc on the Rockwell hardness scale
Designed with a hand forged C45 high grade carbon steel head
Designed with a curved linseed oiled hickory handle
More features: flat grind, welted leather mask included
Council Tools has been making high quality tools since 1886, and this flat grind axe is no different! Other axe and hatchet designs’ typically employ a combination of steel and carbon – where both metals have to reach their welding heat at the same time or risk the carbon burning away – however this axe forfeits an enhanced carbon cutting edge for very strong 5160 grade alloy steel.
The head is hand forged and paired with the curved 19-inch handle made from the finest American hickory, rivaling even the hardier Scandinavian handle designs. Its slight handle curve is crafted to enforce substantially more swinging power behind every motion; upon arrival it is linseed oil finished and pre-dried below 10% moisture content to prevent shrinkage or loosening around the axe head. Unique to the market, the axe head has the patented Dayton Style Head designed for chopping into a tree with maximum efficiency. This patent features a drop forged head which has been tempered to a hardness of 52-56, which even exceeds ANSI standards, and it is then honed to a razor-sharp cutting edge.
Heavier than most of the axes on our list, this option does weight 2.7 pounds total; 2 whole pounds just for the head. Purchase comes with a light coating oil and a welted leather mask which wraps securely around the axe head and keeps it sharp while also keeping your hands protected when not in use.
What are its best features?
Uses a Dayton Style broad head for maximum cutting efficiency.
Handle curve is crafted to enforce swinging power behind every motion
Tempered to a hardness of 52-56
What could be improved?
The steel edge is very soft, meaning that this axe does not hold its edge for very long before needing to be sharpened again
Sheath that comes with purchase is very tight and more likely to be split in parts by the axe
More features: vegetable-tanned leather sheath included
This second bushcraft axe from Hultafors Bruks is exceptionally lightweight at only 1.3 pounds in total, however it does have somewhat of a diminished head shape and overall cutting edge.
The handle is designed with an impressive curve and is made from oil-hardened hickory wood; meaning this axe offers an impressive amount of swing with powerful cutting force for clearing branches and cutting smooth edges into wood designs. It’s also small enough to use in your hand much like the way you would use a pocket knife for finer details; the head is forged from Swedish steel which is extremely strong and offers long lasting durability; additionally, it a highly suggestive metal and therefore the most easily sharpened. Total handle length is 12” inches, meaning this axe will fit very comfortably on your hip or in a bag with little extra bulkiness or weight.
Purchase comes with a vegetable tanned sheath that’s very adjustable and made specifically to protect those who do decide to hip-carry rather than pack the axe. The steel head is uniquely integrated around the wood handle rather than on top of it, making this axe last long because the fit will stay tighter over time.
Why are we impressed?
Very short handle length – 12 inches – for easy carrying and hip carrying
Made from hand forged Swedish steel
Weighs 1.3 total pounds
What negatives must you be aware of?
Heads may come off center and need re-centering before use
Blade folds over pretty easily and needs sharpening
Handle features a rough slippery finish which will need to be sanded off
This lightweight two-handed axe is excellent for limbing as it offers possibility of greater force when using a two-handed grip while chopping – meaning that thicker limbs will offer less resistance against the blade and you won’t receive nearly as much vibration back from the tree to slow your chopping.
The handle is curved and designed with an ergonomic grip, meaning it will swing clearly and precisely with more speed offered because of the handle shape. At 19-inches the handle length is ideal for a large backpack, though this outdoor axe can be carried on your person in a belt. It comes with a handy leather sheath so you’re protected at all times when the tool isn’t in use; the head weight made from lower grade aluminum is also rather light – less than 2 pounds – and comes with a very sharp cutting edge. Because this is made from aluminum however, it will dull more quickly over time and therefore requires more attention with a whetstone after every use or every 3 to 4 uses (depending on length of time you chopped).
The handle is made from hickory wood and offers and excellent fit which will keep the axe head in place at all times with no give over time and no loosening; additionally, the handle is treated with hardening oil that is also available by purchase through Wetterlings.
Why are we impressed?
Well fitted hickory wood handle
Handle is treated with hardening oil for added strength
Large 19-inch handle equals a very strong swing
What negatives must you be aware of?
The mask doesn’t protect well against water damage and resulting rusting
Edge is polished to a mirror but not really sharpened
More features: leather edge cover included, hand-forged
This hand forged design is also the budget-friendly solution from our list; this axe is affordable and dependable. It features a handle made from American Hickory wood with a great fit and additional steel wedge secure fastening, it also features a hand forged Swedish steel head which was heated in a drop-forge and beat then refined into a fine edge with a unique rectangular head shape. The overall axe weighs 1.9 pounds though the head weight is not specified; handle length is 19 inches and not very hip friendly, though it can be worn from a belt loop – mostly though this length is ideal for riding in backpacks when you’re traveling or walking the woods; purchase does come with a highly protective leather edge cover. Purchase also comes with a spare shaft which can be fitted to the axe head, which will save you additional funds on repairs later on. Overall this is a great bushcraft axe for all wood types and especially for limbing, it’s very sturdy and affordable for any household and designed small enough for one-handed gripping that offers a sturdy swing with extreme accuracy.
