The Survival Axe – The Piece of Gear You May Have Overlooked

The survival axe

A survival axe is often much more efficient than a knife in a survival situation. They allow you to gather and split firewood more efficiently, can speed up the processing of game and they’re also useful in the creation of shelters.

When you bring an axe with you, you have a hammer, a weapon, a survival knife, a way to prepare game, and more all rolled into one. As people concerned with preparedness and survivalism, it makes sense consider adding a survival axe to our bug out bag list.

Description of Survival Axe Parts and Pieces
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Survival Axes – The Three Basic Types

Axe

The traditional axe is the largest of the three. An axe’s handle is normally two to three feet long and the head is the heaviest of the three. Axes are best for chopping large trees thanks to the leverage you gain from their longer handle and larger head. This gives them much more cutting power than a hatchet or tomahawk.

Hatchet

The handles of hatchets are usually 10 to 13 inches long with a head between 1 and 2 lbs. Hatchets are traditionally used for outdoor activities and camping. They have shorter handles and lighter heads compared to a normal axe, this means that they cannot chop as efficiently but they’re much easier to pack around than their larger cousins.

Tomahawk

The tomahawk is roughly the same size as a hatchet, but typically has the lightest head and smallest cutting edge of the three. Unlike the hatchet, the traditional tomahawk is designed primarily as a weapon and a tool second. The size and shape of the head makes it more suited to fighting than it does chopping. This doesn’t mean that tomahawks cannot be used for cutting or chopping, it simply means that they will not be as efficient as most hatchets or axes.

What to Look for in a Survival Axe

The Head

Much of what makes each axe different is the head. The shape of the blade is going to determine what the axe is designed for and what tasks it is best suited for.

Axe heads with long flat heads and curved blades are made for cutting.

Axes that have a flat blade are better at carving than those with a curved blade but they aren’t as good at chopping.

An axe head that is shorter and thicker will split wood better than one that is long and flat, but it will have a harder time cutting than an axe that has a long thin head.

I think that you and I would be best served by an axe or hatchet that has a curved cutting edge. They’re stronger than a blade with a flat cutting edge and enhance the chopping power produced.

The Handle

Axe handles these days are normally made of metal, wood or synthetic materials.

Metal handled axes are obviously the strongest of the three. An axe with this type of handle is best suited for heavy work like demolition and rescue work. You won’t normally want a metal handled axe in a bug out bag, but I could see it being useful in an urban environment for use as a prybar.

Wooden handles are very good all around and offer a good strength to weight ratio. When selecting a wooden handled axe you should try to make sure that the grain of the wood travels from the read of the handle to the front (parallel to the axe head). A handle with the grain going from left to right will not be as strong.

Synthetic handles are popular in modern axes. They’re light and can be stronger than some wooden handles.

In my opinion, wooden handles are the way to go since they can usually be replaced with relative ease if they happen to break.

Overall Feel

The overall feel of the axe should be good when it’s in hand. The weight should be centered just below the head of the axe to aid in chopping and carving. The handle should be comfortable and not feel slick. Ideally, there will be a swell at the end of the handle to help prevent the axe from accidentally slipping out of your hands.

This really comes down to personal preference. You may prefer a rougher handle to prevent it from slipping, while others prefer a smoother handle that feels more comfortable to them.

The Different Uses for a Survival Axe

A good axe will fill many roles in your survival kit.

Chopping

Chopping is one of the most obvious uses for an axe. You should try to strike the wood at a 45-degree angle to be the most effective in your cuts. A full sized axe will allow you to tackle larger trees. If you have a hatchet or tomahawk you’ll be best served by going after smaller dead standing trees.

Limbing is the act of removing the limbs from a fallen tree. Tomahawks and hatchets are great at limbing larger trees that have already fallen. Start at the base of tree working toward the top, striking the limbs parallel to the trunk.

The US Forestry Service has a great guide covering everything you could want to know about cutting with axes.

Splitting

Axes with a short blade that are more wedge-like will split wood better than those that have a longer blade. Splitting will make getting a fire going much easier.

Firemaking

This video by IA Woodsman does a great job of demonstrating one way to process wood and get a fire going using a hatchet and ferrocerium rod. There are a ton of different methods for fire making out there but this video gives a great overview of the basic concept.

Defense

Any axe is going to be capable of creating devastating wounds if you have to use it as a weapon. A firearm should be your primary means of defense unless you live in a country that doesn’t allow you to own one.

If defense is one of the roles you need to fill with your axe, then a tomahawk will slightly edge out other forms of axes.

Prying

Prying isn’t something that most survival axes are designed for, but that doesn’t mean that you may not want to use it as a prying device. For urban environments, this will probably be more of an advantage than in rural environments.

Choosing an axe with a metal handle will make it so you’re less likely to damage the axe if prying is something you intend to use it for.

If you want to use your axe as a rescue tool in case of an emergency, like a flood, then prioritizing its prying abilities makes sense.

Choosing a Survival Axe That’s Right for You

Everything really comes down to selecting the axe that is going to work best for you in your particular situation. You have to weigh the pros and cons of each and decide what makes the most sense for you.

Axe

A full-size axe gives you the most chopping power that you’re likely to get in a survival situation. If you plan on processing thick trees at some point then you may want to consider a full sized axe.

In an urban environment, selecting a multi-use full-size axe could be a good idea. Having a large prybar and rescue tool as an integral part of your axe could actually save you some weight in the long run if you were thinking about added all of them to your bug out bag.

A full-size axe has two distinct disadvantages when used in a survival situation. They weigh more and take up more space, and they’re not really suited to finer work that you would normally associate with fire building and carving tasks.

Hatchet

If you’re worried about size and weight, and you’re not planning on chopping down full-size trees, then the hatchet probably fits what you’re looking for in an axe.

Hatchets are uniquely suited to chopping small dead standing trees, limbing trees and preparing a fire. They also make splitting wood much easier than if you were stuck batoning with a survival knife.

The main disadvantage is that you cannot easily chop down large trees or process large logs for a fire.

If you’re building a bug out bag for a wooded environment then I would strongly consider the hatchet as your axe of choice.

Tomahawk

The tomahawk has the same size and weight advantages that the hatchet possesses.

Many tomahawks have straight cutting edges which allow them to carve easier than rounded blades. The traditional hammer or spiked end opposite of the blade makes them a fearsome weapon and sometimes give them added utility over an axe or hatchet.

The disadvantages of the hatchet are magnified in a lot of tomahawk blade designs.

In my mind, a tomahawk really shines in an urban environment. The added utility of a spike for prying open doors or other objects immediately stands out to me.

Axe Maintenance

Keeping your survival axe well maintained will make it last much longer. Make sure it’s dry and oiled before putting it away to prevent rusting and always keep your blade sharp if at all possible. In survival situations, maintenance of tools may seem like an afterthought, but these tools may be all that are keeping you alive. Treat them accordingly.

Schrade has a pretty good video showing how to use an axe stone to keep the cutting edge of the blade nice and sharp.

Conclusion

Hatchets and tomahawks will probably provide you the most versatility in a survival situation. We prefer the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet, but in the end, your individual needs will drive the survival axe that you end up buying.

If you’re interested in discovering 40 great prepping tips, check out this article.

Please leave a comment if you found this helpful and check out our other preparedness articles.

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