The felling axe – what is it?
Often also called a ‘forest axe’, the felling axe is a tool used for cutting down trees and removing branches, and their design goes back farther than the 15th century – though todays versions use higher grader materials and finer scientific designs. These axes are designed to chop across the wood grain in fine cuts that won’t mar or misshapen the results, and in this way they aren’t intended to split wood, but rather just to make trees fall. A decent felling axe will have a very fine thin edge that is also sharp and integrated into a tempered head much thicker near the back. Using these tools, a lumberjack can cut as deeply into a trees grain as possible.
How to prolong the life of a felling axe
For the most prolonged life and really the best use, only consider axes with a Hickory handle. Hickory resists and absorbs the shock of each blow better than other wood types, and with a protective finish hickory will last even longer. When periodically applying your own finishes and doing general upkeep on your tools, only use coatings of teak oil or other boiled oils (like linseed oil). Remember, do not use raw oils because these won’t dry and will cause a sticky resin on your axe; boiled oils dry and cure faster anyway, and do just as well at protecting your handle from the elements.
Tips on sharpening the axe
Based on the overall worn edges and sides of your axe – for instance, if you ran your finger along the edge and felt any nicks or burrs – then it will need to be filed to maintain its shape and then honed with a whetstone. The filing is quite easy and can be done with a fine-toothed flat file, sawing at the worn metal along the edges until you achieve the axes original shape. For the best results, while filing move your axe back and forth (this will create and even edge) and turn the axe over periodically while using a whetstone (this will give both sides a much keener edge). Minor damage is best treated with a coarse handheld whetstone, and never anything machined or too soft. Finally, if you have it on hand, strop your axe against some leather after making any strokes away from your cutting edge.
How to choose a proper handle length for your felling axe
Believe it or not, experts insist that the best handle length is one which provides comfort and easy handling. Where longer-handled axes can provide more power swings with much more speed behind each blow, this is only true if the person wielding the axe is strong enough and tall enough to handle it. Choosing an axe which lends you a balance between accuracy and powerful blows – perhaps with a medium or shorter handle – will make a job more efficient as well as more productive. A Swedish standard axe – which sets the standards for almost all felling axes – is actually too tall for many men, standing at a height of 36 inches from the bottom knob to the top edge. For your purposes, you might be better off considering axes within a range of 26 to 31-inch handles.
Features to know for choosing the perfect felling axe
The following features are ones you might have seen listed in the charts above. The following headings discuss each of these important features, and even give examples of axes which best exhibit ‘head weight’, ‘shape’, and even ‘materials’.
What head you choose depends on a mixture of materials and personal preference. Axe heads which use carbon steel designs are going to be sharper, lighter, but also much more expensive. The finest cutting edges will be seen to use carbon alloys. However, hardy steels – like Swedish steel, 1045 alloys, or perhaps even 4140 – when heat treated, folded correctly, and honed to a sharp edge can and will cut directly into a tree with deep broad cuts. On our list, some of the axes with the best heads are the Gränsfors Bruks American Felling Axe, 1844 Helko Werk Classic Expedition, and 1844 Helko Werk Hinterland.
Single bit and double bit
The only need for a double bit is when you want to reserve one side of your axe for heavy felling and hard cuts which will dull it, while the other side of your axe remains sharp for finer cuts and wood splitting. Double bit axes tend to be heavier, but for the exception of the rather light 1844 Helko Werk Hinterland.
An axe doesn’t need to be exceptionally heavy to work well. A good cut depends more on the alloy of your axe head, curve of the axes handle, and speed/accuracy of your swing. However, depending on the weight you yourself are comfortable carrying, you might tend to choose a lighter axe over a heavier axe.
All the axes on our list are made from the finest American hickory, and this is because felling axes really should only use hickory in their designs. A finished hickory wooden handle is naturally more balanced and the wood itself absorbs the shock of each blow better than any other wood type. This means you can take a long heavy swing without the worry of your blow fracturing or damaging the handle.
As stated above, you don’t necessarily have to choose the longest handle for the most power. Instead choose the best handle for your size and ability. To estimate this, stand three or even four feet (depending on your arm length) away from a tree and then extend your arm and see how close you come to touching it. The remaining distance between your hand and the tree should generally be the length of the felling axe you need. On our list, the longest axe is the Council Tool Velvicut 4#, with the shortest axe being Hultafors Felling Axe.
Single-bitted felling axes might come with straight handles, but the preferred handle shape is curved as it gives more of a natural feel and assists with swing. However, for double bit axes, you’ll generally see that the handle is straight, this is for making it easier to flip the axe around between both bits.
If you’re planning on consistently felling trees, get used to the blisters you might get and understand that as they callous your hands will become rougher and your grip/swing stronger. Varnish – if present – should be sanded off, because it will only make your handle slippery and therefore make the axe fly out of your hand while chopping. There is a difference between a finish being applied to an axe rather than a varnish, and rest assured that none of our products have varnished handles.
It’s a good idea to have a leather sheath, not only because it will keep your axe sharp and protected from the elements, but also because leather isn’t easily cut while being fit on an axe, and then the axe itself won’t cut you.