Fell Trees with Ease with These 7 Axes
If you’re going to be felling trees – not just splitting dried logs or rounds of wood, making kindling for a fire, or cutting off branches – you need to choose the right type of axe for it. Felling axes need to have a thin profile for deep cuts that bite big chips of wood out of the tree. They also need to be big and hefty for those high-power swings. That’s because felling a tree is hard work, and smaller axes, with less heft in their axehead and less punch behind each swing, just aren’t very practical for bigger trees (especially when they’re hardwoods). This is an in-depth guide to the best felling axes you can find on the market and order from almost any part of the United States or beyond.
These are my top 7 best felling axes in 2019 – these are easy enough to get at a lot of retailers or order through Amazon. I judged them based on price, build quality, size, and of course – how well they fell trees.
At the bottom of the article you can find a buyer’s guide where I write about how to choose and use a felling axe. If you don’t know anything about felling axes, I recommend starting there. Ok, that’s all, let’s get into it!
Top 7 Felling Axes for the Money
The Gransfors Bruks American felling axe is one of the cream of the crop of felling axes. While not as large as some felling axes on the market (it comes in at a length of 31 inches or 79 cm), the ultra-sharp bite of the hand-forged 3.3 lb axehead (with a total axe weight of 5.5 lbs) allows you to fell even very large hardwoods, and make short work out of softer resinous trees such as pine and spruce. People have reported felling large maple trees with this straight out of the box, without it noticeably losing its edge.
It takes and holds a sharp edge very well, and its 31-inch straight handle gives you the most efficient power per swing (curved handles are fine, but make you exert slightly more with each swing to put the same amount of force into it). If anything breaks, Gransfors Bruks provides a 20-year guarantee on each axe, as well as a copy of its “axe book” – a manual of how to handle and care for your axes. That’s not to mention the full-grain, exquisitely-crafted leather sheath that it comes with. Those are all nice extras. But the axe simply does its work perfectly – it’s an example of the best craftsmanship. Grain orientation on the American hickory handle has been reported as being consistently straight, which makes me think that their quality control is stringent and that they don’t let any axe handles with wonky grain orientation through to be sold.
This is one of the more expensive open-market felling axes for good reason. You’ll simply most likely never have to buy another felling axe again, and will be able to go through trees with ease. The steel of the axehead is hand-made, and has something which is so important in an axe – it both takes and holds an edge well, for a long time. No sharpening necessary after a single tree or two. The price is the main obstacle for many, though, but it’s clear that this is a premium tool – you get what you pay for! If you can afford it and appreciate a fine tool, I highly recommend the Gransfors American felling axe.
Council Tool is a great American company that has made excellent axes for many years and continues to do so. The Dayton Pattern felling axe is no exception – this beast of an axe, weighing in at over 5 lbs, is designed for and totally suited to taking on big, hard trees that would take ages to chop down with smaller axes. The 36-inch American hickory handle allows you to really get that swing in, bite deep into the wood and take massive chips out at a fast pace.
The American steel axehead is of a very high quality and takes an edge well, and comes painted red to protect it from rust and make sure that you won’t lose sight of it wherever you place it. The handle comes unvarnished, which is good – most lacquers or varnishes make the handle more slippery than it should be, and you don’t want a beast like this slipping out of your grip. A couple coats of vegetable oil rubbed into the handle will seal it just fine. The poll of the axehead is flat, so you can hammer wedges into the tree you’re felling. The only drawback that some have reported is the grain on some handles being off, but since this is a handmade product from the USA, you’re sure to get great customer service and a replacement if that does happen. And at this price point, this is a great value tool for the money. A very good, durable, made-in-USA workhorse.
The Council Tool Classic Jersey is another excellent felling axe from Council Tool. It is slightly lighter than the Dayton Pattern felling axe, and has a slightly different axehead design – it has an obtuse-angled “lug”, a feature that is meant for added stability of the handle’s attachment to the axehead. It also has two curves forged into the axehead behind the hardened edge – this helps prevent the axe getting stuck in a tree.
The edge is hardened to between 48-55 Rc at least 1 ¼ inches back from the cutting edge, which will ensure that you don’t have to resharpen it after every felling session as you would have to with cheap Mexican or Chinese axes. Made with pride in the Council Tool North Carolina factory, this is a versatile tool that you can use for many jobs, including (in a pinch) splitting tasks. It’s a felling axe in design and heart, though, and will serve you well as such. The only drawback is that it doesn’t come razor sharp out of the box, but very few axes other than Gransfors and Hults Bruks do. Sharpening the Council Tool Jersey is a straightforward and simple task. Finally, it also comes in a curved-handle variant for those who prefer such a handle. Another highly recommended tool!
