How to Use an Ax in Bushcrafts

How to Use an Ax in Bushcrafts

A sharp ax is one of the most important bushcraft tools in your pack.  It is more precise than a sickle or other implements and unlike a machete; it can chop and cut thicker logs.  It should come as no surprise how many bushcraft use this invaluable piece of gear.

Even the lightest of packers should find room for a sharp ax.  They are versatile tools with a long history of making the difficult simpler.  In the bush, there are few tools with more uses and functions. 

man with axe


The hand ax was a shaft-less tool used around 1.6 million years ago.  Though it has little resemblance to its modern equal, it is the earliest form of an ax.  The hand ax may also even be one of the oldest pieces of tools used by early humans. 

For many thousands of years, man continued making improvements to the ax, and it evolved.  The addition of handles leads to two types of ax, a shaft hole, and a non-shaft hole. 

As the names sound, one had a shaft that went through the blade, and the other had a shaft attached outside the blade.

The Bronze Age led to one of the most significant tax updates. Copper and bronze became the most common materials used for making ax heads. 

This allowed for the heads to be mass-produced through casting.  The Iron Age had a similar impact when the use of iron became more prevalent. 

When forestry became a big business so did ax making.  The forestry industry is also credited with the common look of most axes today.  Axes production moved out of the small forges and became a commercial enterprise. 

Parts Of An Ax 

It is possible to break an ax down into many parts or areas.  In fact, the handle alone contains a few different named areas. This is a simple breakdown of key parts:

1.  Ax Eye

2.  Cutting Edge 

3.  Bit

4.  Lug

5.  Handle 

6.  End Knob 

7.  Butt/Poll

8. Head

A good blade cover or sheath is also an important part. It will not only keep you safe when the ax is not in use, but it will also protect the edge and keep it help keep it from dulling.  Even under the best circumstances, a high-quality sharpening stone is an essential item for owners.   

Types Of Axes

Since the beginning of their use, axes have taken many shapes and sizes.  Usually, the different design aspects and styles were born out of a specific need.  Today’s axes are no different.


The asymmetrical head design makes this ax idea for smoothing rounded surfaces.  For that reason, it is a favorite of carpenters and log cabin builders. 

Broad Ax

A broad ax is designed for use by either left-handed or right-handed users. 

Double Bit

A double-bit ax is one with two heads.  On one side a sharp edge for chopping and on the other a duller edge for splitting. 

Double Bit

These can be difficult to get used to because they are heavier and awkward to swing because of the head weight. 


Today battle axes are a rarity outside of re-enactments and festivals.  Most owners of this style have them because of their historical significance. 

Battle Ax

A battle ax is still an ax for all intents and purposes, but it is far from a viable bush option.

Hudson Bay 

For small outdoor projects, a Hudson is a great choice.  They are usually around 75% the size of a standard ax making them easy to wield.  Cutting small branches is no problem, but the thinner head makes chopping difficult.


Firemen use these hearty axes to bust through walls and doors. 


It is a powerful tool that has been used in a lot of scenarios.  Yet, for all its good, it is not a viable bush option. 


Like the fireman’s ax, the crash ax is a specialized ax with little use in the bush.  It is a compact emergency response tool that usually has a serrated edge and a pick. 

This type is for tearing open compartments and walls in large aircraft. 


The thickest of trees is no match for a felling ax in the right hands.  It is one of the most common styles seen in the outdoors. 


Felling axes come in different lengths and weights so different users can find the best fit for them.  


These are at the smallest end of the spectrum to be still considered an ax and not a hatchet. 


Their thin blades and long cutting surfaces make them ideal for tight precise cuts.  They are reliable tools and a must-have for carpenters.  


Tomahawks have little use in the bush unless they are a sidearm. 


Anything with a sharp edge has a use, but the head of a tomahawk is too light for chopping.  Leave tomahawks at home.  


A skilled user with a splitting ax can split a log in two every time.  This makes splitting axes a perfect choice for preparing firewood. 

Split Ax

For bush use or camping, you can also find smaller splitting axes and hatchets.  


An adze isn’t actually an ax but its similar appearance often gets it mis-classified as one. 


Developed in the Stone Age, an adze is ideal for smoothing and carving wood.  Unlike their cousin, they have a cutting edge perpendicular to the handle. 


In the simplest of terms, a hatchet is a scaled-down ax. Hatchets are small but not in use. 


Chopping firewood and even small trees are jobs completed with ease using hatchets. 


One of the newest members in the family is the Survival Axe.  These are small almost hatchet-sized axes that are very handy in outdoor situations. 


Their size, durability, and affordability make them ideal for bush use. 

Bushcraft Uses 

A well-chosen ax is one of the most important tools to have on hand in the bush.  Yours will fill the gap left by all the specialized tools that don’t make it out to the bush with you. 

Ax nature

You can use one when building shelter, making fire, procuring food and even finding water. 


Having a roof over your head is important in any environment.  Even the crudest or most basic camps will need shelter.  In most locations, you will have to build your shelter completely from scratch. 

From felling small trees to cutting limbs, your ax will be a workhorse when building a shelter.  It will also be a good tool for smoothing uneven areas of your sleeping surface.  In a pinch, the butt will work as a hammer to drive stakes.


Fire is the center of all bush camps.  Whether it’s for warmth, meal preparation or water purification creating fire is crucial.  Regardless of your creation method, you will need plenty of wood.

An important feature for you to look for in your bush ax is its ability to chop firewood.  A good one will also be a useful tool when stripping kindling.  Some can also get a spark with flint to start your fire. 


Even the most hardened outdoorsman needs to eat.  Without food, your strength, stamina and mental acuity will diminish.  Most bush axes will not be the best choice for hunting, but they have other uses regarding food. 

Using your ax you can cut limbs to make traps used to catch small animals.  These limbs can also be in the frame and structure of a smoking rack or similar cooking rigs.  If you are a hunter, larger game may even be easier to butcher using one.         


Hydration is another need we all have.  In some environments, it will be more difficult than others to collect water.  You may not think so, but your ax may also be a tool used in water collection depending on the tools you have on hand. 

A solar still is a phenomenal way to create your own water when natural sources aren’t available.  When better-suited tools aren’t available, your ax can dig the hole and cut the receptacle to size.  This is not an ideal situation but it may be a necessity in a pinch. 


In the bush, the best tools are those that serve many purposes.  If you only have a few items on hand, it is imperative they work for you and meet your specific needs.  Their versatility makes a good ax such an awesome bushcraft tool. 

Since the beginning of their use, axes have evolved to fit new uses and needs.  After thousands of years of innovation, there is no doubt there is one on the market that will meet your bush needs.  Consider what you want out of your ax and without a doubt, there is a model that will fit your needs. 

Want to know more about the difference between these and Machete's be sure to click HERE or would you like to see the best reviews on this type of weapon for 2019?

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Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 25, 2015 and has been updated for quality and relevancy.


One Response to :
How to Use an Ax in Bushcrafts

  1. Useful article, thank you. I think many people will be interested, including me. Without an ax, a tree cannot be cut down, so it’s appropriate here to remind you how this is best done. If the tree is not very tall, branches are not necessary to chop off. Tie a rope closer to the top. From the side where the tree will fall, make a nick-hole with an ax, and from the opposite side – sawed through the saw. When uprooting, the tree is removed from the root. To do this, the rope is tied around the second third of the height of the tree and tightly stretched to the side where the tree will fall, you can use the trunk of a nearby tree. Dig the ground around the tree with a spade so that the roots can be chopped off with an ax. With further tension of the rope, the tree will collapse.

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