The axe is the most versatile and useful tool to have with you in the forest. It can help you build a first-class shelter, put up a sizable pile of firewood, drive tent pegs, split logs, etc., etc., etc. As with all tools, when looking for an axe you should try and get the best one that you can. The best axes made in the world were made in the northeast before the crosscut saw came into wide use. These were hand-forged of two pieces of steel; a harder, well-tempered piece for the bit and a softer piece that was hammered around the eye. The axes were the best because they were used all day, every day in the woods and the men who used them demanded quality. The single-bit axe, or poll axe, was the standard until the double-bit came along and began replacing it. Not too long after, the crosscut saw became widely used, then the chain saw. With the proliferation of the chain saw the axe was no longer used on a daily basis, and as such there was no longer a market for well-made axes. The modern axes made in the USA are usually poured into a mold and tempered one hardness throughout. They’re often too soft to hold a decent edge, or too hard to sharpen with a file. In either case, they’re not good for much except splitting kindling or cutting roots in the ground. There are still good axes available new from Scandinavia, where the axe is still widely used. There are also many great axe heads to be found at antique stores, used tool stores, and flea markets that represent the highest echelon of the axe-maker’s craft. A good test for these is to run a new, sharp file along the edge to sharpen it. If it’s too soft, the file will push the edge over. If it’s too hard, the file will skip. If it’s just right, grab onto the axe with both hands and don’t let go until you pay for it and get it home.
Choosing An Axe