Why are we impressed?
Best axe for limbing
The budget pick for our list! Very affordable
Features a tight handle fit with additional steel wedge fastening
What negatives must you be aware of?
Axe head is polished to a mirror reflection but goes dull quickly at first before sharpening once
Comes with an uneven hammer pull and a rough primary grind
Things to Consider
The remainder of this guide is designed to explain certain facets of bushcraft axes and how these features help to make each axe function. Additionally, different types of bushcraft axes are discussed, we give our tips for safe and accurate use, and answer frequently asked questions.
What you need to know about bushcraft axes
Bushcraft axes actually offer more uses than just chopping up firewood and limbing trees, for instance some of these designs made from high carbon steel can be used to get a spark from flint and start a fire. Originally the purposes of these axes were to provide assistance in all facets of survival out in the bush, from cutting wood to starting a fire to hunting game for dinner. These simple tools were born out of necessity and slowly their designs changed and adapted with curved handles for speed or blunter axe heads for precise deep cuts. Many of these axes can also be used in place of knives and hammers, lowering the amount of extra weight you have to carry on you while out in the wild by offering a multipurpose tool.
In the wilderness there is no tool better than a bushcraft axe to use for all things from hammering tent pegs in to cutting strips of fabric, whittling wood, and chopping wood up for your nightly fire. What about big axes? Although bigger tools can be used similarly, they’re heavier, not nearly as refined and easy to use with one hand, and take a lot of effort to carry with you on your travels. Whereas small axes can easily do the job of a big axe, just with a little more effort.
Bushcraft axes types
Rather than particular axe types or brands, bushcraft axes are defined by particular handle sizes and axe head weights. For instance, an axe with a 20-inch handle and a 1.5-pound head weight is most ideal for chopping down trees with a diameter of 4 inches and lower. If the axe features a curved handle then your swings will be quicker and more accurate, though they wont sink as deeply into the tree as an axe with a broad flat head. Each axe offers a different range and because of this range each axe will perform different functions for accomplishing a task.
You can of course use smaller axes to chop down thicker trees, but using a 20-inch handle axe with a 1.5-pound head on an 8-inch diameter tree will quickly become taxing and take a lot of time and a lot of energy. One very particular difference which might be consider an ‘axe type’ is the difference between two-handed axes and hatchets.
Bushcraft hatchets are, put simply, axes that can be used with one hand. Typically, these have handles anywhere between 9 and 14 inches long and typically weigh less than 2 pounds. Hatchets are ideal for limbing and for splitting small firewood; they’re also better for carving than traditional bushcraft axes. Though it is worth noting that hatchets aren’t ideal for chopping down anything with a diameter over 2-inches.
Sometimes you might see traditional axes under the ‘small axe’ category – these are the most versatile of course, and our suggestion if you’re looking for a multipurpose tool. Felling axes, on the other hand, are only large axes specifically designed for felling large trees; these are not technically bushcraft axes as they weigh more and have handles as long as 30-inches.
Use your bushcraft axe smartly – helpful tips
Bushcraft axes are designed to help a person survive off the land by harvesting its natural resources. Of course, at its most basic use, this means chopping firewood. Some basic tips for cutting wood are to first choose your mark where you want to chop, second angle the axe head approximately 30 degrees away from the wood, third swing your arm in a 2-foot radius along the angle and keep chopping until you’ve cut the piece of wood. Not only will this general cutting knowledge ensure a smooth precise cut and quicker work, it’s also the safest way to chop wood.
Splitting wood is very similar, though since its no longer rooted from the ground you’ll want to set your logs on top of a surface that keeps them stable while you’re cutting – we suggest a large stump. First place the log on the stand lengthwise, then take your mark near the middle of the log, and raise the hatchet above your head before swinging. Burying the hatchet deep is all that matters when you make your cut, because from there you can hammer both the axe and attached log down on the chopping block until the log splits for your fire. Chopping blocks are also very important to use, because if you ever miss your cut a chopping block will catch a glancing blow and prevent it from hurting you.
Another use for your bushcraft axe is snow and ice cutting, or as a defensive weapon; the sharp axe head offers heavy hits which can slice to the bone and even break bones. This is useful considering many people skin and clean their kills with a bushcraft axe while out hunting.
Features to consider while buying the ideal bushcraft axe
The following features are ones you might have seen listed in the charts above. The following headings discuss each of these important features, and even give examples of axes which best exhibit ‘head weight’, ‘shape’, and even ‘materials’.
It unlikely that you’re going to drag a 36-inch axe with you into the wild, especially since its not something you can easily carry in a backpack or on your waist. Size plays an important role and actually greatly defines what makes a bushcraft axe; this narrows down to bushcraft handles and axe heads. The length of a powerful bushcraft axe will determine whether you can cut down a 5-inch diameter tree or not, and in the cold, this matters because the bigger trees will give you the better fuel and better wood for homesteading. Sure, hatchets are types of bushcraft axes, but these are typically too short for thick trees; what you want is for something to be anywhere between 12 to 20-inches.
