What’s the difference between a hatchet and an axe? The question seems to have an obvious answer. A hatchet is a small axe meant for small jobs, an axe is bigger and meant for larger/heavy-duty tasks. Question answered, end of article, right?
…Well, not quite. There are some differences between an axe and a hatchet that should be considered. Both are tools designed and meant to be used for different tasks. While you could theoretically use one tool for a job meant for the other with little to no trouble, just perhaps a bit of awkward clumsiness, it isn’t always that simple. Let’s take a look at axes & hatchets in a bit more detail and examine the difference between the two, and discover which will best suit your needs.
Axe is a bit of an “all encompassing” term that refers to several different types of specialized cutting tools. However, for the most part an axe is a long handled, bladed cutting tool. You have a wooden or composite handle that is somewhere around 20”- 36” long with a tapered metal head on top that is sharpened into a blade on one end. Axes heads are also heavier, weighing several pounds, which adds to their cutting power. This is a bit of a simplification, but should do for our analysis. Take a look at the graphic below for a more detailed look at the different names for the different parts of an axe.
The key thing that makes an axe an axe is the size and intended purpose for the tool. Axes are meant to be used with two hands, and are generally designed for specific heavy-duty tasks. A type of axe that comes to mind when thinking of the tool is the forestry axe. Axes like this have long around 20” handles, with ample space for two hands, designed for bushcraft, such as felling & limbing mature trees, (of course you could always use a chainsaw) hewing firewood, and so on.
There are other types of axes as well, such as splitting axes, which have long handles (up to 36”) and are meant for splitting wood; the long handle helps in this regard as it provides a lot of swinging momentum and thus creating more cutting force. There are also broad axes, among other carpenter’s axes, which are used for shaping wood. They key thing to keep in mind with an axe is that it’s meant for use with wood. With the exception of something like a pick axe, using a regular axe on anything other than wood will ruin it. Which is a great segue into my next point.
The butt. That is the end of the axe head opposite of the blade. It’s nice and flat, pretty much without exception (excepting for pick and double bitted axes), and it seems like a nice surface for hitting things with. DON’T. The butt (or poll as it is often called) of an axe is not hardened. That is the steel has not undergone a process known as hardening, where the metal is heated to a very high temperature, and then rapidly cooled, which hardens the metal and prevents impact damage, among other things. Therefore, hitting things with the butt of an axe will ruin & disfigure the metal axe head. Which leads me to hatchets….
From a technical perspective, a hatchet is a variety of axe. Hatchets are smaller than axes, and have handles that are usually between 12” & 18” long. In construction they are very similar to axes, just downscaled. The handle is made of wood or some sort of composite material, with a tapered metal head sharpened to a blade on one side.
Some hatchets are made entirely out of metal, handle, head, and all. This type of hatchet offers increased cutting power since the handle won’t flex as much when you strike the hatchet. One major difference between an axe and a hatchet is that fact the unlike an axe, which is designed for two handed use, a hatchet is designed to be used with one hand.
Hatchets are intended to be a more general purpose tool compared to axes, and are meant for lighter tasks. They are great for cutting small pieces of wood and small branches, but can also be used for all sorts of hunting, gardening, homesteading, and suburban tasks.
One significant advantage of that hatchets posses is their higher level of dexterity. Hatchets, being one handed, generally lightweight (around 2 pounds), and small, can be used for all sorts of smaller and more intricate tasks where a bigger tool would be too large and clumsy. Hatchets are also often sharp and dexterous enough that they can be used in a variety of situations where you would normally use a knife.
Now, back to the butt. Unlike axes, hatchets are meant, by design, to be able to accommodate a significant amount of repeated banging, like a hammer. The poll (butt) of a hatchet is in nearly every case hardened, and thus can withstand use as a hammer, making hatchets an even more universal tool.
Hatchets are great tools to have around, when camping, on the homestead, or pretty much anywhere else. They are can be used in many more situation than an axe, since they are lighter, smaller, and easier to maneuver. If you need to choose between an axe and a hatchet, and can only choose one, I would recommend in most situations that you choose a hatchet. Hatchets are often capable, with patience, of handling large tasks, in addition to small tasks. Not to mention a hatchet is a great all in one tool that can be used in place of a hammer and a knife if the need arises.
Choosing Between an Axe and a Hatchet
Only you know if you need an axe or a hatchet. Ultimately it comes down to what you are planning on doing with the tool. The right tool for the right job. If you are going to be doing some heavier logging, like hewing a lot of large firewood, and limbing/felling mature trees, then an axe is the way to go. In most other situations a hatchet is enough to be getting on with.
Axes vs Hatchets Strengths & Weaknesses
|Heavier (weighing several pounds)
|Lighter (often only weighs as much as 2 pounds)
|Ideal for Bushcraft, Felling Trees, Hewing Lumber, Splitting Firewood, & etc.
|Ideal for Small Cutting Tasks, Trimming Branches, Getting into Tight Spaces, & etc.
|Can be used as a Hammer, and/or Knife in a Pinch.
|Powerful Cutting Tool
|Dexterous and Agile Cutting Tool
Theoretically speaking you can use a hatchet in place of an axe, and an axe in place of a hatchet in many scenarios. Short of hammering things, an axe can handle the smaller and more intricate cutting tasks that would normally be best suited to a hatchet, it will just be really awkward to manoeuvre in small spaces, and add an unnecessary layer of frustration since it will probably end up being a pretty clumsy tool in such situations.
Likewise you can use a hatchet for an axe job, like felling a tree. Just be prepared to serve up an extra helping of patience, since even the best hatchet is short on cutting power compared to a properly full sized axe. So… you are going to be there for a while.
A complete tool kit should probably include both an axe and a hatchet, since have both will allow you to use the tool that best suits the task at hand, avoiding complications that may arise from your tool being too small or too large/powerful for a given task.
When living in the country you are bound to encounter all sorts of different challenges. Having a well stocked tool kit is an invaluable aid to anyone living in the countryside. I created a Toolkit Essentials Buyers Guide that you can download for free to help you build a well rounded homesteading toolkit; which of course includes axes and hatchets.
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