The enjoyment from the glowing ambiance of a wood-burning fireplace is priceless to many, but buying firewood has a cost. It can run as much as $400 per cord (a measurement of 4-feet by 4-feet by 8-feet or 128 cubic feet), depending on where you live. You may be able to avoid this cost if you’re lucky enough to have access to a stand of oak, maple, or ash trees, and know-how to harvest and split your own firewood. Still, you need to know how to select the right tool for the job.
Axes can be, and most often are job-specific in nature. Some of the best axes are very specific for certain jobs, while a few offer multiple uses. In order to help narrow the field to the best for specific tasks, we evaluated many and the axes on our list went through rigorous testing. We used them to split rounds of cedar and cottonwood trees. Many of these axes function as multipurpose tools, so we tried splitting, making kindling (small shards of wood used to start a fire), pruning, and general clearing as well.
More than one person tested these axes. We had a 5-foot-11-inch and a 5-foot-4-inch tester take a swing with these axes since handle length and weight influence effectiveness and ease of use based on the user’s height. During testing, we noted the blade’s sharpness, weight, the axe’s overall balance, and the material quality, too. These were all taken into account in accordance with the axe’s designed purpose. We made sure to note that in our testing and evaluations.
If you aim to split your own firewood, keep reading to learn what to look for in an axe. You’ll also find out why we’ve chosen the following axes (and hatchets) as some of the best for most DIY lumberjacks.
- BEST OVERALL: Fiskars X27 Super Splitting Axe
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Estwing Fireside Friend 14” Axe
- BEST WITH WOOD HANDLE: Husqvarna 26″ Wooden Multi-Purpose Axe
- BEST HATCHET: Hults Bruk Tarnaby Hatchet
- BEST MULTIPURPOSE: Husqvarna A2400 Axes
- BEST FOR CAMPING: Estwing Camper’s Axe
- BEST UPGRADE: Gransfors Bruks Outdoor Axe
- ALSO CONSIDER: WilFiks Chopping Axe, 15″
What to Consider When Choosing an Axe
Axes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, designed to do everything from felling trees and trimming branches to shaping wood for sculptures. However, not all axes are suitable for splitting firewood. Splitting is the process of striking the flat sawed end of a short log with the intention of separating the wood fibers, causing the log to split apart along its grain. The two main types of axes used to harvest wood are splitting and felling, and when you’re ready to split wood, you shouldn’t use a felling axe. In a pinch, you can also split wood with a hatchet.
- A splitting axe is sometimes called a splitting maul. However, a splitting maul is actually slightly different. A maul typically has a wedge-shaped head with a backside that looks like a sledgehammer. Most often, the blade side is adequate for wood splitting, but for a large log that’s a foot or more in diameter, the splitting power can be increased by positioning a splitting wedge—a long, narrow steel wedge—into the face of the log and using the maul end as a sledgehammer to hit it (Check out step-by-step instruction on splitting logs).
- A splitting axe features a large, heavy steel head (traditionally, these heads were made with iron) with a sharp wedge-shaped blade that can split a log along the wood grain when struck decisively in the center. Splitting axes don’t have the “maul” side of the head, though they may have a flat side that can function as a hammer.
- A felling axe, also called a chopping or forest axe, has a lighter head than a splitting axe. These models are designed to chip away at a standing tree using horizontal strokes. When shopping for a splitting axe, steer clear of these axes because they’re not designed to split wood along its grain.
- A hatchet looks like an axe, except it has a shorter handle, usually 12 to 18 inches long. Hatchets are used for fine detail work, limbing, small splitting jobs, and sometimes felling small trees. They’re not necessarily great for splitting, but they can be used to make kindling or break apart smaller pieces of wood if needed.
Splitting axe handles are made of one of three materials: hardwood, fiberglass composite, or forged steel that’s covered with rubber or a similar material.
- Wood axe handles are popular because they’re relatively lightweight and feel good to the touch. Wood also absorbs shock, but wood handles can weaken and break over time, requiring replacement. Wooden handles with a tight grain that runs parallel to the direction of the blade offer the best strength and durability.
