The 10 Best Hatchets
This wiki has been updated 21 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, create sparks for a fire, or defend yourself against the hated redcoats, a quality hatchet is a must-have tool for any serious outdoorsy-type. The offerings below are durable and versatile, ensuring that you'll be able to survive in any conditions — or you can just use it for your "Last of the Mohicans" cosplay. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best hatchet on Amazon.
The Amazingly Handy Hatchet
Almost every culture from almost every era of known human history has devised some version of the hatchet.
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.
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 cost well over one hundred dollars, so despite the ostensible simplicity of these tools, they are not cheap items.
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.
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.
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