The more things change, the more they stay the same. Needless to say, the ax can fall under that old adage. From the beginning of time, the design has been quite simple: An ax head and a handle. Yes, there’s been technological advances along the way but the traditional scheme has primarily remained intact.

When choosing an ax, decide if you really need one. First question: Are you felling a tree and splitting it into boards? If you are, then an ax is suitable. Next: Which do you prefer? A felling ax or a splitting maul? There’s a difference. Let’s take a look.

Splitting maul

Splitting maul.

Photo: dmitry_7/istock

As the usual sawmills and processors break the big logs into smaller units, our little friend, the splitting ax or maul thoroughly splits them – along the grain – into more adaptable slices. Thus, the wood enjoys more air flow and dries quicker. A quality well is appreciated when dealing with seasoned wood. The difference with the maul versus an average splitter is the maul is comprised of a usable dull blade and wide, blunt flat end that can serve as a sledgehammer, whereas the splitter consists of a sharper edge, skinnier end and, in most cases, is lighter to handle.

Those who cut wood know that doing it by hand involves much labor. Newly-modeled splitting axes, for the most part, are not as weighty as their maul counterparts, especially the ones with fiberglass handles. So, the worker can work more efficiently – and with therapeutic benefits – in one setting.

This is the ideal tool for splitting potential firewood for burning or stocking for the colder season. The splitting ax with a sharper edge will allow for more results if you’re looking to compile fire log-sized inventory. The more popular type is a double-bit ax or double blade, which is good for hard and soft woods.

Felling ax

If the splitting maul is our little friend, let’s consider the felling ax as the grizzled, worn old-timer granddaddy of the axes. The felling ax was introduced to America via early European settlers. It has grown into the classic version of the modern ax today and often is referred to as the American or Yankee ax.

Used to remove waste wood from the log, the felling ax is made for exactly that – chopping to the stump or ridding of limbs off a fallen tree. Not as heavy-headed as its younger splitting brethren (approx. 2-3 pounds), this ax features a longer handle for more leverage.

If you’re really particular or historical in nature, there are many styles of blades to choose from (see chart) from a Wedge or Swamping to the Baltimore-Kentucky or Narrow Michigan. However, a felling ax is ideal for those who are preparing to process a great deal of firewood as well as those who are chopping thicker trees.

The only drawback with the typical felling ax is that it’s not the most portable item around. If carrying a felling ax around, especially when working it for a considerable amount of time, it might be time to reconsider your choice of ax.

Photo courtesy: aerogondo/istock

Getting a handle on it

In today’s age, it’s not hard to figure out that axes have stepped aside to make way for the chainsaw, in most cases. It definitely gets the job done quicker. Also, the sawmill takes what took a long time and shortens it to a brief moment.

That being said, the ax does serve a purpose. Some woodsmen prefer an ax versus a chainsaw because it seems more direct and efficient in certain cases – for instance, cutting a six-inch-thick tree. Also, axes don’t need gas or oil, blow smoke or cause unwanted kickback that could cause injury.

Photo courtesy: Andyworks/istock

Regardless of your preference, it really depends on the type of woodlot you have and what you are preparing the wood for. Chainsaws can whip through your cutting chores, but the right ax can get you through any nuance that the chainsaw cannot handle. And this makes choosing the right ax all the more important.

Cover photo: SrdjanPav/istock