9 Handmade Axes That Are Functional & Beautiful


The axe is one of the oldest tools known to mankind. It’s overall design has remained largely unchanged since our ancestors first fitted a sharpened stone to a heavy stick.

An axe is one of the most valuable tools you can have as a woodsman, or if you plan to venture outdoors for an extended period of time. Instead of purchasing one from a company that mass-produces cheaply-made axes, many serious outdoorsmen seek out handmade axes that offer true, lasting quality. 

Product Name

Price

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Top pick

$197.75

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$100

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$159

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$269

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$300

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$$$$

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$349.00

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$179.99

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$289.75

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Why get a handmade axe versus a commercial one?


Handmade axes have a beauty that is all their own. They are forged by a blacksmith who goes through the delicate process of making each part, from the blade itself, to grinding and sharpening the product and including a hand-carved axe handle for each individual product.

There are thousands of years of blacksmithing knowledge that goes into each handmade axe, but the most beneficial part of buying a handmade axe is that you’re purchasing a better quality product.

Many companies that forge handmade axes do so in competition with large businesses that mass-produce axes in a way that’s as cost-effective as possible. These commercially-made axes are often made with the cheapest material, and are not put through the same level of scrupulous craftsmanship as handmade axes.

Here are some of the major advantages of buying a handmade axe vs getting one that’s commercially mass-produced by large factories:

  • Buying a handmade axe means you’re supporting a small company. Many of these companies have been in operation for decades, or even more than 100 years in some cases.
  • Handmade axes are forged with a much higher level of craftsmanship from the hilt to the blade.
  • In many cases, handmade axes will outlast most commercial products. Many small companies offer great warranties with their axes that will allow you to have it repaired or replaced in the event that it gets damaged.
  • Buying a handmade axe means supporting and continuing a process of craftsmanship that’s been developed for thousands of years. Your purchase means that this craftsmanship will be passed onto future generations.
  • Most are made with a higher quality steel and better wood than commercial axes. This means you’ll have a better-functioning product that will usually last a lifetime. 

The Difference in Craftsmanship


Creating a handmade axe requires a unique level of skill and attention to detail that is all-too-often lost to history, when small shops are overtaken by bigger companies that mass-produce bladed products.

The overall process of forming a handmade axe from raw materials is a process that’s been perfected over the course of thousands of years. Many of the same techniques have been passed down through generations going back to the early Middle Ages when a woodsman or soldier staked their life upon the quality of the blade in their hands. 

Making a Handmade Axe


First, a blacksmith chisels a hole into a piece of low carbon steel. He will then stretch the hole using a mandrel until it is shaped to the desired size. A piece of higher grade steel is then added and heated together with the mild steel as the blacksmith combines them to form a hard cutting edge.

The axe is heated to the right degree (often recognized by the color of the steel once it is in the forge) and then hammered into shape. The blacksmith places it back into the heat until it glows a bright yellow color when he will again remove the axe and further pound it into the exact shape needed. When it reaches the perfect shape, the axe will then be grinded down on the edges.

Second, the annealing process begins. This is when the axe is heated to a certain degree and removed to cool at a slow pace. This is done multiple times, heating the axe to around 800 degrees Celsius before removing it to cool. This process helps to strengthen the steel and is a large part of why hand-forged axes are much better quality and will offer a better cut than its commercial counterpart.

Once the blade is shaped and polished, the handle is made. This is one of the most underappreciated parts of the handcrafting process, and is a major reason why handmade axes are of much better quality than a commercially-made axe.

Each handle must be specially made to fit the blade and provide the right degree of balance. Handmade axe handles begin as solid pieces of unknotted wood that are sawed down and then shaped using a drawknife. The axe dimensions are drawn onto the wood and it is shaved down to nearly fit the eye of the blade. The handle is then sanded down to ensure that it fits as tightly as possible into the axe head.

After the wood is treated and the axe is firmly fitted to the handle, many small companies will craft a leather sheath to protect your blade from rust or unwanted cuts.

