How to Grab the Right Ax for the Job | Outdoor Life

The Survivalist

How to Grab the Right Ax for the Job

Choosing the right ax will save you time and effort

Dating back to the stone-age, axes have served a critical role in the processing of firewood, the building of dwellings, and survival in the wild. And very much like knives, there are different axes which are suited for different jobs in the bush. When it comes down to it, you could fell a tree with a tomahawk or throw a large ax—but it’s best to have the right tool for the job. Here are just a few of the wood chopping options to consider for your backcountry camp.

Different Types of Axes

Pictured from left to right, the splitting maul, the double-bit ax, and the tomahawk.

Tim MacWelch

Double Bit Ax

No, it’s not a battle ax (though, it would work for that in a pinch). Traditionally, the double bit ax is for felling and limbing trees. One edge is stout, for the hard work of felling. The other edge is sharper, for chopping the limbs off the tree once it’s on the ground.

Splitting Maul

These thick and heavy axes typically bear a straight handle, and are used for splitting firewood. They were also used to dispatch livestock before the mechanization of slaughter houses. A blacksmith would draw out the edge to a point, which was meant to strike the livestock between the eyes.


Straight-handled like a maul, these little axes are on the opposite end of the weight spectrum. Feather light and easy to carry, these tools are designed to be carried on the trail for camp tasks. They have also been used as devastating weapons in hand to hand combat, or used as thrown weapons. But the tomahawk does have some drawbacks. The lighter weight of the tomahawk forces you to swing a lot harder to do the same amount of chopping as a heavier ax. And because of their overall shape, they’re not great at splitting wood.

Camp Axe

The most common ax in the woods, these small to mid-sized choppers (aka hatchets) are useful for both camping and survival. These lightweight tools designed for one-handed use, ideally suited to chopping and splitting small wood. The famous Hudson Bay ax is a great example of this group. They are light enough to carry, but heavy enough to chop well.

What’s your favorite make and model of the ax? Please share your preference by leaving a comment.