Give me 6 hours to cut down a tree, and I’ll spend the first four sharpening my axe.” – Abe Lincoln
Survival axes are awesome.
They are a shining example of how a single primitive tool can serve a wide variety of survival functions.
If you’ve ever read Gary Paulson’s novel “Hatchet’, you understand how a good bladed tool can make the difference between life and death.
A survival axe allows you to:
- defend yourself
- fashion new tools and weapons
- start fires
- build shelters
- process game
- fell trees
Heck, you can even shave with a sharp survival axe!
The only real problem for survivalists looking for a survival axe is the number of options. It used to be that an axe was an axe. They only came in a couple of sizes and shapes.
The choice was straightforward.
Today with the number of companies manufacturing their own version of a survival axes it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
Some are built to be insanely light. Others are made to serve multiple functions – different tools in one. Some are simple while others are complex.
There is an axe style, type, shape, weight, and design to achieve just about any end.
So it’s no longer an easy choice. Especially considering choosing the wrong survival axe can become a burden and a liability.
It’s a strategic decision that requires forethought, planning, self-analysis, and research. Lucky for you, we’ve already done the research (the hard part).
Below you will find our list of the best survival axes the market has to offer. You’ll find detailed specs and descriptions of each, how to use a survival axe, and how to care for one.
This article is your comprehensive guide to finding, buying and owning the best survival axe.
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What’s A Survival Axe?
“An axe cuts through a forest, not because of its size, but its endurance.” – Motshona Dhliwayo
A lot of people get axes, tomahawks and hatchets confused. So let’s clear the air before we get started.
Hatchets and tomahawks are less than 12” in length. Axes are usually longer than 22”.
Simply put, axes are both bigger and longer than hatchets.
That also means they are heavier and harder to transport. I’ve never met a single backpacker who carries an axe with them – it’s big, heavy and takes up too much pack space.
A survival axe is a terrible addition to your bug out bag. Instead, consider a light weight survival hatchet for bugging out.
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No matter where you decide to store it, make sure it’s somewhere you won’t have to carry it far to use it. Full sized axes should be considered stationary tools. They make terrible travel companions.
So what makes an axe a “survival axe”? Nothing really.
A survival axe is the a the axe you buy for survival purposes. Most axes don’t have many extra frills. You won’t find many multi-tool survival axes and when you do, they tend to be gimmicky.
Instead, you want a solid, proven axe that will last you years to come. That my friend is a survival axe.
The 6 Best Survival Axes
1 – Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe
If you are not afraid of investing a few dollars in an excellent survival axe, this option is for you.
These axes have been made in Sweden by the Gransfors Bruks company for over 100 years. And when it comes to axes and hatchets these guys are the luxury option.
Their axes are perfectly balanced, fit comfortably in your hands and are forged using sophisticated techniques to ensure durability and longevity.
All their axes come with a hickory handle and leather blade sheath.
One of the lightest weight, most durable, and cheapest options available.
The handle of this axe is made from “shock-absorbing FiberComp. This helps to make the axe lightweight, extremely durable, and very flexible.
At this reasonable price point, it’s one of the most economical options you will find anywhere.
And on top of all that, it comes with a lifetime warranty. So if you ever do break it or damage it, you can send it back, and Fiskars will work with you to replace it.
This lightweight axe has an axe head forged from steel. Its blade is 4” long which makes it better at cutting into things.
The axe is made with a rubber grip at the bottom of the handle to make it easier to hold and swing.
This axe also comes with an embossed leather sheath.
4 – Cold Steel Boss with Hickory Handle
Basic, simple, cheap.
The Cold Steel Boss is forged with 1055 carbon steel and fixed with an American Hickory handle.
This is the axe you think of when someone talks about lumberjacking. This axe design has stood the test of time.
Drop-forged blade & head geometry adapted to different applications for an easy entry into the wood & best splitting performance.
