Best Bushcraft Axe: No Nonsense Buyers Guide, Dependable Reviews

Today, axes have mostly been replaced by saws and survival knives.  However, there was once a time when outdoorsmen didn’t go out without an axe.

If you are serious about learning wilderness skills, then you will need a good bushcraft axe to take out with you.

Our Top Pick

Council Tool 2# WOOD-CRAFT Pack Axe, 24" Hickory Handle
Durable and beautifully balanced with stunning design, whats not to love about the Council Tool Woodcraft axe?

Performs any task effortlessly, from butchering game to splitting wood and even delicate carving jobs. Check On Amazon

Best Bushcraft Axe – Comparison

ProductWeightLengthHead MaterialMade InWarranty

Council Tool
2.75lbs24"5160 SteelUSA5 Year

Gransfors Bruks
2lbs19"Ovako SteelSweden20 Years

Wetterlings Outdoor

2.5lbs19.5"1045 SteelSweden20 Years

Husqvarna 26"
3lbs26"Not GivenSweden90 Day

Cold Steel Trail Boss
2.7lbs26"1055 SteelTaiwan30 Day

 

Why Use a Bushcraft Axe?

bushcraft tools

No matter how good your survival knife is, it can’t do tasks like fell a tree. A saw might be a good tool, but it isn't nearly as versatile as an axe – it won't split wood or carve wood.

Thus, having a bushcraft axe with you in the wilderness means you will have access to many more materials.

Consider the difference between a brush shelter and a notched log cabin – you’ll see how much this tool can do for your comfort and survival.

The downside, however, is that axes are very heavy.  No serious backpacker would ever consider bringing an axe, and an axe probably won’t make it onto your bug out bag packing list.

So when does the weight of an axe make it worth carrying?

  • When you are bugging out by vehicle and won’t have to haul your gear very far to camp.
  • You will be staying at camp for a long time, making the weight worth carrying.
  • You know that you will be doing heavy tasks such as limbing trees.
  • You want to practice your axe skills to become a better survivalist.

 

Choosing Your Chopper

chopping wood with axe

For the beginner axman, the main considerations are size and weight, however there is a lot more to choosing than this.

Lets get into the factors you need to be thinking about before buying. Start by reading The US Department of Agriculture's guide on axes, including how to use an axe.  You can download the PDF here for free.

 

1. How Comfortable Are You with an Axe?

The first consideration is your skill level.

Many beginners make the mistake of choosing a small hatchet as their first axe.  Hatchets are actually a terrible choice:

  • Because the follow through zone of a hatchet is the thighs and knees, hatchets are more dangerous to use than an axe with a longer handle.
  • Hatchets require more energy to use. For beginners who haven’t mastered their swing yet, this can be tiresome.

If you are a beginner, then I’d recommend getting a full-length axe or a ¾ axe.  They will be heavier to carry, but are much safer to use.  You’ll also be able to perform more tasks with the longer axes.

*Most outdoorspeople don’t have just one axe. Whatever you end up choosing, consider it your “first axe.”

You’ll soon have at least one other so you can take the tool best suited for the tasks you will be doing in the bush.

 

2. What Do You Want to Use It For?

felling tree with axe

There are a lot of different ax skills to master, such as:

  • Felling trees
  • Limbing (removing limbs from trees)
  • Chopping wood
  • Splitting wood
  • Dressing animals (an axe can be used to remove limbs from game)
  • Chopping ice
  • Carving

There are different axes for each of these different skills.  However, it is unlikely that you will be doing all of these tasks.

For example, it is prohibited to fell trees in many areas.   For carving, you are probably better off with a good survival knife than trying to use an axe.

Once you know what you want to do with the axe, you can choose the appropriate type.

  • General Duty Axes: If this is your first bushcraft axe, then you will probably be getting a “general duty” axe. These have rounded bits which are suited for a wide range of tasks.
  • Cutting Axes: These axes have heavy, thin bits which deliver maximum force on a small area.
  • Splitting Axes: Axes with heavy, wider bits are better for splitting as the wedge shape will force the wood apart.
  • Hatchets: These are axes with shorter handles and lighter bits. They are best for smaller jobs.  A hatchet can be used for splitting and felling, but it is going to require a lot of energy and be more dangerous.
axe bit types
This image from a 1925 catalog shows the many different types of axe bits, each designed for a specific type of use.

