In the southern Appalachians, where I live, fall means primo mountain-bike conditions and car camping without the mosquitos. It’s the beginning of bouldering season and arguably the best time to take a hike in the woods. But more than anything, it’s fire-pit season, which means I spend a significant portion of my time chopping, splitting, and shaving wood so I can have fuel for regular blazes. I spent my summer testing axes and hatchets of various sizes and purposes to find the best tools for lumberjacking before winter hits. Here are my favorites.
Gerber Freescape Power 36-Inch Ax ($64)
Best For: Splitting wood
I use a sledgehammer and spike to split stumps, but once that wood is in manageable pieces, I break out the Freescape, which has everything you want in a splitting ax: it’s heavy (almost 5.5 pounds), long, and sharp. The forged-steel head slices through logs like they’re butter, but I like this tool because it is not precious. With a composite handle that has yet to show any sign of wear after months of abuse, it’s meant to take a beating. I’ve ruined many splitting axes in the past due to missed strikes, eventually cracking the head. I’m convinced the Freescape will last forever, and it’s the least expensive ax on this list.
CRKT Jenny Wren Compact Hatchet ($135)
Best For: The backcountry and camp kitchens
CRKT calls the one-pound Jenny Wren a tomahawk, but I consider it a multitool. At ten inches long, it’s small enough to carry into the backcountry. You can throw it short distances for fun at the campsite, but it has three sharp edges that make it handy for slicing anything from kindling to sausage. I found the spiked head useful for digging out stubborn tent stakes. Thanks to the MOLLE-compatible sheath, it’s easy to strap on the outside of a pack or your belt. It’s not going to slice through large logs, but it does a hell of a job carving kindling or cutting into a branch to find dry wood.
Barebones Pulaski Ax ($122)
Best For: Jobs that require digging
The Pulaski is a firefighting tool with a sharp hoe on one end and an ax-head on the other. It’s designed to chop and dig in a hurry. (Hopefully I won’t be digging fire breaks anytime soon.) Still, I’ve found the Pulaski to be handy whether I’m hacking through roots in my backyard pump track or splitting wood at camp. It has a steel core running through the beechwood handle, topped with a carbon-steel head. At 24 inches, it’s not long, but the hefty head makes it a viable splitting tool. The hoe works wonders if you’re making catholes on the edge of camp or trying to divert water away from your tent. As practical as the Barebones Pulaski is, this particular version is also an aesthetic beauty that you’ll want to hang over your fireplace.
Hults Bruk Akka Ax ($179)
Best For: Clearing downed tree limbs, cutting through brush
Hults Bruk has been making beautiful tools out of the same Swedish factory since the late 1600s, so you know its hand-forged carbon steel is no joke. The Akka is a forester ax, which is a niche tool designed for stripping errant limbs and overgrowth. It has the perfect weight-to-length ratio (2.2 pounds and 24 inches) to make it incredibly versatile—long enough to split small logs but light enough to wield with one hand. I’ve started packing it in my 4Runner on car-camping trips, and I typically use it more like a machete for clearing downed limbs from campsites and pesky scrub brush from my backyard. The handle is a thing of ergonomic exquisiteness, with two natural curves: one sits low on the handle for chopping, and the other is higher for one-handed jobs. My only complaint is that it’s almost too pretty to use.
Fiskars Norden N10 17-Inch Hatchet ($95)
Best For: One-handed tasks, making kindling
Made in Finland, the Norden is a single-handed chopping tool built for splitting small logs and carving up wood to create kindling. I like the built-in overstrike protection plate at the top of the handle, as well as the overall balance, which is heavy (2.6 pounds) for its 17-inch length. That dense head gives you enough power to actually chop through larger branches. Hold it low for a full swing or up high, just below the striking plate, for more delicate work. Fiskars makes a smaller 14-inch version, but I like the heft of the N10.