What is a Hand Axe? Design Features and Uses

Updated on December 20, 2022 by

A hand axe is a small, versatile tool that helps cut firewood, prepare kindling, and perform other camp tasks. They are significantly smaller and lighter than standard axes with a sharp head that is dangerous if not used with care.

Read on to learn what hand axes are and how to use them. 


Hand axes are originally prehistoric stone tools. You might be surprised to know that it is one of the oldest tools in human history. The hand axe was usually made from chert or flint and has been shaped from a large piece of stone by hitting or knapping against another stone. Experts believe this tool was made around 1.6 million years ago and used by the homo erectus. Archaeologists discovered parts of hand axes on animals’ bodies found in excavations. This shows that the hand axe was the common tool for butchering in the older days. 

Hand axes are extremely versatile. They have a short handle, making them maneuverable and suitable for a wide range of tasks. The primary purpose is to cut wood, whether it is kindling, limbing branches, pruning trees, felling small trees, or splitting firewood. You can also use a hand axe for hunting, skinning small game, and carving. Some people use hand axes to dig the soil, cut roots, or hammer in camping stakes.

Some of the common purposes of hand axe are:

  • Splitting firewood
  • Preparing kindling
  • Limbing branches
  • Pruning trees
  • Carving
  • Skinning small game
  • Hunting
  • Felling small trees
  • Camp tasks

You will often hear of a hand axe called a bushcraft axe, camp axe, or hatchet. These are all different names for similar axe designs.

Pruning a tree with hand tools

Design and Features

Hand axes are typically made with a handle made from wood like American hickory or modern composite fiberglass. They have a 20 to 24 inch total length that makes them easy to swing in tight spaces or for pressing when carving. Having a short handle also allows hand axes to be packed or tied onto your backpack when hiking and camping.

They are also much lighter than heavy felling and splitting axes. Hand axes are usually between 1 and 2 pounds. This is light enough that you can transport it easily but still has a large enough head to fell trees that a knife could never do.

There are many different axe head shapes for a hand axe depending on your needs. If you are skinning small game, then you will want a pointed heel or toe to help get started. If you are carving, then having a curved blade is more useful.

A summary of the key design features of a hand axe includes:

  • Weight: 1 to 2 pounds
  • Length: 20 to 24 inches
  • Handle Material: Wood or Fiberglass

Modern Brands

Manufacturing companies’ cutting-edge technology and high-tech machinery allow them to offer top-notch products that last for many years. This means you can invest in a durable axe just once and reap its benefits for decades to come. This way, you can avoid the hassle of replacing or repairing your hand axe every couple of years, as long as you maintain it properly. 

Not only have this, but modern brands have incorporated features that make it easier to use a hand axe. Nowadays, you can find hand axes with colorful designs, different sizes, various shaped blades, and styles. This allows you to choose a product based on your needs and preferences.

gransfors bruks hand hatchet

Here are a few brands you can trust to purchase a quality product.

  • Coleman
  • Szco
  • Estwing
  • Fiskars
  • Gransfors Bruks
Editor’s ChoiceBest OverallBest Steel BuiltBest Value for Money
ProductFiskars X7 HatchetEstwing Campers AxeHusqvarna Composite Hatchet
PreviewFiskars X7 small chopping axeEstwing Campers AxeHusqvarna Composite Hatchet
Weight1.4 pounds2.0 pounds1.9 pounds
Total Length12.5 inches14 inches13.5 inches
HandleShock Absorbing CompositeSteel with Shock Resistant GripComposite
More InfoCheck Latest PriceCheck Latest PriceCheck Latest Price

Frequently Asked Questions 

What is the Difference Between Hatchet and Hand Axe?

Hatchets and hand axes are effectively the same tools. These are different names for similar tools. They are both small axes that can be applied to various axe styles and designs.

How Heavy is a Hand Axe?

It depends on your chosen product, but generally, a hand axe weighs around 1 to 2 lb. They also have a handle length of around 20 to 26 inches. 


A hand axe is an effective tool used to cut wood. While it is one of the oldest tools in human history, it is still relevant today and is perfect to use while camping due to its versatility. 

Photo of author

Michael Culligan

I am a lumber worker who performed logging services for Oregan's forestry industry for over a decade. I have spent years honing my skills and experience to become a well-rounded axeman. I enjoy timbersports and have ranked in my local lumberjack competitions. I'm exited to share my knowledge of axes and lumber tools with everyone to help. I also have a large collection of restored vintage axes that I carefully maintain.