 

3. Efficiency (Size and Weight)

Anything less than a 2-2 ½ pound axe is too light for serious work.

An axe works by using the weight of the bit to cut through wood.  The heavier the axe bit, the better it will cut through wood.

The tradeoff is that you will work a lot slower with a heavy chopper. If you haven’t mastered your swing and often miss the mark, then you’ll quickly become fatigued.

Because of these issues, lighter bushcraft axes tend to be the most popular.  For example, the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe (reviewed below) is 2lbs.  They are easier for beginners to master swing with, and also easier to carry in a pack.

The compromise? A three quarter axe (18-28 inch handle) weighing 2.5 to 3 pounds is a good choice for beginners.  It’s heavy enough for some serious work, but light enough that you won’t become fatigued quickly or hurt yourself if you miss.

*Don’t forget to consider how you will carry the bushcraft axe.  You want to make sure it will fit in or on your pack!

 

4. Type of Wood

Some of the most popular axes are made in Sweden.  Ironically, these axes are made for the softer woods – not for the hardwoods found throughout most American forests.

If you plan on chopping any hardwood with your bushcraft ax, you will need something with more heft.

A lightweight ax will just bounce right off the wood.

If the wood has been seasoned at all, then you’ll need a bit weighing at least 3.5lbs.

 

5. Axe Manufacturers

bushcraft axe manufacturers

Please do not buy a cheap tool made by no-name Chinese manufacturers! These axes are of untested quality.  You could end up severely injuring yourself when the bit goes flying off.

And any money saved by buying a cheap axe is just going to negated when you have to constantly replace the handle.

Instead, choose one of the better-known axe manufacturers.  These axes will cost more initially, but will hold up through the test of time.

  • Gransfors Bruks: These Swedish axes are constantly listed as the best. They go through a rigorous quality control process.
  • SA Wetterlings: Another Swedish manufacturer, these are very similar to the Gransfors Bruks  but cost less.
  • Council Tool: This is one of my favorite manufacturers. They are based in the USA and offer a variety of designs. They also do a great job of heat treating their axes.
  • Barco: This American company makes very high quality products at a good value. Many of their axes come unfinished – you will have to grind them yourself.
  • Husqvarna: Large well known manufacturer. Their products vary in quality and price, but are generally good value.

 

Top 5 Bushcraft Axes

1. Gransfors Bruk Small Forest

This axe is regularly in the best of lists.  It is very versatile and does a good job chopping for such a small axe.  Gransfors Bruk is famous for its high quality and you won’t be disappointed.

Check Prices on Amazon

Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe 19 Inch, Made In Sweden, 420

 

The only major complaint is that it is a bit too small for heavy chopping.

If you already know you will need to do serious work, then opt for their bigger, heavier Large Splitting Axe.

Or, if you need to do lighter work, size down to their Wildlife hatchet or Outdoor Axe.

Pros

  • Incredible craftsmanship
  • Great chopping power for a small axe
  • Leather sheath
  • Hand forged
  • High-grade hickory handle
  • Great warranty

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Too light for heavy chopping

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2. Wetterlings Outdoor Axe

There's an ongoing debate among axmen as to whether the Wetterlings  or the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest is better.

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Wetterlings SAW118 Outdoor Axe Knife

The two are very similar in weight and size.  Thus, they both have the same complaint of being too small for serious work.

The Outdoor Axe, however, has a wedge profile which is better for splitting wood.

Both are very good quality but the Wetterlings is more affordable.

Pros

  • Good price for very high quality
  • Great for splitting wood
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Hand forged
  • High-grade hickory handle
  • Great warranty

Cons:

  • Pricey for a first axe
  • Too light for heavy chopping

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3. Council Tool Woodcraft Pack

This is my favorite bushcraft axe, even though it isn’t as versatile as most.  I love it because of the beautiful bit design.

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Council Tool 2# WOOD-CRAFT Pack Axe, 24" Hickory Handle

The bit is shaped to reduce weight, but without reducing function.  The heaviest area of the bit still creates the greatest impact, allowing it to be used for splitting wood effectively.

The main draw is that it is designed for both carving and wood shaping.  The bit feels great in your hands – even when wearing winter gloves. I find it very useful for camp tasks like making tinder or wood stakes.  Of course, a survival knife would work for these tasks too.

