What is a Forest Axe? Design Features and Uses

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Written By Michael Culligan

With over 12 years of experience in Oregon's forestry industry, I have established myself as a skilled and knowledgeable lumber professional. As a passionate competitor in local timbersports events, I have consistently ranked among the top lumberjacks in my area. I take great pride in meticulously maintaining an extensive collection of restored vintage axes. I personally test every axe I review by using it to fell and chop up oak firewood on my land.

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A forest axe is a versatile, medium-sized axe designed for various woodland tasks, such as felling trees, limbing branches, and chopping firewood. It typically features a balanced head, a sharp, curved cutting edge, and a comfortable, long handle, making it ideal for both single and two-handed use in forestry work.

Forest axes are versatile tools designed to cut against the grain when felling or limbing trees. They are can vary in terms of their handle length but are more similar in the design and specifications of their axe head.

Multiple professions use forest axes from forestry workers, hunters, backpackers, campers, survivalists, and bushcrafters. They are multifunction axes that can perform various tasks, including felling trees, cutting kindling, and removing branches.

I often describe a forest axe as a felling axe, primarily based on the axe head’s features.


Unlike a splitting axe designed to force the fibers apart when cutting with the grain, a forest axe is designed to cut through the fibers when cutting against the grain. This is particularly useful when felling trees or removing branches. The axe head’s profile is thinner, allowing the blade to penetrate deeper into the wood and cut through a branch or trunk in fewer strikes.

The functions of a forest axe include:

  • Felling trees
  • Limbing logs
  • Cutting kindling from small branches

They can also be used for carving and building shelters.

The image below is of a Helko Werk Black Forest Axe that shows their key characteristics, including the long, curved edge and flat poll. Forest axes generally don’t have their polls heat treated as a hammer when using a splitting or felling wedge.

A forest axe is well suited to limbing branches because you can cut through the entire branch in a single swing. This may not seem like a huge advantage, but when processing multiple trees at once, particularly with lots of spindly branches, this can be a big time-saving. Your muscles will also thank you.

Helko Werk Black Forest Axe
Helko Werk Black Forest Axe

Design and Features

Several key design features separate a forest axe from other types of axes, including:

  • Long, Curved Edge
  • Flat Axe Head
  • Thin Profile
  • Flat Poll
  • Wide range of axe handle lengths

I would describe a forest axe as a subset of a felling axe. They also have things in common with a camping axe of a Hudson Bay axe in terms of their head design but aren’t constrained by their handle length.

There is a big difference in the profile of the axe head compared with splitting axes. The forest axe has a much thinner bit that cuts into the wood further and deeper. This is essential in reducing the number of strikes it takes to fell a tree.

The handle length of a forest axe can vary depending on the task and the size of the trees you are felling. Whether an axe is classified as a forest axe depends more on the head’s shape than the handle’s design.

Gransfors Bruk Small Forest Axe
An example of a forest axe with a short handle

Modern Forest Axe Brands

There are plenty of manufacturers who continue to produce high-quality forest axes. You can be assured that all of the axes in this list are produced with performance and durability in mind. I don’t list axe brands of lower quality in my examples.

You can find plenty of other forest axes in your local hardware store, but pay attention to their axe head steel specifications and handle material. These are two ways that manufacturers can reduce their cost of production at the expense of a vastly inferior product.

How long is a forest axe handle?

A forest axe’s handle can vary and is not a key characteristic of its design. Gransfor Bruks produce a small forest axe that is only 10 inches long up to full-size felling axes at 32 inches. The design of the axe head is more important when classifying a forest axe.

You can pick individual forest axes with different length handles depending on the size of the trees you intend to fell. You can also pick an axe length based on your height and frame.

How heavy is a forest axe?

Forest axes generally have an axe head that weighs between 2 and 3 lbs, depending on the handle material and length. Forest axes are more versatile than full-sized felling axes and are generally shorter and lighter in total weight.

The material of the axe handle also influences the weight, with a hickory wood handle weighing more than a more modern fiberglass composite alternative.


Forest axes are a sub-set of a felling axe based on the axe head design, which has a long, curved edge and a flat top. They are versatile and suitable for a wide range of applications. Their thin profile allows them to penetrate more deeply into the wood, which is ideal for cutting against the grain. Forest axes are often found in cabins in the wilderness, where they can complete almost any task in the forest.