- Fiberglass composite handles are smooth to the touch and will absorb some shock, but fiberglass has a tendency to shatter if used in subzero temps. It can also break if a mis-strike happens and the shaft is hit instead of the head on the wood.
- Steel axe handles are often forged in a single piece that combines both the axe head and the handle. These are the most durable choice, but they don’t absorb shock, so hands may fatigue faster. Handles covered in rubber or a similarly absorbent material will reduce the shock that goes through a hand.
When choosing an axe, the length of the handle is just as important as what it’s made from. Handle lengths run from 14 inches all the way up to 36 inches. The longer the axe, the more velocity and power that’s able to generate.
Keep in mind that hitting a precise spot on a log becomes slightly more difficult with a longer handle. For those just starting out, consider an axe with a 31-inch handle. As technique improves, there may be interest in transitioning to a longer handle. Axes with shorter handles are often designed for use with one hand and are meant for splitting kindling.
The heavier the axe head, the more power that can be generated when swinging it in an arc and bringing it down on the log. However, if the head is too heavy to control, it may throw off the aim and tire out the user after a few swings.
Standard splitting axes come with heads that weigh between 3 and 6 pounds. Mauls, with sledgehammer-type heads, can weigh as much as 8 pounds. Unless the plan is to compete in wood-splitting competitions, it’s usually best to go with an axe head that weighs 4 to 6 pounds. Hatchet heads are lighter, typically 1.5 to 3 pounds.
Our Top Picks
Our testing revealed what helps make an axe qualify as some of the best on the market. Their handle lengths, head weights, and overall designs make them easy and convenient to use. Some designs work better for certain types of splitting, such as making kindling or splitting large wood rounds. Many of them are made by brands with a long history in the axe industry, with designs well-honed from years of experience. We tested them to determine if they held up to the manufacturers’ promises and got a feel for how well they work in action.
For the power and velocity that only a long-handle axe can deliver, look no further than the Fiskars X27 Super Splitting Ax. At 38 inches long and 6 pounds, it requires strength and coordination to swing, but once the blade strikes, it leaves a decisively powerful cut. The Fiskars axe doesn’t have a full maul head, but the backside could be used to drive a splitting wedge if needed. The handle, manufactured from fiberglass composite, absorbs some of the shock of each strike. It also has a slightly textured but smooth surface and flared end to help maintain a grip.
During testing, this model performed beautifully. It’s a heavy axe that takes strength and skill to control. However, the X27 can take on large rounds that make other axes shutter. One of our testers owns an older model of the X27 that’s lasted 15 years despite regular use. This latest rendition felt just as good and didn’t disappoint.
- Length: 38”
- Head weight: 6 lbs.
- Handle material: Fiberglass composite
- Works well for taller users
- Head weight helps add force
- Sharp blade
- Can split large wood rounds
- May be too long for shorter users
- Requires strength and practice to control
No need to struggle with a large axe when there is the Estwing Fireside Friend 14” Axe to split chunks of wood into smaller pieces or make kindling. The Estwing features forged steel construction and a maul head for driving splitting wedges. The handle is wrapped in a rubber-like material that absorbs shock and provides a comfortable grip. Its small size makes it a great choice to keep on a hearth for quick splitting or take along for camping to clear the site, make kindling, and split a few rounds.
This little Estwing is highly functional within the scope of its design. It balances functionality with price, too. While it wasn’t the most elegant axe/hatchet we tested (the heavy four-pound head could get out of control), it’s perfect for taking along on camping trips. Drive wedges and tent stakes or easily take out some brush to clear the site.
- Length: 14”
- Head weight: 4 lbs.
- Handle material: Forged steel wrapped in rubber-like material
- Easy to store and stow
- Secure, durable nylon sheath
- Heavy head can split or drive
- Durable, single-piece forged steel design
- Heavy head can tire out the wrist
- Not designed for larger splitting work
When only the feel of a real wood handle will do, check out the Husqvarna 26″ Wooden Multi-Purpose Axe. The 26-inch hickory handle is smooth to the touch. It doesn’t have a maul head, but the backside can function as a hammer to drive a splitting wedge. The 1.86-pound head is lighter than most, but it’s well-balanced so needed momentum can be built. It also comes with a protective leather cover for storage.
