The 10 Best Hatchets
This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in September of 2015. A good ax can save your life in the wild. Whether you need it to chop up kindling, fell small trees, or defend yourself against the hated redcoats, a quality hatchet is a must-have tool for any serious outdoorsman. The offerings below are durable and versatile, ensuring that you'll be able to survive in any conditions. Bladed tools are dangerous. Use caution while using them to avoid injury. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
April 26, 2021:
Overall, we found this list to still be in pretty good shape, but that didn’t prevent us from finding a few places to improve on things, beginning with removing the Helko Werk Rheinland, which wasn’t available at the time of this writing. We also eliminated the Estwing E24A, despite thinking that it was a great hatchet, because there was little to separate it from the Estwing Special Edition, and we judged that retaining both seemed superfluous.
We also swapped out the Husqvarna 13” with the Husqvarna H900, a similar-sized option (just 1/2 inch longer) that sports a fiberglass handle, contrasting the wood shaft offered by our last pick from the company. Despite the difference in material makeup, the H900 only weighs about 1/4 pound less than the 13”, but we still favored it for its comfortable ergonomic handle, as well as its lifetime warranty, which blows the 13”’s 90-day guarantee out of the water.
Our other new additions this time around were the Sahara Sailor Survival Shovel – a 24-implement, collapsible-shovel multitool that, in addition to a serviceable axe, can act as everything from a compass to a glass breaker – and the Boone Forge Outdoors Camping — which caught our eye with its ergonomic, contoured handle, built-in hex wrenches and wire stripper.
January 23, 2020:
When buying a hatchet, there are several things to look out for if you want one that is going to perform well and last a long time. The profile of the head is of great importance along with the grind and the bevel. For our purposes we assume that, for the most part, these hatchets will be used for chopping and trimming wood. Therefore, we gave particular importance to narrow profiles - straight and lightly concave - like those found on the Hults Bruk Tarnaby and the Gransfors Bruk Wildlife respectively. These tend to produce the best results and along with less work for the user.
The grind and bevel should be ideally over an inch or an inch and a half so that there is less to limit how far the hatchet can dig into the wood. We limited the inclusion of hatchets with thick profiles even though they are better for splitting. If splitting is the objective, a full wood splitting axe should be used instead of a hatchet. Thick profiles on hatchets are more indicative of a low quality product than an intention to create a splitting tool (it takes more time and effort and therefore money to create a thin profiled hatchet).
Cutting tools are inherently dangerous. Use caution while using them to avoid personal injury.
Zippo AxeSaw On top of operating as a 20-inch hatchet with a five-inch head, this tool also doubles a serviceable bow saw. If that isn't enough for you, its back end is also designed in a way that makes it a great tent-peg mallet. zippo.com
Hart Tools 12-in-1 Pack this gadget on your next camping trip and not only will you be set up to generate kindling, but you'll also be equipped with a knife, fish scaler, hook remover, bottle opener and more. It won't be your weapon of choice for a day of heavy logging, but for a weekend adventure it could prove to be quite helpful. harttools.com
The Amazingly Handy Hatchet
A hatchet borrows most of its design directly from an axe, but is not in fact considered merely a small axe.
Almost every culture from almost every era of known human history has devised some version of the hatchet. From the simple tools of stone age hunter-gatherers made from flint knapping to the early copper hatchets of the herders and planters of the Chalcolithic Period, to the tomahawk used by many Native American tribes to the throwing axe of the Nzappa Zap, a region from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the hatchet has always been close at hand.
There is an elegant simplicity to hatchet design, which is part of the reason for their ubiquity throughout human history. A hatchet borrows most of its design directly from an axe, but is not in fact considered merely a small axe. (Those are frequently called hand axes and are designed almost exclusively for splitting small pieces of wood or for limbing trees.) A hatchet features a blade on one end, and traditionally has a flat striking surface on the other. Hatchets are great for splitting wood into kindling, but are actually at their most useful when applied to more refined woodworking projects.
A properly sharpened hatchet can help a carpenter hew a piece of lumber into a more manageable form, such as in the cutting of a log into a board. A hatchet can also be used for more refined work, such as in making furniture; its flat rear surface allows for controlled tapping using a hammer or mallet.
A hatchet is a great tool for the outdoor enthusiast, as its small size and moderate weight won't add much burden to the hiker's pack, yet its versatility will add much in the way of capability around the campsite. A hatchet can be used for everything from clearing brush to driving in tent stakes to cutting wood for a fire. If need be, a hatchet's blade can even be used to create sparks to start a fire should your other means of flame generation fail.
Choosing And Using A Standard Hatchet
There are many hatchets available that feature the same basic elements: a short, sharp cutting surface, a flat, solid rear surface that can be used as a hammer or that can tolerate a hammer's blow, and a hearty wooden handle. If you're in the market for a basic hatchet, those elements are probably all you need. Surprisingly, perhaps, a decent wooden handled hatchet can actually be quite expensive, so despite the ostensible simplicity of these tools, they are not cheap items.
Also take the time to learn how to properly sharpen your hatchet, as using the right technique will greatly extend the life of the tool.
With the rather large price tag, however, a consumer can also expect a tool that will last for years, if not for a lifetime. Many hatchets are handcrafted using the same techniques tried and tested for generations, and can be expected to be handed down in your family. Consider a hatchet made in one of the countries famous for fine craftsmanship, with Sweden and Germany both at the top of the list.
As for the materials to look for in a good hatchet, high carbon steel is a must, as it will take and keep an edge well. Hickory is a wood often chosen for hatchet and axe handles, and this solid hardwood is a fine choice. Hickory is durable and attractive and provides a good, balanced heft.
You should either make sure your hatchet comes with a protective leather cover, or else find or fabricate one yourself. When not in use, the hatchet's blade should be covered and protected. Also take the time to learn how to properly sharpen your hatchet, as using the right technique will greatly extend the life of the tool.
Use a pair of good files to sharpen the blade, starting with the coarser file to rasp off uneven areas, then using the finer file to achieve the edge. And remember that it's more important to have a uniform edge at a proper angle than a razor sharp hatchet blade, as the first few chops will take that razor's edge off anyway.
A Few Words On A Few Specialty Hatchets
If you want a hatchet that can go beyond merely splitting kindling and hewing or shaping smaller pieces of lumber, there are plenty of tools out there worth your consideration. While you might not need to master hatchet throwing, the activity is as popular as a hobby today as it was a martial skill for a medieval soldier. Throwing hatchets generally feature long handles and narrow, sharp blades. The balanced design allows for straight, accurate throws with maximum rotational control.
The balanced design allows for straight, accurate throws with maximum rotational control.
For the well prepared camper, hiker, or anyone who wants to be ready in any situation, some specialty hatchets were designed as survival tools. You can look for features including everything from built in fire starting tools (such as a magnesium rod tucked into a hatchet's handle) to a grip made of para cord that can be unwound and used as needed. Many of these hatchets are small and relatively cheap, and are probably not suitable if you're looking for a tool to help you make fires all winter long, but are nonetheless a fine choice for an item you're not necessarily planning to need.
Other hatchets are designed not for survival when you find yourself stranded in the woods but rather for everyday use by skilled professionals. A roofer's hatchet, for example, features a magnetized striking surface that can hold framing nails at the ready, and a claw for pulling nails back out if they're old, damaged, or just didn't sink in properly.