I confess that until this year I never owned an axe. We don’t have a lot of trees where I live, and besides my dad left me a nice Stihl chainsaw when he passed away. Lately though I’ve been thinking I need to learn how to use an axe. I mean what kind of self respecting Backyardsman would stay clueless about axes? So I started reading up on axes – woodcraft blogs, product reviews, manufacturer web sites, anywhere I could find the truth about axes. What I found is there’s a lot of good info on axes, but it’s almost overwhelmed by all the BS. After a lot of reading and thinking about it, here is what I think…
My opinion on axes and axe reviews…
There are lots of axe snobs out there, and they come in all types. Some love cheap axes, and insist that expensive axes are over priced (and anyone who buys one is an elitist gear snob). Others love expensive axes and look down on cheap ones (and people who like them). Some people only like certain brands and claim that other axes are junk, or at least not nearly as good as the brand they like. One thing they all seem to have in common is a love for loudly proclaiming their opinions as The Truth About Axes.
I think in general you get what you pay for, but that doesn’t mean that all cheap axes are junk, and it doesn’t mean that high end axe makers don’t let a lemon out the door once in awhile. It took me a little while to figure out how to read about axes. A few bad reviews doesn’t mean an axe is bad, and lots of good reviews doesn’t necessarily mean an axe is the best axe on the planet. So how do you tell if an axe is good or not from reading axe blogs and reviews?
How can you tell how much weight to give a particular review? Look at what it says. A 5 Star review on Amazon doesn’t mean much to me if the person who wrote it just goes on about how “awesome” the axe looks. I’m more interested in how it performed. How well does it hold an edge? Is it a chopper or a splitter? If someone had problems with an axe, did the seller or manufacturer make it right? Were they even given the chance to make it right? How much experience does the reviewer seem to have? Do they come off as an axe snob, or do they sound like they’ve actually used the axe they’re reviewing? If you’re new to axes, learning how to read product reviews can save you lots of money and hassle.
The Truth About Axes
Axe truth No. 1: Some axes are better than others, but you can find plenty of good quality, inexpensive axes and hatchets. They might not hold an edge as well a boutique axe and they don’t have that “cool factor,” but they’ll be fine for learning with.
Axe truth No. 2: In general, expensive boutique axes use better steel, hold an edge better, have cleaner designs, etc. That doesn’t mean that every expensive axe is better than every cheap axe. Also, even the best axe maker can let a lemon slip out the door
Axe truth No. 3: You need to buy the right kind of axe. If you want to split wood, don’t get a chopper. If you want to carve with your axe, don’t get a splitter. A lot of complaints I’ve read in reviews seemed to be because the reviewer was using the wrong type of axe for what he was doing with it.
And the best axe for a newbie is…
A good quality, inexpensive axe. Think about it. If you’re new to axes, why would you spend a ton of money on an expensive boutique axe when you might not even know yet what kind of axe is best for you? Would you rather learn how to sharpen with a cheap axe, or risk ruining an expensive head? What about modifying an axe? Would you rather practice on a $40 axe or a $200 axe? Save your spending on that expensive premium axe for when you know what you want and need (unless you’re just looking for a fancy wall hanger).
Some inexpensive axes/hatches I like are the Estwing E24A Sportman’s Axe, Husqvarna 13″ Wood Hatchet, and the Marbles MR701SB Camp Axe, MR703SB Hunter’s Axe, and MR704 Outdoor Axe. All of these can be found online for $25 – $50. I also like the Boy’s and Hudson Bay axes in Council Tool’s standard line (the Velvicut line is nice too, but too expensive for a first axe IMO).
For more thoughts on going cheap for your first axe, check out this video. He goes into more detail on why your first axe should be a cheap one…
My first axe(s)
My first axe is an Estwing E24 Sportman’s axe. I picked it up at Home Depot for $34.97 plus tax. Shortly after, I drank the koolaid and ordered a Gransfors-Bruk Scandinavian Hand Forged Forest Axe. That one was $142 plus $8.95 shipping. Guess which one has been getting the most use?