This Husqvarna’s hickory handle has a tight grain that gave it extra strength in testing. It’s lighter than the similarly sized axes we tested, but that worked in its favor. However, we don’t mean that the head itself felt too light. The weight and balance made each strike effective. In testing, we could use it single- or double-handed, depending on the job. This is the kind of axe that can be kept behind the seat of a truck, ready to pull out to clear brush or split wood for camping.
- Length: 26”
- Head weight: 1.86 lbs.
- Handle material: Hickory wood
- Light enough so it can swing for a long time
- Excellent materials and construction
- Durable leather sheath
- Well-oiled, tight-grained handle
- Length not ideal for bigger splitting jobs
- Duller head than some axes
The Hults Bruk Tarnaby Hatchet provides a lot of splitting power in a small package. A 15-inch curved hickory handle features a tight grain and beautiful oiling. It’s incredibly comfortable in hand. A lighter 1.25-pound head balances out the design. It may be lightweight, but the combination of the handle design and head weight make it easy to swing over and over again. A sharp head glides through wood, allowing for efficient splitting.
That’s the funny thing. Hatchets aren’t usually the most efficient option for splitting. However, the Tarnaby’s combination of a curved handle with a sharp, light head makes it easy to swing and target strikes. We found it highly effective for splitting and making kindling. If the goal is to use a hatchet for splitting, this is one to consider. Users won’t get tired, and they’ll get incredibly accurate with each swing.
- Length: 15”
- Head weight: 1.25 lbs.
- Handle material: Curved hickory wood
- Comfortable, curved handle
- Design offers excellent control without fatigue
- Durable leather sheath
- Slight imperfections show handmade construction
- Not efficient for large rounds or a high splitting volume
At 28 inches long with a 4-pound head, the Husqvarna Multi-Purpose Axe 2400 isn’t designed for lumberjack competitions, but it’s perfect for splitting a few logs or packing along on a camping trip. Its narrow head glides through the wood. A flat backside can act as a hammer to drive a wedge or tent stake. The composite handle is designed for maximum shock absorption and comfort. The handle also features a stainless steel reinforcement plate that protects the handle if it strikes the wood.
The length and design of this axe allow it to be used in diverse ways. It’s got the strength, durability, and weight for splitting, but its shorter handle makes it easier to store and stow. We found the handle a little short for bigger splitting jobs, especially for a taller user. (The shorter of our testers, however, found it a nice weight and length, though they still had to hunch over when splitting.) However, if an axe is needed for general purpose use like clearing, limbing, and smaller splitting sessions, it can cover all of the major uses.
- Length: 28”
- Head weight: 3.98 lbs
- Handle material: Fiberglass composition
- High-quality materials and construction
- Stainless steel reinforcement plate to protect shaft
- Heavy enough for splitting
- Taller users may have to stoop when splitting
- Not great for fine work
- Poor head cover design
The Estwing Camper’s Axe provides durability for heavy, regular use. It’s made with a single piece of forged steel, from the head through the handle. Seams act as a weak point for axes. If they’re going to break or shatter, it’s usually where the head meets the handle. This Estwing doesn’t have that weak point. The handle is also covered in a rubber-like material to absorb shock and protect hands.
We found the Camper’s Axe to be an effective, though not an elegant tool. Nor was it as impressive as some of the others we tested. However, the convenient size and single-forged design can stand up to heavy use. This is the kind of axe to keep on hand for quick, rough jobs. If clearing brush, limbs, or felling small trees is done on the regular, this axe can get through it without breaking under stress.
- Length: 18.75”
- Head weight: 2.9 lbs.
- Handle material: Forged steel covered in rubber-like material
- Strong, single-piece forged steel resists heavy use
- Grippy rubber handle
- Secure nylon sheath
- Head not as sharp as others
- Awkward balance between handle and head
Gransfors Bruks enjoys a well-deserved reputation as a premier maker of axes and hatchets. The Gransfors Bruks Outdoor Axe goes beyond expectations as to what an axe or hatchet can be. The tight-grained hickory wood handle is lightweight but feels stable and fits well in hand. A lighter 1-pound head may not sound like it would split well, but it’s deceptively sharp. So sharp that if we rated it on a scale of 1 to 10 for sharpness, it would get an 11.
