There is no great mystery over the main purpose of a hatchet. It’s used for cutting wood.
They are, however, much more versatile than this single-minded use.
There are many scenarios where a sharp hatchet can be an effective tool for more than just splitting wood.
Hatchets defined by versatility
A hatchet is a single-edged striking tool with a hammerhead on the opposite side of the blade. This gives it many uses. It is used for everything from striking to taking the place of a pocket knife while camping.
A hatchet is a small axe but it is light, easy to carry around and much more compact.
Hatchets can still do all of the stuff a bigger axe can do, it may just take a little bit of additional time and energy.
What to Look For in a Good Hatchet
Do not skimp on quality of materials.
When it comes to the hatchet head factor in both the sharpness of the edge as well as its thickness. If it becomes too thick too quickly, no amount of force will drive it through the wood, regardless of how sharp it is. Further, it will make it more difficult to bite into the wood when swinging from a sharp angle. Be on the lookout for abrasions in the blade as it will make it more difficult to cut through the wood.
When it comes to the handle take into consideration its length and what its made out of.
A longer handle will allow you to generate more force, but it will become bulkier, heavier and more cumbersome.
Handles are generally made out of wood, fiberglass or metal, although they can be found in a number of different materials.
The many uses of a hatchet
Splitting kindling and making tinder
These are two of the most common uses of a hatchet and require very simple techniques and will come in handy when needing to get a fire going to keep you warm or roast marshmallows.
To make kindling contact split the wood to minimize the potential of an injury. This is done by swinging the hatchet and wood together until they connect on a solid surface. Continue by driving the edge of the hatchet through the wood until it splits off.
To make tinder, simply shave off the wood in a downward motion until you have enough fuel for your fire.
Chopping down trees
This takes a little more effort than with a larger axe, but with the proper technique you can fell a tree. It works in a pinch if you are limited in what you carry with you.
Keep scrolling for a more in-depth description how to do this safely and properly.
Cleaning up logs
Now that you’ve chopped down a tree clean it up. A hatchet is the perfect tool for getting in tight spaces while not requiring the energy a full axe would to take off small branches and preparing firewood or material for a shelter.
Building a shelter
You never know when you are going to need to build a shelter while out hiking to get out of the elements or to spend the night. A hatchet can help you to quickly collect and clean branches for support or cover.
Driving tent stakes or other hammering needs
Versatility is king outdoors. The flat hammerhead on a hatchet is perfect for driving tent stakes into the ground or giving a rock or log the nudge it needs.
Maybe not the best use of an axe as it will be tough on the blade. It’s a difficult technique to master, but if you are in need of some fire to keep you warm or to cook supper, by striking the blade on the right type of rock you can create a spark that can light whatever fuel you have. Maybe get your kindling and tinder sorted out first.
If you plan to cook what you catch over the fire you just made, you can prepare it using a sharp hatchet. It make cutting bone or cartilage much easier than with a field knife and with enough patience can be used in some of the more delicate procedures.
Looking for something to pass the time while relaxing by the fire? Try carving yourself an arrowhead or spoon, or even something more intricate.
Break the ice
The summer does not have a monopoly on the outdoors. Next time you are ice fishing bring your hatchet. The hatchet is useful in both scooping away snow but can also be used to chop through the ice or make a hole bigger.
Working the garden
It’s not just out on the trail where a hatchet can be useful, it can help make life easier in the garden and around the yard as well. It can be used for cutting herbs and overgrown shrubs and trimming overgrown branches.
Back in the day you would get cut down to size by the nearest adult for throwing an axe, now it’s a competitive sport. Axe throwing is growing rapidly from its days as a niche sport. There are now clubs, leagues and entire facilities dedicated to the art of throwing axes, in which case they are generally using hatchets. The basics of it are simple, combatants take turns in throwing hatchets at a target at the end of a lane. Maybe save this one for when you are in a safe area. And no trying to knock apples off heads.
While a hatchet’s size gives it versatility it does make some of the more basic functions of bigger axes a little more difficult. This puts an emphasis on technique.
To cut down a tree you will be making a V cut on either side of the tree, this will help maximize your efforts and give you directional control of where the tree will land.
A V cut requires a horizontal chopping motion at an angle to clear out material above and below. The goal is to have the two cuts meet in the middle of the tree creating a V.
This will take a number of swings to clear out the wood. As the V gets wider, the quicker you will go.
Once you reach the middle start on the opposite side of the trunk and continue in the same motion.
Splitting logs with a hatchet is the same basic idea of splitting logs with a larger axe.
Due to the size of a hatchet there are a few changes in technique to ensure if you miss the hatchet does not wind up loded in your shin. The best way to avoid this is to kneel while chopping.
It is also recommended not to chop in the ground as you can damage the blade if it goes right through the wood.
Maintaining a hatchet
Take care of your hatchet and it will take care of you.
In much the same way the most dangerous thing in a kitchen is a dull knife, it’s the same thing with your hatchet or axe. Keeping a sharp edge on your hatchet will allow you to be more precise with your cuts and help ensure it bites into the wood instead of glancing off. It will also help save on the frustration of struggling to get through the material.
To help protect the blade in between projects or while out on the trail, keep the head in a leather sheath. This will keep the blade from getting damaged or from nicking you or your bag. Sheaths often have a handle or strap that will make it easy to attach to your bag or your belt, depending on the size of the hatchet.
It is also important to maintain the rest of the hatchet. If the head is loose, take it into an outdoorsman store to get it fixed. You do not want it to pop off in the middle of chopping down a tree or splitting wood, it is dangerous and oh-so-frustrating.
After using your hatchet, make sure to clean it,
If you have a wood handle, this can be maintained by periodically rubbing linseed oil into it. This will help preserve the wood without damaging the surface.
When you’re not using the hatchet do not leave it uncovered or in a block of wood, always keep a sheath on it and in a safe, dry place.
How to sharpen your hatchet
There are several ways to keep a sharp edge on your hatchet.
A grinder, if you have one, is perhaps the easiest and quickest way to remove nicks and to reprofile the blade. But there are some drawbacks. Using a grinder can create a lot of heat and cause a metal hatchet to lose its temper, thus weakening it.
Because of this, a file is the most common way to sharpen a hatchet, though it takes more time and considerably more effort.
A sharpening stone is your next best option. A sharpening stone can be used on just about any blade. It has two sides, a coarse side and a finer side. Start by wetting the coarse side of the stone with an oil or lubricant and rub the bevel of the stone in a circular motion with even pressure up and down the length of the edge.
Once the edge has been cleaned up, flip the stone to the fine side and repeat until it is sharp.
You can refine your edge further by using the rough side of a leather belt to remove any burs or rough spots. Do this in much the same fashion a barber does with a razorblade, by dragging the side of the blade along the length of the belt, Do this on both sides.
The safest way to test its sharpness is by using it to cut a piece of paper.
A hatchet is one of the most versatile tools any outdoorsman can carry. It can be used for far more than just chopping wood. Yes, it does do that, but it can be critical to your survival and enjoyment by providing shelter, fire, preparing food and even entertainment.
So long as you maintain it properly, a good axe will be by your side for years’ worth of adventure.