The Universal forestry axe is made by Ochsenkopf, a German company with a long, rich history whose roots date back to 1781 – they’ve been making axes in the same part of western Germany since then. That’s over 200 years of experience, which is nothing to sneeze at. The Ochsenkopf Universal proves it – this model comes in two weights. One axehead is 2.7 lbs (1250 grams), the other is 3.5 lbs (1600 grams). Both fit on a handle that is 31.5 inches long, made of American hickory with a great grain orientation extra durability and resistance to use (or abuse). The steel is fine German steel, which they also have a great tradition of just as in the US and Sweden, and while the axe doesn’t come very sharp out of the box, it takes an edge exceptionally well – people have reported cutting through the sheath that came with the axe after sharpening it.
It affords the same treatment to trees, with a thin profile and 4.7 inch or 120 mm cutting edge allowing you to bite big chunks out of trees with each swing. All in all, a great tool from a reputable and historic European axemaker.
Hults Bruk is another Swedish axe-making company with a history dating back to 1697 (over 300 years!) that make premium-grade axes that come ready to use straight out of the box – razor-sharp, no need to re-profile them or do anything else to make them work better. The Kalix felling axe is slightly smaller than the Gransfors American felling axe, the reason for this being that softwoods such as pine and fir dominate the Swedish treescape, so larger, heavier axes aren’t as necessary. Tell you what, though – the fact that the Kalix is smaller and lighter doesn’t mean it has less bite. It’s a premium-quality tool, and will easily go through most trees that you’ll ever use it on, including tough hardwoods such as oak, maple, or apple. That’s because the hand-forged Swedish steel axehead has a tempered edge that allows this axe to hold a razor-sharp edge for a long time. Whereas with cheaper axe you might even need to resharpen your axe in the middle of felling a tough tree, you won’t have any such problems with the Kalix.
The only potential drawbacks are that since it is a lighter, shorter axe, it’s not suited for felling truly massive trees (the axehead weighs only 2.2 lbs or 900 grams, total weight – 3.6 lbs or 1.6 kilos) and that the quality control at the factory, according to some reports, isn’t as good as at Gransfors, with some defective axes occasionally sent out. Since it’s a legitimate European company with a US branch, though, they guarantee a replacement in case of manufacturer’s defects and will replace them quickly.
Plus, Hults Bruk axes generally cost a good deal less than Gransfors – there’s less hype and marketing about them, so you can get practically the same quality for 20 to 30% less. Words don’t really do it justice – check out the video below to see the fine craftsmanship on the Kalix!
The WoodlandPro Fallers axe is a rare thing nowadays – a sturdy and reliable tool produced in the USA and sold for a reasonable price. It has a straight 28-inch American hickory handle and the weighs 5 pounds – it’s a hefty workhorse, specifically designed for logging and woodfelling duties. The classic Dayton-style head allows you to drive in wedges with the hardened back face of the axehead. Bailey’s harden the Fallers axe to RC 48-55 and paint it with red enamel and clear lacquer to protect it from rust, which is handy if you’re going to be out in wet weather with it for several days at a time, and in general (you can always strip it off if you don’t like it).
This is a true felling axe, and if you want to support a family-owned company with its origins in the Northern California forests, you won’t go wrong with the WoodlandPro Fallers Axe. It can be had for just about $50, which is a steal for a US-made tool of such quality. The only potential downside is that the handle is straight, not curved, which is what some people might prefer. The answer to that, though, is that Bailey’s also sell replacement handles at a very fair price, so you can swap them if you wish. All in all, a great American-made felling axe.
The Husqvarna Multipurpose 26-inch axe is not a “true” felling axe. At 26 inches in length, it’s slightly shorter than most true felling axes, and the relatively light weight of its head (1.75 lbs) means that swings will have less force behind them than those of felling axes with heavier heads.
Turn how you look at these specs around, though, and they can easily be seen as positives. After all, you most likely won’t be felling gargantuan old-growth trees on a regular basis. If you’re looking for something to take with you on day hikes or short overnight excursions, you’ll appreciate the Husqvarna’s lighter weight. The reason why I included this axe in this list, though, is because of the profile of its bit. It is quite thin, which is what you want in a felling axe – and the Husqvarna bites aggressively and deeply. In that sense it’s more suited to felling trees or removing their limbs than it is for splitting wood, as thin bit profiles tend to get stuck a bit more, and that’s a necessary trade-off for felling axes (and if your technique is good, it’s a rare occurrence anyway), but is a real pain if the work you’re going to be doing is splitting dry logs or rounds of wood. In any case, the Husqvarna 26-inch multipurpose axe is a very good general-use tool, and will allow you to fell trees, cut off their limbs, and split wood, too. All for a very reasonable price (around $60) for the good craftsmanship on offer (the same company makes the highly-regarded, premium Hults Bruk line of axes).
