Whether you have a wood-burning fireplace in your home or go camping regularly, you’ll need to cut firewood and split kindling. Or, perhaps, you’re cutting and stripping logs for building things or even clearing fallen logs off trails. These activities would require tools like a saw and maybe an axe or a hatchet. However, there are differences in what each is used for when it comes to an axe vs hatchet.
Hatchet And Axe Difference
While a hatchet and an axe may seem like the same thing and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, these are two very different tools for different purposes with notable differences.
When it comes to hatchet vs axe, the main differences are the size and curve of the handle and the size and taper of the head. Both have heads typically made of steel, but the handle materials may vary.
The overall hatchet length is typically shorter than the overall axe length, making it a much more portable tool. A hatchet has a shorter handle, while an axe has a longer handle. The head of a hatchet will also be smaller than that of an axe. Because of both of these factors, an axe is much heavier than a hatchet. An ax will also have a heavier head compared to a hatchet head.
A hatchet may also be called a camp axe, not to be confused with other axes, including the hand axe, regular axe, camping hatchet, or forestry axe, among others. A hand axe and hatchet may appear similar in makeup and parts to the untrained eye, but there are several differences.
Sometimes, a hand axe is confused for a hatchet due to its size, but several notable differences exist.
A hand axe is a small axe, shorter than a regular axe, although certainly longer than a hatchet. This axe has a straighter handle than a hatchet and typically sits at a 90-degree angle to the head. Axe handles are usually made of wood.
The heads of a hand axe will be much bigger and weigh more than the head on a hatchet. The taper from bit to blade on an axe is much less than a hatchet.
Because of the larger head and longer handle, the hand axe is much heavier than a hatchet. Larger axes are designed for much heavier-duty woodcutting than a hatchet. However, it may be a good compromise for general purpose use. People often keep one of these around the house to split firewood or take with them on a camping trip.
What are Hatchets Used For
Hatchets are smaller than any of the axe varieties and the most portable. They are easy to hang on a belt loop, or holster, or throw in a saddle scabbard or backpack. Some are also lightweight enough that backpackers may choose to take one as an added luxury item. They are convenient for use in designated Wilderness areas where motors aren’t allowed, and people must hike or ride horses. Check out our article on the best backpacking axes.
They are lightweight and suitable for light-duty tasks such as cutting small branches off trees, cutting down saplings, or making kindling. They can also be used for creating tinder as the blade edge is sharp enough to shave small pieces of wood. In addition, people clearing downed trees from trails will often take a hatchet to delimb logs to create space for sawing.
A hatchet can also be used for chopping ice in winter. For example, it’s good for breaking animal water that is frozen solid, creating holes for ice fishing, or chipping ice from numerous other things.
Hatchets can also come in handy when processing wild game. Depending on how you cut up your game animals, you can use a hatchet to split a pelvis, ribcage, backbone, etc. If it’s sharp enough, you may also be able to use it for skinning in a pinch.
The head is steel and typically consists of a sharp blade on one side and a hammer head on the other. The blade is usually wide compared to the rest of the head, designed to cut against the grain of wood effectively. The hammer side may be used for pounding in things like tent stakes or the occasional nail. It’s a great multi-purpose tool with many uses.
Hatchets usually have a short handle that curves forward. These may be wooden handles, synthetic handles (like a nylon handle), composite handle, metal handles, and some may be rubber coated for easy gripping. They are much shorter than an axe handle and may angle from the head more than the 90-degrees that axe handles do.
When using a hatchet, it’s important to be careful. Because hatchets are so lightweight, it’s easy to sling them around quickly, but these are dangerous tools if misused. The blades are typically quite sharp and can do a lot of damage with a slip, so they must be treated with the same respect as a knife. So, when wielding a hatchet, take extra care and don’t try to use it for more than its intended uses.
What are Axes Used For
As mentioned before, there are multiple different types of axes, all larger and heavier than a hatchet. The handles are typically longer, and the heads are much heavier. Axes are not as portable as a hatchet due to the extra weight and are harder to carry around. They are used for much heavier-duty work, like cutting small trees (or large trees!), splitting firewood into smaller pieces, cutting through roots, and chopping off large branches.
An adaptation of the axe is a Pulaski. It’s a hybrid tool with an axe blade on one side of the head and an adze on the other side of the head. A general description of an adze is an axe blade turned horizontally. This tool is typically used in wildland firefighting because the adze is excellent for digging in the dirt and cutting the fireline. In contrast, the axe side is used for cutting wood. Because it’s such a great multi-purpose tool, it can be a great addition to your home toolshed for the same reasons.
Where a hatchet may have a hammer side, an axe is not designed for hammering things as they’re far too heavy. An axe head will usually have axe blades on one side, although there is such a thing as a double bit axe, which has a curved blade on both sides. Double-bit axes are good for efficiency because you can ostensibly use it twice as long before needing to sharpen it. Or, you can use one side for chopping through things like roots and the other side for cutting wood. A double bit axe will also have a straight handle set at a 90-degree angle from the head.
Axe handles vary in length depending on the type of axe. Long wooden handles are usually found on a regular axe and are suitable for chopping trees down or splitting firewood. A long handle allows for a more significant swing, resulting in the striking power needed to cut through these more extensive pieces of wood, such as trees. Forest axes have an extra long wooden handle and are designed for cutting down large trees. These are heavy-duty and not very easy to pack around.
You will rarely find an axe with a metal handle. This is because there is so much more power reverberating through the length of an axe. A metal handle would be much more uncomfortable to use. It could potentially cause severe long-term damage to a user’s arms and hands since the metal doesn’t absorb energy like the wood, and it’s also heavier.
An axe usually requires a full swing for maximum efficiency, whether overhead or from the side. This means there is a lot of power at the end of that axe blade. One wrong move, and a person can be seriously injured or even killed by an errant axe swing. So, make sure you pay attention to who is around you and be careful not to accidentally let go of the axe during the swing, as this could also cause serious injury to you or someone else.
Final Thoughts Axe vs Hatchet
The key differences between an ax vs hatchet are the size of both the handle and the blade. Axes are best for heavy-duty wood cutting and splitting, while hatchets are light-duty multi-purpose tools.
Axe handles are typically wood, longer than a hatchet, and built to take more significant swings with more power. Hatchets have a curved handle and are great for delimbing trees, cutting kindling, and hammering in tent stakes.
Hatchet heads are much more lightweight and tapered. They are also quite sharp. Axe heads are heavier, less tapered, and great for cutting through trees and roots. Hatchets regularly feature a hammer head on the back of the head or blade, while axes do not.
Both are excellent tools to have around a homestead, on a farm or ranch, for camping, or in any other situation where you may need to cut wood. Rather than have one or the other, you can’t go wrong with both. Using the right tool for the right job helps keep the work a littler safer too.
So, with a basic understanding of the hatchet axe difference, you should now be able to determine which is the better choice for your purposes and get to work!