This is a universal axe made for different kinds of wood work like construction or forest work.
Composite fibreglass handle with hammer axe head function.
This Maul Axe is ideal for splitting wood (splitting face) or driving wedges and stakes (driving face).
IsoCore Shock Control System absorbs strike shock and vibration to reduce the punishment your body takes, transferring 2X less shock and vibration than wood handles.
Insulation sleeve captures initial strike shock before it can reach your hand.
Plus, it comes with a full lifetime warranty if you happen to damage this beast (which I doubt you will).
The Basic Parts Of An Axe
Every axe (including hatchets and tomahawks) is comprised of only a few main features:
The best blades are forged with high carbon steel, so they keep their edge for the longest time possible.
The blade is the soul of your axe, and should your blade ever chip or crack; it’s time to invest in a new survival axe.
This long piece of straight grained wood (usually hickory) is the part of the survival axe you will hold.
Today, though, many axe manufacturers have switched from wood to fibreglass, plastic or metal. These materials help to increase the durability, and usually, makes the axe lighter as well.
The Vikings used to forge their axe heads with low carbon steel while using high carbon steel for the blades.
This gives the axe head more flex and increases the durability and longevity of the tool.
The eye is the hole in your axes head, where the handle attaches.
This is the part of the axe head on either side of the handle at the bottom of the head. This protrusion fastens the head to the handle.
The hammer-like flat surface of the back of the axe head.
Key Factors In Finding The Perfect Survival Axe
Some important factors you want to check when getting an axe are as follows:
An unbalanced axe will not swing properly and is more liable to break. When you are in the market for an axe it’s important to be able to feel it in your hands. Swing it, balance it, get an idea of the weight distribution and so on.
You will be able to feel the difference between a balanced axe and an unbalanced one, just make sure you test out a few.
I have mentioned this a few times already, but it’s vital that your axe is durable. These things are built to be swung with a large force at hard objects.
If your axe can not handle the stress of its own job, then it is not going to work.
There are a lot of factors that go into understanding the durability of an axe.
One is the type of metal it was forged from (high or low carbon steel), another being the material that the axe handle is comprised of, and a third is how you care for it.
If you plan on carrying your axe with you all over the place, it might be better to invest in a hatchet.
Axes are almost always too heavy for long-distance travel (without a vehicle).
That being said, some axes are a lot heavier than others, and that makes a difference. Now you don’t want something that’s light as a feather and won’t generate momentum when swung. But you also do not want an axe that is bulky and cumbersome.
Finding a balance between the two is important. It’s another one of those things you have to test out with your own hands. Feel the swing for yourself and decide which you like best.
The Many Uses of a Survival Axe
So, now you have a survival axe. What do you do with it?
First, use your axe safely. This is a real weapon. It’s a dangerous tool that could easily cause lacerations, dismemberment, and death.
Treat the blade with respect, and if you have a sheath, keep the blade inside of it always, unless you are using it. This not only serves to keep you and others safe, but it preserves the sharpness of the blade.
As I mentioned earlier, the genius of the axe is its simplicity. It’s a tool that can be used to achieve almost any number of ends.
Its versatility is a factor of your imagination. If you can think it, you can do it with an axe.
Axes are good for bringing down trees and chopping them into segments for lumber. It’s one of the original purposes the tool was designed.
Another classic job for a survival axe. Chopping wood is not only a useful activity, but it is therapeutic and is proven to increase testosterone levels in men.
Self Defense Weapon
There is a substantial difference between a battle axe and a utility-axe. But that does not mean a utility axe can not still be used for fighting purposes.
Axes are a weapon even older than the sword, and if you need to swing that thing at an attacker, it is going to do damage.
Axes allow users a significant amount of blunt force, which can be used to break dead branches off of trees.
Sharpen your axe enough, and it can be used to clean and skin game in preparation for cooking. Decapitate your prey, slice it open, gut it and skin it with your trusty axe.