The Hults Bruk Akka Forester’s axe is more of an honorable mention than a true felling axe, but it’s a great companion to any felling axe. That’s because it’s lighter and smaller (coming in at 1.5 lbs for the axehead and 24 inches for the handle), but that makes it much more maneuverable than the big beasts such as the Council Tool 36-inchers and the Gransfors American felling axe. It’ll make short work of any small trees – up to a foot in a diameter, if you have a bit of time to spare – but where it really shines is in limbing work. If you fell a large tree you’ll probably have to deal with big, thick limbs. A large felling axe often doesn’t do great in the awkward positions the you have to cut in in those situations. The Hults Bruk Akka, though, excels – it takes big chips out with every bite and is light enough to use comfortably when you’re bent over or contorted to avoid hitting something on the backswing. As with other Hults Bruk axes, it’s got two types of steel – high carbon 1095 steel in the main body and tempered 5160-series steel for the cutting edge. All in all, a great, premium companion axe to your larger felling axe.
Felling Axe Buyer’s Guide and Frequently Asked Questions
How long should a felling axe be? 31 or 35 inches?
The two standards for felling axes are 31 to 32-inch handles and 35 to 36-inch handles. The main difference is in how much force you can put into each swing. With longer handles, the potential force of each swing is obviously higher. That might sound good, but remember that axes with longer handles usually have heavier axeheads and are bulkier, allowing for less maneuverability. Axe handles 35 to 36 inches in length became popular among American lumberjacks and foresters who had to fell very large, tough, old hardwoods such as oak, maple, hickory and similar trees. Axes with shorter handles were popular in Europe, where old, large oak trees (for example) were a rarity already in the Middle Ages. In the north of Europe (such as Sweden), where a lot of homes and buildings were built of wood, softwoods such as pine and fir were the norm. That meant that you didn’t need felling axes to be as large and heavy, with as big of a bite as possible – you could do just fine with smaller, lighter felling axes.
If you’re not an experienced forester or looking to cut down a lot of large, tough trees, you should start with a smaller felling axe. Small is relative, of course – a 32-inch axe is still large and hefty, of course, compared to a trail axe or hatchet – but it’ll be easier for you to use in the bush or the woods. If you’re looking to fell, say, 18-inch pine trees, a heavy, 36-inch felling axe would be a bit overkill. So take into account your needs and what you’re going to use the axe for, and make an informed decision. I actually use a 28-inch Hults Bruk Kalix, and it serves me just fine in most situations. It has a sharp bite and it’s light and short enough that carrying it around and using it for limbing a tree after felling it is easy enough and not too tiring. If I’d be limbing a tree in addition to felling it with a 36-inch Council Tool Dayton pattern feller, for example, I’d be exhausted at the end.
To sum up – unless you’re sure that you need a heavy-duty felling axe for tough jobs, I recommend starting with something lighter, yet of a high quality – such as the Ochsenkopf Universal Forestry axe or even the 28-inch Hults Bruk Kalix felling axe.
How to use a felling axe
Swinging an axe to get the most force with the least amount of effort and risk of injury is an art and science in itself. An experienced lumberjack or forester has their technique down, and will be able to chop trees for hours longer than an inexperienced axe user with bad form – and come out of it without a painful back, too. My guide to using an axe has a more in-depth explanation, but these are the main points to remember and practice when using a felling axe:
- Lateral swings: Some people think that lumberjacks felled trees with powerful horizontal swings. That’s wrong. Lateral swings come down from over your shoulder to make 45-degree cuts (the face cut and the back cut.)
- Stand so that the tree is “past your front” – never stand with your feet on either “side” of a tree.
- If you do lean over when following through with the swings, try to keep your back straight – it’ll thank you later, by not aching.
- You can put more force into each swing by dropping into your knees slightly with each swing, turning your hips, and slightly pulling them (or your butt, however you want to think of it) backwards. It takes a bit of practice, and you shouldn’t overthink it, but it does help.
- Make a 45-degree face cut on the side that the tree is leaning in (if any), and then another 45-degree back cut on the opposite side about an inch or two higher than the face cut. That’ll create what’s known as a “hinge” and will hopefully lead to a nice, clean break and a safe fall.
The following is a great, easy-to-follow video about safe and proper tree-felling technique. Take the time to watch it if you’re unfamiliar with tree-felling – it’ll save you a bunch of time and trouble!
That’s about it. If you read the whole thing – wow, congrats and thanks for your patience! In any case may you choose the best axe for your tree-felling needs. Hopefully this article helps (or helped) you decide. Thanks for reading! –Michael C.