The Difference in Commercially-Made Axes


Axes that are mass-produced by large companies are done so in a fraction of the time it takes to create a handmade axe. The axe blade is produced quickly and is rarely put through the forging process similar to what a single blacksmith does to create the strongest blade possible.

Each blade is produced in the exact same manner and the quality of steel is usually much lower than hand-forged products. In addition, the handles produced for commercial axes are made in-mass by a machine, which means there are bound to be minor inconsistencies in each blade and handle combination that will result in poor balance and loose-fitting blades. 

What to Look for in a Handmade Axe


If you’re in the market for a handmade axe, there are some specific areas of quality and craftsmanship that you’ll need to pay close attention to. When purchasing an axe online, you’re limited to the amount of personal inspection you’re able to do on each product.

Here are a few key areas to look at closely to make sure you’re getting the best handmade axe:

The Handle

The axe handle is perhaps the most overlooked part of any product. The handle is just a piece of wood that fits into the blade head, right? It’s not quite that simple.

Depending on its intended use, each axe handle will vary in size, length and shape. Longer axes will allow you to have more force with each swing, but the added length also means you’ll have less control over the axe blade. If you plan to fell trees and do other hard and heavy work with your axe, a longer blade of 36 inches or more is likely the best fit. However, if you are looking for an axe that can function in a number of different roles, a shorter handle under 28 inches will provide you with more control, and will also make your axe more portable and easy to pack with the rest of your gear.

Most commercial axes are made with plastic handles that will sometimes feature an added rubberized grip to help with shock absorption and control. This is actually not as valuable as it might appear. Handmade axe makers use special types of wood which usually include American hickory or ash. However, some companies utilize more rare types of wood like red elm which works to better absorb the shock from each blow.

Commercial axes are made using hydraulic presses that are used to mount the head of the axe onto the handle. This method of forcing the head onto the handle will not provide as much of an ideal fit as a handmade axe maker who hand-sculpts the wood into the best possible shape for each individual axe.

Pay close attention to an axe handle’s composition, grain and growth rings. An axe handle that has many growth rings close together is better than one with rings that are spaced further apart. Grains should also run parallel to the axe bit as those that run perpendicular to the bit are weaker and not able to withstand as much force.

Lastly, a handle that features a slight curvature will provide a more natural feel when swinging as opposed to an axe that’s made with a straight handle—as most commercial models are. 

The Blade

It is generally accepted that a blade of 3 pounds is the most ideal for general use. If you plan to fell large trees and are intending to do significant cutting, you can opt for a heavier blade.

It is important to note that not all steel is created equal. Commercial steel is machine-forged and is also more likely to dull or chip with continued use. Hand-forged blades are often much more expensive than name-brand options because they are made with a higher carbon content. In fact, most blades that are made in China are formed using scrap metal and will become dull much more quickly than hand-forged steel.

Hand-forged steel that’s high in carbon content will offer a blade that’s harder, more durable, and has better edge retention than factory-made steel. One other major benefit to the user is the hand-forged blade is often much easier to sharpen than low carbon steel.

Best 9 Handmade Axes For Serious Outdoorsmen


1) Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe


Gransfors Bruks is widely considered to be the best handmade axe company in the world—and for good reason. The company is based in Sweden and has been in business since 1902, combining many hundreds of years of forging knowledge to craft some of the most functional blades in the world.

The Small Forest Axe is perfect for anyone looking for a premium-quality multi-use axe that can do everything from felling trees to chopping small strips of kindling for a campfire. The axe is lightweight and compact, making it an ideal choice for outdoorsmen who want to pack it in with the rest of their gear on long trips in the wilderness when quality tools and gear are vital to survival. 

The Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe is one of the most expensive handmade axes on the market in 2020, but that shouldn’t stop you from taking a closer look at this model. It is completely handcrafted with a handle carved from American hickory, and a blade that’s hand-forged with the highest quality Swedish steel that's very high in carbon content.