The major downside of Council Tool axes is that they have a fairly low Rockwell hardness.

The idea is that they can be used better on hardwood in wintertime (low Rockwell will be less brittle in these conditions).  But this does mean you need to sharpen it a bit more frequently.

Unlike the Swedish-made axes above which are hand forged, the Council Tool axe is drop forged.

This is how you can get such a high quality axe made in the USA at prices similar to the Swedish hand-forged axes.

Pros

  • Great bit design
  • Leather sheath
  • Comfortable curved handle
  • High-grade hickory handle
  • Made in USA

Cons

  • Not as versatile
  • Low Rockwell hardness

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4. Husqvarna 26” Multi Purpose

Husqvarna axes are the “value” brand of Swedish axes.  Even though a lot of Husqvarna products are now apparently made in China, this multi purpose axe is still Swedish made.

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Husqvarna 26" Wooden Multi-Purpose Axe

There are a lot of good things about this chopper – like how it maintains sharpness well, has a handle long enough for safe beginner use, and is very versatile.

Overall, it is a good balance between quality and budget.

For the low price though, you can’t expect it to be perfect.

There are a lot of reported issues with the axe head breaking in half – even with proper usage.

The handle is hickory, but low-grade hickory with a wide grain.  This means that the handle could also break on you. Overall, it’s not the best choice for hard woods.

Pros

  • Great value
  • Retains edge well
  • Long handle better for beginners
  • Leather scabbard

Cons

  • Users report issues with head breaking
  • Low-quality hickory handle
  • Handle will shrink in warm climates
  • Type of steel not given

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5. Cold Steel Trail Boss

I had to include the Cold Steel Trail Boss in our list, mostly because of its low price.  As you’d expect for such a cheap tool, it doesn’t come close to the quality of the Swedish-made and Council Tool axes.

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CS90TA-BRK Trail Boss

For a cheap product though, it holds up surprisingly well.

The head doesn’t come loose.  The handle doesn’t break (though some report it cracks when you hit a knot in hard wood).

And the head holds up even when you miss a few swings. You can use it for limbing trees and splitting wood (just don’t expect to split seasoned wood).

Do note that the head rusts easily.  You will need to keep oil on it to protect it.

Still, it is pretty impressive for such a cheap tool.

Pros

  • Great for beginners
  • Very affordable
  • Comfortable handle
  • Grade-A hickory handle

Cons

  • Made in Taiwan
  • Poor quality control
  • No sheath
  • Rusts easily
  • Still a cheap product – won’t hold up for serious work

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What's your favorite bushcraft axe? Let us know in the comments!


Image credits:

gransfors bruks hunters axe” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by The Year of Mud,
Fairoaks_Farm_Camping_15” (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by jjay69,
Axe” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by coconinoco,
Chopping Wood” (CC BY 2.0) by Phil Roeder

Resources:

http://woodtrekker.blogspot.com/2011/09/selecting-bushcraft-axe.html,
https://www.wildwaybushcraft.co.uk/what-to-look-for-in-a-bushcraft-axe/, https://survivalsherpa.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/cutting-to-the-chase-when-choosing-an-ax-for-self-reliance/,
https://www.wildwaybushcraft.co.uk/choose-bushcraft-axe/, https://www.bladeforums.com/threads/best-axe-for-oak.1348914/, http://rockymountainbushcraft.blogspot.com/2013/04/battle-of-compact-bushcraft-axes.html,

5 thoughts on “Best Bushcraft Axe: No Nonsense Buyers Guide, Dependable Reviews

  1. Recently got a Gränsfors Bruk Small Forest axe. This axe is quite nice for most camping & backpacking needs. Very nice workmanship and perfectly balanced. This axe is replacing my Hultafors Trekking axe. It was good but a little too small. It’s more like a large hatchet. This article brought up an idea I hadn’t considered before. If I bug out by car or go on an extended car camping trip maybe I should opt for a full sized splitting axe as weight/space aren’t a big consideration.

  2. It’s worth bearing in mind that hultafors and gransfors are of equal quality, manufactured to the same standards (i believe originally in the same village), the finish on gransfors handles is marginally better perhaps. They used to be more or less equal in price as well, but now gransfors are endorsed by Ray Mears they are considerably more expensive. I’m not knocking gransfors, they’re very high quality tools, but so are hultafors and they’re easier on the wallet!

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