Design & DIY

4 types of axes every Canadian should know

Chopping wood

Axes—they’re not just for throwing, contrary to what some urban plaid-clad hipsters might have you think. In cottage country, axes actually get used to chop useful things, like firewood.

Our list of must-know axe types will ensure you make the most of this essential tool.

Felling axes

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These are the axes you use to cut things, usually trees—either taking a tree down or cutting a long log into smaller pieces. The bit (the cutting part of the head, which is the top of the axe) on a felling axe is thin and sharp, meant to cut across the grain on the wood.

Splitting axes

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These axes are thicker and blunter than a felling axe, and are meant to split wood along the grain. These are the axes you use when you want to split fat logs into more useable quarters for your fireplace. Splitting axe (or maul) heads have a thick, wedge-shaped bit with a blunt butt opposite, which can be used to drive a wedge into a piece of wood.


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Perfect for camping, these short-handled, one-handed axes are ideal for small chopping jobs like creating wood for a campfire.


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Broadaxes—which are right- or left-hand specific—have large bits and long beards, which is the part of the bit that hangs down below the rest of the head. These axes are most often used to hew logs into beams, straightening out round sides to create workable corners. The bit on a broadaxe is beveled on either one or both sides.

Axe safety

Of course axes are cool, but they’re also dangerous. Here’s some basic axe safety:

  • Make sure the head of your axe is secure and the blade is sharp. If the head is loose and you’re away from your woodshop, soak your axe in a stream or a bucket of linseed oil. The wood will swell, which will keep the head steady for a while. When you can, add a wedge where the wood connects to the head, or replace the handle.
  • Clear an “axe yard” when you’re chopping—a safe zone of about ten feet around that people can’t cross. Also make sure that you won’t hit anything as you swing.
  • Wear sturdy boots (leather is best) and long pants when you’re chopping. Leather won’t stop you from cutting yourself if your axe slips, but it can help reduce the seriousness of the injury.
  • The safest way to pass an axe to someone else is to lay it down and have them pick it up. If you’re handing an axe to someone, hold the handle near the end (called the knob) with the head down. Hand the axe handle to someone with the bit at a 90-degree angle between the two of you. Make sure your partner has a grip on the axe before letting go.
  • No matter what you’ve seen in cartoons, never carry an axe over your shoulder—carry it with your hand under the head, with the bit turned away from your body.