Weight

2 lbs

Handle length

19 inches

Handle material

American hickory

Best for

Felling trees, limbing, splitting small sticks and logs, highly versatile, all-purpose

Pros

  • Swedish high carbon steel
  • Shorter, curved handle for more control
  • Handle carved from American hickory
  • 20 year warranty
  • Compact, easy to carry

Cons

  • Expensive

2) Hoffman Camp Axe


There are few axes in the world that are more beautiful and well-made than the Hoffman Camp Axe. Handcrafted by Liam Hoffman, a young legend in the axe-making community, these axes are fully customizable and feature the absolute best material and craftsmanship. These axes will undoubtedly outlast any commercial product, but it comes at a price as the Hoffman Camp Axe is among the most expensive axes available. Forged in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Hoffman notes that his axe is undeniably more efficient and better quality than any commercially-produced axe.

“It is true craftsmanship that transcends technology,” says Hoffman. 

The axe head is hand-forged from high carbon steel and is perfect for cutting through hard or soft wood. One of the major advantages of the Hoffman Camp Axe is that Hoffman himself offers a fully-customizable axe that can feature three different head weights and users can choose from one of five handle lengths, as well as exotic wood styles.

The Hoffman Camp Axe comes standard with a 19-inch handle and an axe head that weighs 2.25 lbs. It’s compact and lightweight size and design is perfect for being packed along with a wide array of other gear items for long trips in the woods.

The curved handle is specifically designed to allow for maximum force on each swing without having to exert too much effort. Users report that the blade’s edge is easily the best handmade axe they’ve ever owned and is razor sharp. 

Weight

3 lbs

Handle length

Standard 19 inches, but can be customized

Handle material

American hickory, but can be swapped with exotic wood options

Best for

Lightweight cutting, felling, chopping wood, limbing, cutting kindling, all-purpose

Pros

  • Handcrafted in the USA
  • High carbon steel
  • Razor sharp edge
  • Fully customizable options
  • Exotic wood handle options
  • Exceptional handle performance
  • Comes with leather sheath

Cons

  • Very expensive compared to other makes and models

3) Helko Werk Germany 1844 Forest Woodworker 


Helko Werk is well-known among axe enthusiasts as one of the top brands in the world for high-quality, handmade products. Made in Wuppertal, Germany, the 1844 Forest Woodworker is the most popular model produced by Helko Werk. The blade is made of high grade German steel, which is known to be one of the easiest types of steel for sharpening available.

This is one of the best handmade axes in the world and functions as a tool that’s ideal for lightweight cutting, felling, chopping wood, and cutting of smaller kindling. The axe head is made in the longstanding Rheinland (named after Germany’s Rhine River) axe head pattern that's been produced in Germany for centuries. 

The 1844 Forest Woodworker is perhaps best known for its famous handle design. Crafted from Grade A American hickory, the handle is mostly straight and features a curved hilt that allows for added force with each swing. The handle is also sanded and has a linseed oil finish that will ensure it remains in good condition for many years.

Weight

3.5 lbs

Handle length

24 inches

Handle material

Grade A American hickory

Best for

Lightweight cutting, felling, chopping wood, and cutting of smaller kindling

Pros

  • Crafted from German C50 high carbon steel
  • Comes with leather sheath
  • Lightweight, compact design
  • Curved handle
  • Grade A American Hickory 

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Edge does not come pre-sharpened

4) Brant & Cochran Allagash Cruiser


The Brant & Cochran Allagash Cruiser is well-known throughout New England as one of the best handmade axes money can buy. This axe is modeled after the famed Maine wedge pattern that was wildly popular among professional woodsmen in the early 1900’s. The Maine wedge is recognizable because of its unique design, which features a thick poll and a simple V shape.

This axe is hand-forged in the Brant & Cochran shop located in Portland, Maine usine 1050 carbon steel. The head weighs 2.5 lbs and is fitted to an Amish hand-carved hickory handle that also comes standard with a leather sheath. The straight handle is also more suited for harder blows that are aimed at felling large trees, which the Maine wedge was famous for. 

The Allagash Cruiser is known for keeping a sharp edge, even after many hours of use. The Allagash Cruiser was originally designed to honor the Maine woodsmen who used the old fashioned Maine wedge, but it has since become one of the most reliable handmade axes in the world.

