If you look at them superficially, axes, hatchets, tomahawks, and throwing axes are all basically the same. They have a handle, some longer than others, and they have some sort of a wedge-shaped head that enables them to cut wood and/or be thrown. Because of this, many of us probably use them interchangeably, but to get the most out of the tool, it probably pays to use it the right way. This will ensure that you not only get the best piece of work out of the tool, but you’ll also extend the life of the tool if it’s used properly.
The further back you go towards the tools’ origins the more the tools kind of blend together. The original axe was just a stone and later a handle was added and at that point it looked a bit like a hatchet or a tomahawk. Once the tool became more refined, however, the different uses became more pronounced. So what exactly are the differences?
Starting with the most basic form, the axe as we use it today is primarily used for cutting trees down, splitting logs, as well as firefighting and a multitude of other jobs. Forestry axes tend to have a more rounded edge and a longer, flat head. They’re designed to cut through and across the grain of wood and can often be used to scrape bark off. Forestry used to make use of double headed axes, but those are primarily used for throwing these days. The splitting axe is designed to cut along the grain of wood and the blade is a concave shape to ensure that the wood splits apart. A fireman’s axe is designed with a pick to penetrate wood doors and the edge is hardened and designed to cut through certain types of nails. Great features when you need to get through a door to rescue someone. As you can see, each axe is designed for a specific job and the head and edge of each is made to do just that one job. Using the axe for something else could mean the end of your axe, or worse an injury.
Where the axe has its uses and is designed to be used two-handed, the hatchet is usually used one-handed. The hatchet’s job is pretty much to split really small pieces of wood, like for use in campfires, and sometimes small branches. The hatchet also usually has a hammerhead on its back which can be used for quite a few different things including driving stakes into the ground. It really is a miniature axe, but it has enough specialized features that you wouldn’t want to use it for felling a tree if you have other options. Further muddying the waters, a hatchet is different than a hand axe in some key ways, mainly in how the head and shaft are designed. This includes the shape and weight of the head and shaft.
Similar to hatchets and hand axes is the tomahawk. The tomahawk was invented by the Algonquin Tribe long before the first Europeans arrived. The first tomahawks would have been made of stone and tied to a stick and looked like the standard pre-Bronze age axes with a different shape. The tomahawk was used primarily for combat but like axes and hatchets were adapted to other jobs. When Europeans arrived, metal was used to make tomahawks which made them much more efficient tools. A few things that differentiate the tomahawk from a hatchet are that a tomahawk is no larger than 24 inches long and the cutting edge is no longer than 4 inches. There are a number of other visual cues that also differentiate the two, including that some tomahawks function as a pipe and like axes and hatchets can also be thrown when needed.
Speaking of throwing, throwing axes have been with us almost since the beginning of axes. They gained some popularity in the middle ages and over the centuries have moved from being a weapon to now an object used in competitions. Today there are a lot of styles of throwing axes, but one we can get behind at Haus of Tools is the Ochsenkopf throwing axe. Throwing axes need to be made of strong metal that stays sharp and won’t break and it must be well balanced. The Ochsenkopf throwing axe is made in their tradition of excellence. This axe style is the double axe and as unbelievable as it is, this behemoth of an axe can be thrown with precision.
While first glance, and even sometimes necessity, suggest that axes, hatchets, tomahawks and throwing axes are interchangeable, in reality they really are not. Each is designed to carry out their specific duty and the life of your axe will be longer when used correctly. Take good stock of the job you need to do, then make sure to get the right tool for the job that’s needed. And as always, make sure to buy something that’s good quality.