Shaping Pine Boughs
This is an important ability for making bows. If you have an axe that is sharp enough, you can use it to shave and shape pine boughs for a bow and arrow.
For an in depth guide on how to do this check out this article, which goes into the minute details of building a long bow from scratch.
Develop a razor edge, and you can shave like a real man: with the blade of your axe.
This task takes precision, and if you are trying it for the first time, you should probably expect to take a couple of gashes to the face. But there is nothing quite like a razor shave from a tool meant to fell trees.
Yes, you can smash bottles with an axe to get them open, but that’s not what I’m talking about. If you wedge the blade or butt under the bottle cap and add leverage, the bottle will pop open no-problem.
Find yourself a piece of flint, or a real spark generating rock and start striking.
Be careful not to hit directly down upon the rock, or you’ll blunt your axe’s blade, and risk fracturing or chipping it irreparably.
Instead, strike your flint/rock at an angle until sparks start flying.
This could fall under self-defence, but a lot of people throw axes for no other reason than for fun. It’s a hobby!
And one that requires a lot of practice and a close relationship with your axe. It is also a pretty dangerous sport, so don’t get careless or unsafe just because you are having fun.
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Caring For Your Axe
Just like any tool, an axe requires that you maintain it.
If you just leave it outside lodged in a stump, through rain and snow, without ever cleaning or sharpening or caring for it, your tool won’t last.
If you care about your axe (which you should if you’ve read this far), you should be good to it.
Sharpening Your Survival Axe
As with knives and swords, sharpening your axe’s blade is essential to its usefulness. A dull axe blade won’t do you much good against a tree you need to bring down.
For on the go sharpening, here’s a special axe Whetstone you can buy.
The biggest difference between whetstones for knives vs. an axe is they are puck-shaped. So in a pinch, a regular, rectangular Whetstone will work fine too.
Here is a video detailing your options to sharpen your axe blade.
You want to massage the blade like how the dentist tells you to brush your teeth: gently and in small circles.
Replacing the Head/Handle
If you use your survival axe on a regular basis, then at some point, you will have to replace the head. Sad as it may be, this is just a fact of life and part of owning and using a survival axe.
Check and see if the manufacturer offers a warranty before you buy a new one, though! It could be the case that they will just send you a new one if you send them the busted one.
A lot of times though, if you have to pay for a new axe head, you might as well buy a new axe (unless you ‘re attached to your axe handle).
Similarly, handles don’t last forever – especially if they’re made from wood.
Wood is particularly susceptible to breaking, splintering and rotting. But even plastic and fibreglass handles need to be replaced once in awhile.
Simply hammer the old handle through the eye of the axe head, and thread the new one. Axe handles are available at most hardware stores, or you can shop on Amazon for them.
It’s better to test out in person with your axe head, though, in case you buy one that doesn’t fit through the eye of your axe head.
Rust is the enemy of all blades. It undermines the structural integrity of the metal and dulls the sharpness.
To avoid this with your own axe, keep it stored inside away from excessive moisture. A lot of axes come with leather or nylon sheaths, which also helps to maintain the blade fresh and rust free.
If, however, you do run into some rust there’s a quick fix: Vapor Rust.
The Final Word
Any tool as versatile and useful as an axe should be a part of your survival. It’s a single tool that can be used to do a million different tasks.
It’s like having a complete survival kit built into a single badass survival tool. But are anything but compact.
They aren’t great companions, and they pose challenges to carrying them long distances.
Even so, having one is essential. Keep it in your car or your garage or at you country cabin, hell, even put one at your Bug Out Location, so you don’t have to lug one all the way there.
There are ways around the encumbrance of carrying an axe.
When shopping for a survival axe there are a lot of factors to take into account. Choosing the right one comes down to knowing what you need, and what will best serve you in the event of an emergency.
But when the shit hits the fan, and you find yourself in a survival situation, having a trusty survival axe at your side is smart.