Weight

2.5 lbs

Handle length

28 inches

Handle material

Amish-turned hickory

Best for

Felling large trees, limbing, trailblazing, splitting

Pros

  • Historic Maine wedge design
  • Razor-sharp edge
  • High carbon steel
  • Amish turned hickory handle
  • Comes standard with leather sheath 

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Longer length may not be suitable for travel

5) Wilderness Ironworks Great Northwoods Axe


Among woodcutting and handmade axe enthusiasts, there are few people who are more famous than Robert Burns. At the age of 13, Burns began his blacksmithing career, and he has since managed to forge what he considers to be the perfect axe for wilderness survival and all-around woodsmanship.

The Wilderness Ironworks Great Northwoods Axe is designed after a historic Norwegian forest axe, which was used for hundreds of years to fell some of the largest trees in northern Europe. The axe blade has a rugged appearance that’s enhanced by the medium-length hickory handle, which is burned with a blowtorch to further strengthen the wood and give it a truly unique, wild appearance. 

The blade is hand-forged using 4140 high chromoly steel and a full five inches of edge. The axe head weighs 3.5 lbs and is perfectly suited for felling large trees, splitting wood, and many other tasks that are common to wilderness survival, which Burns is familiar with as a primitive skills instructor.

Weight

3.5 lbs

Handle length

26.5 inches

Handle material

Toasted hickory

Best for

Felling large trees, limbing, trailblazing, splitting wood

Pros

  • High carbon steel
  • Authentic Norwegian design
  • Strengthened hickory handle
  • Straight handle for added force in swinging
  • 5 inches of blade surface
  • Can be used one-handed or two-handed

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Heavier than other models

6) Wetterlings Outdoor Axe


The Wetterlings Swedish Axe Works is a company based in Sweden that has been around since 1880. It has gained a reputation as one of the premier companies for producing some of the best handmade axes in the world.

The Wetterling Outdoor Axe is crafted to tackle just about any job imaginable. It is ideal for splitting wood, limbing, felling smaller trees, chopping kindling and everything in between. The company does offer heavier options for users who are looking for more heavy-duty tree felling work, but the Outdoor Axe is specially designed to function as an all-in-one bushcraft axe that can go anywhere and do anything. 

It features a blade that’s made of the best high carbon Swedish steel available, and each blade is hand-forged to a weight of only 1.5 pounds, which makes the Wetterlings Outdoor Axe significantly more lightweight than other, similar makes and models. The handle is crafted from American hickory and features a slightly curved and widened hilt for optimal force and handling.

Like most other top options on our list, the Wetterlings Outdoor Axe is expensive, but for those looking for a quality handmade axe, this model packs in plenty of value that will last for generations. 

Weight

1.5 lbs

Handle length

19.5 inches

Handle material

American hickory

Best for

Limbing, felling smaller trees, chopping kindling

Pros

  • Lightweight and compact
  • Swedish high carbon steel
  • Comes with leather sheath
  • American hickory handle 

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Not suited for cutting large trees

7) LAMACA Woodsman Cruiser


One of the most beautiful axes on our list of the best handmade models is the LAMACA Woodsman Cruiser. This double bit axe is a throwback to the most popular style of axe in 20th Century America, especially among professional woodsmen.

This axe is described as a well-balanced and versatile axe that’s capable of handling large trees and even tough, knotted wood that’s sometimes hard to chop through. The double bit axes of old were said to function as two axes in one, with one blade being sharpened to a razor-like edge for cutting through heavy wood, and another, more stout blade that was designed for hacking into harder, knotted wood. 

Made from high carbon steel, the Woodsman Cruiser is very easy to sharpen in the field. Users need only to bury one end into a stump and sharpen the exposed end with their sharpening stone or file. The axe is moderately-sized with a 27-inch handle and 2.5-lb head. This axe is ideal for heavier cutting, as well as routine tasks around camp. It even functions well as a throwing axe thanks to the double bit design.

The handle can be ordered in American hickory with Appalachian black walnut finish, or white oak with tung oil finish. This axe is quite a bit more expensive than some other handmade models, but it carries a LAMACA Lifetime Warranty on any potential defects. 

