The Best Axes for Splitting Wood
Save money on your firewood supply by splitting and stocking your own with the help of an axe that's a cut above the rest.
Nothing can rival the glowing ambiance of a fireplace or even a wood-burning stove, but having split firewood delivered can run as much as $400 per cord (a measurement of 128 cubic feet), depending on where you live. If you’re lucky enough to have access to a stand of oak, maple, or ash trees, you can harvest and split your own firewood. This is where a quality tool can make the difference between struggling to split logs and making quick work of the task. If you aim to stock your own firewood, keep reading to learn what to look for in the best axe for splitting wood and to find out why we’ve chosen the following five that will satisfy most do-it-yourself lumberjacks.
- BEST LONG-HANDLE AXE: Fiskars Iso Core 8-Pound 36-Inch Axe
- BEST WOOD-HANDLE AXE: Husqvarna 32-Inch Wooden Splitting Maul
- BEST MULTIPURPOSE AXE: Husqvarna 23-Inch Composite Multipurpose Axe
- BEST AXE FOR LIGHT USE: Estwing Fireside Friend 14-Inch Axe
- BEST HEAVY-DUTY AXE: Helko Werk Germany Saxony Splitting Axe
Key Considerations for Choosing the Right Axe
You’ll find axes in a variety of shapes and sizes, designed to do everything from felling trees and trimming branches to shaping wood for sculptures, but 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.
- A splitting axe features a large heavy iron head with a wedge-shaped blade that can split a log when struck decisively in the center. The backside of many splitting axe blades features a sledgehammer-type head, called a maul. Most often, the blade side is adequate for wood splitting, but for a large log that’s a foot or more in diameter, you can increase the splitting power 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 (for step-by-step instruction on splitting logs, go here).
- A felling axe, also called a chopping or forest axe, has a lighter head than a splitting axe, and it’s 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.
Get a Handle on It
Splitting axe handles are made of one of three materials: hardwood, fiberglass composite material, and forged steel.
- Wood axe handles are popular because they’re relatively lightweight and feel good to the touch. Wood also absorbs some of the shocks from striking a log, but they can weaken and break over time, requiring replacement.
- Fiberglass composite handles are smooth to the touch and will absorb some of the shocks of splitting impact, but fiberglass has a tendency to shatter if used in sub-zero temps.
- 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 you’ll feel every reverberation with each strike of the axe.
The Long and Short of It
When choosing an axe, the length of the handle is just as important as what it’s made from. Axe length runs from 14 inches all the way up to 36 inches. The longer the axe, the more velocity and power you’ll be able to generate, but hitting a precise spot on a log becomes slightly more difficult with a longer handle. For someone just starting out, the best axe for splitting wood will have a 31-inch handle; as you perfect your technique, you may want to go with a longer handle. Axes with shorter handles are often designed for use with one hand and are meant for splitting small shards of wood (called kindling) from the side of the log.
The heavier the axe head, the more power you can generate when swinging it in an arc and bringing it down on the log, but if the head is too heavy to control, it may throw off your aim and tire you out after a few swings. Standard splitting axes come with heads that weigh between three and six pounds; mauls, with sledgehammer-type heads, can weigh as much as eight pounds.
Unless you’re planning to compete in lumberjack competitions, the best axe for splitting wood will weigh between four and six pounds. If you’re shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, hold the axe to get a sense of how it feels.
Our Top Picks
1. BEST LONG-HANDLE AXE: Fiskars Iso Core 8-Pound 36-Inch Maul
For the power and velocity that only a long-handle axe can deliver, look no further than this Fiskars maul. At 36 inches long and eight pounds, it requires strength and fortitude to swing, but once the blade strikes the log, you’ll be rewarded with a decisively smooth, clean cut. The Fiskars axe has a maul head so you can use the back end for driving splitting wedges. The handle, manufactured from both composite and steel for durability and comfort, features Fiskars’ Iso-core shock-absorbing system.
2. BEST WOOD-HANDLE AXE: Husqvarna 32-Inch Wooden Splitting Maul
When only the feel of a real wood handle will do, check out the Husqvarna 32-Inch Wooden Splitting Maul. The 32-inch hickory handle is smooth to the touch and the maul head is designed for splitting chunks of wood as well as driving splitting wedges. The six-pound axe comes with a protective leather cover for storage, and users appreciate its durability and superior balance when swinging.
3. BEST MULTIPURPOSE AXE: Husqvarna 23-Inch Composite Multipurpose Axe
Less than two feet long and a lightweight four pounds, the Husqvarna 23-Inch Composite Multipurpose Axe won’t be winning any lumberjack competitions, but it’s perfect for splitting a few logs or packing along on a camping trip. Its narrow forged blade splits chunks of wood into smaller chunks and its composite handle is designed for maximum shock absorption and comfort. The back end of the axe head is flat (no maul) and designed for use as a hammer, so you can drive nails if desired as well. Shoppers love the versatility of this multipurpose axe, as well as its quality and feel.
4. BEST AXE FOR LIGHT USE: Estwing Fireside Friend 14-Inch Axe
No need to struggle with a large axe when you have the Estwing Fireside Friend 14-Inch Axe to split chunks of wood into smaller pieces or create thin shards of kindling. The Estwing features forged steel construction and a maul head for driving splitting wedges. The handle is wrapped with genuine leather for a comfortable grip, and its small size makes it a great choice to keep on your hearth for quick splitting.
5. BEST HEAVY-DUTY AXE: Helko Werk Germany Saxon Splitting Axe
If you have a lot of wood to split, and you’re serious about getting it done, consider investing in the Helko Werk Germany Saxon Splitting Axe. This premium axe is designed for one thing only: splitting wood with precision. It features a 6.2-pound high-grade carbon head and a 31-inch Grade A hickory handle. No maul head here so you won’t be able to use a splitting wedge, but most buyers don’t seem to find a splitting wedge is necessary, claiming that the Helko Werk axe makes wood splitting “almost effortless.”