That sharpness comes into this axe’s true strength—fine detail work. The Gransfors Bruks can function as a traditional axe as well as a wood-working tool to carve and create wood tools and art. It only took a few swings with this axe to fall in love during the testing process. It may come with a high price, but it outshines any of the other models we tested.
The handle and head design offered better control, and the sharp head dug into the wood with every swing. We also gave it a try as a wood-working tool by scraping and carving a piece of wood. The head, which can be held in a hand for better control in fine work, moved through it like soft butter. It’s a beautiful axe that makes others pale in comparison. However, the small size makes it better for splitting kindling than large rounds.
- Length: 14.75”
- Head weight: 1 lb.
- Handle material: Hickory wood
- Incredibly sharp head
- Light weight makes it easy and fast to swing
- Impressive quality and craftsmanship
- Head design allows for handheld detail work
The WilFiks Chopping Axe definitely won’t break the bank yet still provides what is needed from a basic axe/hatchet. The heavy head helps when building momentum but expect to feel some fatigue when using this model because it’s not balanced. While it’s not the most comfortable to use, it can split wood and make kindling in low volumes.
During testing, its budget status showed. The head’s blade is duller than higher-priced models, and the balance doesn’t work in its favor. However, it’s got a durable design and gets small jobs done. This is the model to keep on hand for a yearly camping trip or similar, occasional use.
- Length: 15”
- Head weight: 2.53 lbs.
- Handle material: Fiberglass
- Convenient size
- Comfortable handle
- Inexpensive but effective
- No sheath
- Not well balanced
The Fiskars X27 Super Splitting Axe’s length, weight, and durability make it an ideal pick for splitting in high volumes. It’ll make you break a sweat, but it also splits better than any of the other models on the list. For basic function and all-around portability, the Estwing Fireside Friend 14” Axe is a top pick at a great price point. Its comfortable handle and compact size make it a go-to choice for quick splitting or clearing a campsite.
How We Tested the Best Axes
We put every axe on the list to rigorous testing using an established rubric. Each axe was used to split several pieces of wood as well as make kindling. If there was a specialty design, we made sure to test the axe within its specialty.
The axes were scored based on their performance and efficiency, as well as noted for handle length and head weight. These specifications played into the axes’ balance, which greatly influenced how well and how long they could be used. We also rated them for usefulness and whether or not testers would use the axe again. Swinging an axe is hard work, but the design can make that work more manageable. Consequently, ease-of-use played a significant role in our ratings. Wrist fatigue factored into ease-of-use as well.
A shiny new axe doesn’t come without a learning curve. If you’re new to splitting, there may be some new or lingering questions. To make it easier, we’ve answered a few popular questions to make sure you’ve got the right axe for your needs and know how to take care of it.
Q. What kind of maintenance does an axe require?
If you use the axe frequently, you may need to sharpen it regularly. Watch for signs of rust because nicks are fairly common. To prevent rust, oil the head before putting it in the sheath. Wood-handled axes may also need periodic oiling to maintain the strength and appearance of the wood.
Q. Do I need a splitting maul, splitting axe, or hatchet?
Splitting mauls are generally larger with a maul head that can act as a hammer or be hammered once it’s wedged in a large round. Splitting axes typically have sharper heads and don’t have the maul head. They might have a flat backside for hammering and a shorter handle. If you need an axe for more than splitting, a splitting axe offers more versatility. Hatchets are shorter than either splitting mauls or splitting axes. They’re a good choice if you only need to split occasionally for camping trips or backyard fires because they’re easier to store and swing.
Q. What is the best axe for splitting wood?
If the only thing you’re doing is splitting, a splitting maul or splitting axe work best. Splitting mauls are more efficient for large rounds, but their weight and length require strength and practice. If you need an axe that’s close to maul without the heavy maul head, take a look at the Fiskars X27 Super Splitting Axe. Splitting axes aren’t as efficient on large rounds, but they work well for splitting standard rounds, making kindling, and general-purpose uses.