Weight

2.5-lb head

Handle length

27 inches

Handle material

American hickory or white oak

Best for

Heavier cutting, felling large trees, limbing, throwing

Pros

  • Can be used for a variety of purposes
  • Optional handle in American hickory or white oak
  • Hand-forged high carbon steel
  • Comes with leather sheath
  • Can be used as a throwing axe
  • Double bit head 

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Heavier design
  • Not suited for light cutting tasks 

8) Hults Bruk Akka Forester’s Premium Outdoor Axe


The Hults Bruk company’s axe models date back to a Swedish forged design from 1697. The Hults Bruk Akka Forester’s Premium Outdoor Axe is packed with plenty of value for a moderately-expensive price tag. This axe is considered to be medium-sized with a 1.5-lb head and a 24-inch handle, but that doesn’t mean it’s not capable of handling some of the largest trees in the forest.

This trail-clearing machine comes with a high carbon steel blade that’s adorned with Swedish designs and the famous Hults Bruk logo. The axe also comes standard with a leather sheath that also features Swedish decorative impressions, as well as a detailed instruction manual. 

The Akka Forester’s Premium Outdoor Axe is considered to be Hults Bruk’s flagship product and one of the most popular handmade axes in the world. The straight handle is crafted from American hickory and is more suited for felling medium-sized to large trees. The blade’s edge is said to be razor-sharp right out of the box. With an overall weight of 2.2 lbs, the Akka is just the right weight to carry along on wilderness journeys without worrying about dealing with a hefty axe.

Weight

2.2 lbs

Handle length

24 inches

Handle material

American hickory

Best for

Splitting, felling small or moderately-sized trees, limbing, trailblazing, chopping firewood

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Perfect for splitting or limbing
  • High carbon Swedish steel
  • Historically-famous brand
  • Straight handle for added swinging force
  • American hickory handle
  • Comes with leather sheath adorned with Swedish designs 

Cons

  • Not well suited for felling large trees

9) Gransfors Bruk American Felling Axe


Our list wouldn’t be complete without one of the most popular handmade axes among professional woodcutting competition members. The Gransfors Bruk American Felling Axe carries with it all the top qualities that Gransfors Bruk is known for, but in a larger, heavier design that’s made to get down to business and drop trees.

The axe was specially designed for competitive woodcutting and it can chew through most hard or soft wood in a surprisingly short amount of time. The blade is crafted from high carbon Swedish steel, and features a 4.5-inch cutting face that helps make short work of even the largest trees. The axe head weighs 3.3 pounds and is perfectly balanced with the 31-inch handle. 

The curved handle is hand-carved from American hickory and has a mostly straight design with a slightly curved hilt that helps add extra force with each swing, as well as improve user control over the large axe. The axe also comes standard with a leather sheath to protect the blade.

This is one of the larger, more expensive options on our list of the best handmade axes, but it has earned its reputation as one of the finest felling blades in the world. 

Weight

4 lbs

Handle length

31 inches

Handle material

American hickory

Best for

Felling large trees, trailblazing, hewing, notching and chipping

Pros

  • Specially made for heavy duty use
  • 4.5 inches of cutting surface
  • High carbon Swedish steel
  • Great for cutting everything from small to very large trees
  • Comes standard with leather sheath 

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Not suited for travel/carrying along on trips
  • Larger size 

Conclusion


Now that you’ve gone over all the advantages that a handmade axe has over a commercial blade, the overall process of determining whether or not you actually need a handmade make and model should be much easier. If you’re on a budget, but still want to own an axe that will last a lifetime, check out some of the more moderately-priced options on our list. Remember, the handmade axes are more expensive because they involve a higher degree of craftsmanship and are more likely to last for the duration of your lifetime, and can be a valuable tool to pass on to your loved ones.

If you’re still interested to learn more about handmade axes and the process of making them, we encourage you to visit any of the websites for the brands mentioned in our list as many of them provide a detailed description of the process of making a hand-forged, hand-carved axe that will stand the test of time. 


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