Outdoor Skill Tips: How to Use An Axe

Whether you’re building a leisurely campfire or a winter storm has knocked the power out, knowing how to chop wood for fuel is an important skill for any outdoor enthusiast to know. If you’ve had zero experience with an axe, odds are you could still get the job done. But knowing proper tool selection, technique, and “tricks of the trade” will make the entire process much easier. You don’t have to be built like a lumberjack to use an axe effectively; you just need the tools and knowledge to handle it well.

Choosing an Axe

axe with chopped woodUnless you’re actually planning on becoming an actual lumberjack, there’s no need to invest in anything more than a mid sized, single bit ax. The term “single bit” means that the axe has a blade only on one side. Save the double bit axes for the professionals who will only use it for logging. For the average male, the ideal ax has a handle around thirty inches and weighs about three pounds in total. This is heavy enough to really get after some wood chopping, but light enough to avoid being cumbersome or dangerous. For females, a two or two and a half pound axe with a slightly shorter handle is recommended. By choosing a single bit axe of the right size, you’ll be able to use it as a sort of multipurpose tool. The dull side of the axe’s head can be put to use for everything from driving in tent stakes to cracking ice for a fishing hole. (From shore, of course. Never break ice you’re standing on.)

Chopping Technique

Before you start chopping, make sure you select the right kind of wood for fire building. The best wood has two qualities: it’s dry, and it’s dead. When you’ve found the right branch or log, place it on the ground lengthwise. Take the axe in both hands. They should be almost touching at the base of the handle. As you bring the axe over your shoulder to make the chop, slide the top hand closer to the head of the axe. Then, as you swiftly bring the axe back down, let that top hand slide back down to the handle’s base. This method will improve your accuracy while maintaining the momentum of the axe’s heavy head. Don’t concern yourself with swinging as hard as possible, as fast and accurate chopping works better than heavy chopping. As you increase the number of strokes, alternate the angle so that you’re cutting out a V shape in the wood. As the cut gets past the halfway point in the wood’s thickness, you should be able to turn it over and break it in half with a swift stomp.

Axe Safety

Like knives, the key tenet in making your axe as safe as possible is to keep the blade sharp. Have it stone sharpened professionally by a local hardware store regularly. Additionally, invest in a high quality sheath to keep the blade in when the axe isn’t in use. With regular maintenance and a little common sense, having an axe handy is both quite safe and very useful.

4 Replies to “Outdoor Skill Tips: How to Use An Axe”

  1. Love how you mention safety. it’s way to easy to seriously injure yourself if you’re not careful and if you don’t take care of your axe or maul.

  2. Tim is absolutely right about axe sharpening and care but lets make an important distinction. An axe is used primarily to cut wood, ex. cutting down trees. If you are splitting wood, say logs that have been cut already and you need firewood, the logs need to be split in which case a maul is the appropriate tool. Splitting can be done with an axe but is more difficult however, and since national parks forbid cutting live trees and green wood doesn’t burn well anyway I use a kindling maul for busting up split wood into a more useful size for campfires. Note: if your cutting something with an axe, use alternating swings to cut out a “V” in the log instead of trying to hit it straight through the middle.

  3. Just a couple of quick tips here. The most important part of cutting wood is using a sharp tool. And while an axe can cut wood when it is dull it requires a lot more energy to do so. Taking an axe to a “professional shop” to have it sharpened really isn’t necessary. The best way to sharpen your own axe is to carry a flat file in you RV. Place the axe on a flat surface (table or even your pant leg) and follow the angle that is on the axe and with long strokes run the file from the bottom of the axe to the top in an outward direction with the cutting edge away from you. Just a few strokes with a file will keep that axe tuned up. If you end up with nicks in it from hitting rocks, file the nicks smooth before sharpening. Another secret to cutting wood is choosing the right tool for the job. I have found that most people when cutting wood perpendicular to the grain get frustrated with how long it takes if the wood isn’t firmly held in place. For most woodcutting across the grain, a small bow saw works the best. The axe is best used for splitting wood by going with the grain rather than across it. I just wanted to pass this along for those who end up boondocking it more than RV parking it.

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