12-inch axes to 20-inch axes offer increased portability and great grip for cutting up large pieces of wood. For instance, the Gransfors Bruks Forest Axe is ideal for carrying into the wild and can handle pretty much anything you throw at it. It’s handle length offers easy carrying and advanced swing.
You don’t necessarily want something super light, after all these axes are frequently too light to make deep thick cuts. But you also don’t want an axe head that weighs higher than three pounds. 2 pounds is a great middle ground and it won’t add much to the weight of your other gear; it also wont tire you down after long stretches in the wilderness. These medium axes are useful for finer jobs and thicker trees. Consider the Hultafors Classic Hunting Axe, Council Tool Wood-Craft Pack Axe, or the Gransfors Bruks Forest Axe.
Of course, other brands offer equally strong materials for their handles and axe heads, it just depends on what you’re looking for and what you can afford. Some of these are easily more versatile and compact than traditional designs.
Depending on the metal used the price for an axe typically goes up, especially for the best bushcraft axes which are hand forged and made with high quality curved handles. However, typically these are all rather affordable – much more affordable than your standard felling axe – and they can be used almost to the same chopping level as a felling axe. However, for budgeting there is no better solution than the Husqvarna Splitting Axe. This is a high-quality axe which is hand crafted and yet still very affordable.
Hatchets offer a single-handed grip which makes it easier to handle them for cutting and whittling, with varnish this grip can change however. For instance, some varnishes can actually make an axe more slippery when you’re trying to use it; in fact, if your axe comes with a slippery varnish, we suggest sanding it off to make the handle easier to hold on to. More friction equals more control.
There are some bushcraft axes which offer single grips, but typically these are long enough to require a double handed grip – this somewhat limits your swinging speed, but can greatly increase the power of your cut.
All the axes on this list come with superior sheath guards to protect your axe from growing dull or picking up rust, and also to protect you from getting cut on your travels. The best of these are made from leather and treated with vegetable oil for extra strength.
For the highest level of protection against manufacturing defects, make sure you choose an axe which comes with a superior warranty. One of these best axes is the Gransfors Bruks Forest Axewhich comes with a superior 20-year warranty that covers manufacturing errors by offering total replacement of the axe itself or low-quality parts.
Tools you’re going to need: a piece of leather, a file, and maybe a whetstone. Before beginning make sure you’ve recently cleaned the dirt and other imperfections from your whetstone and file. For chips and nicks in your axe that have altered the original edge, you’ll need to get rid of some of those really bad divots to perfect the cutting edge and restore your axes cutting potential. Starting with a metal file is advisable before moving to a whetstone, however remember that sharpening a hatchet is different from sharpening a knife. Smaller whetstones and sharpening stones are more ideal for axes, whereas bigger ones are for axes.
Beginning with the file, file forward away from the handle and off the face of the axe until you remove those really bad indentations on either side. Next it will be up to the sharpening stone to great rid of the smaller chips from the edge; first work the edge in circles working with the angle of the edge, small circles over and over again until you’ve removed and smoothed out those dents. Repeat for both sides. Finish the entire process by laying flat the leather and running your axe against the surface of the leather; you’ll see that this removes the burr and further perfects and protects the now sharpened axe.
Some basic tips for cutting wood are to first choose your mark where you want to chop, second angle the axe head approximately 30 degrees away from the wood, third swing your arm in a 2-foot radius along the angle and keep chopping until you’ve cut the piece of wood.
Splitting wood is very similar, though since its no longer rooted from the ground you’ll want to set your logs on top of a surface that keeps them stable while you’re cutting – we suggest a large stump. First place the log on the stand lengthwise, then take your mark near the middle of the log, and raise the hatchet above your head before swinging. Burying the hatchet deep is all that matters when you make your cut, because from there you can hammer both the axe and attached log down on the chopping block until the log splits for your fire.
Always double check that the sheath is over the axe before you start traveling, this is essential for your safety and for protecting the axe from the elements or falling and being damaged by the ground. Depending on the size of the axe you may choose to carry it on your hip via stringing it to your belt or through a belt loop – some workers pants have loops specifically for this purpose. If it’s too heavy or awkward to carry on your person, then consider attaching it to the side of your backpack or even putting it inside your backpack. Bushcraft axes are lightweight and designed for easy carrying.
The best bushcraft axe is a mixture of high-quality materials for the handle and axe head along with a superior design which increases an axes usability, durability, swing speed, and cutting ability. For three of the best axes you need look no further than our top nominations:
Gransfors Bruks Forest Axe. With superior Swedish steel materials hand crafted in the finest manor, this axe is the best all around; it even features a fantastic angled axe head and curved handle for improved swinging speed.
Hultafors Classic Hunting Axe. For cutting potential this axe offers the highest level of handmade craftsmanship with C45 high grade carbon steel that can practically cut through anything with enough perseverance and force.
Husqvarna Splitting Axe. The budget friendly choice for our list, this axe is also fairly high quality and the lightest option for your travels.