An axe (sometimes ax in American English
; see spelling differences
) is an implement that has been used for millennia
and cut wood
, to harvest timber
, as a weapon
, and as a ceremonial
or heraldic symbol
. The axe has many forms and specialised uses but generally consists of an axe head with a handle
, or ''helve''.
Before the modern axe, the stone-age hand axe
without a handle was used from 1.5 million years BP
. Hafted axes (those with a handle) date only from 6000 BC. The earliest examples of handled axes have heads of stone
with some form of wooden handle attached (hafted
) in a method to suit the available materials and use. Axes made of copper
appeared as these technologies developed.
The axe is an example of a simple machine
, as it is a type of wedge
, or dual inclined plane
. This reduces the effort needed by the wood chopper. It splits the wood into two parts by the pressure concentration at the blade. The handle of the axe also acts as a lever
allowing the user to increase the force at the cutting edge—not using the full length of the handle is known as choking the axe. For fine chopping using a side axe this sometimes is a positive effect, but for felling
with a double bitted axe it reduces efficiency.
Generally, cutting axes have a shallow wedge angle, whereas splitting axes have a deeper angle. Most axes are double bevelled, i.e. symmetrical about the axis of the blade, but some specialist broadaxe
s have a single bevel blade, and usually an offset handle that allows them to be used for finishing work without putting the user's knuckles at risk of injury. Less common today, they were once an integral part of a joiner and carpenter's tool kit, not just a tool for use in forestry. A tool of similar origin is the billhook
Most modern axes have steel heads and wooden handles, typically hickory
in the US and ash
in Europe and Asia, although plastic
handles are also common. Modern axes are specialised by use, size and form. Hafted axes with short handles designed for use with one hand are often called hand axes but the term hand axe refers to axes without handles as well. Hatchet
s tend to be small hafted axes often with a hammer
on the back side (the poll). As easy-to-make weapons, axes have frequently been used in combat.
s, of stone
, and used without handles (hafts) were the first axes. They had knapped
(chipped) cutting edges of flint
or other stone. Early examples of hand axes date back to 1.6 mya in the later Oldowan, in Southern Ethiopia around 1.4 mya, and in 1.2 mya deposits in Olduvai Gorge
Stone axes made with ''ground
'' cutting edges were first developed sometime in the late Pleistocene
, where grind-edge axe fragments from sites in Arnhem Land
date back at least 44,000 years; grind-edge axes were later invented independently in Japan
some time around 38,000 BP, and are known from several Upper Palaeolithic
sites on the islands of Honshu
. In Europe
, however, the innovation of grind edges occurred much later, in the Neolithic
period ending 4,000 to 2,000 BC.
Hafted axes are first known from the Mesolithic
period (c. 6000 BC). Few wooden hafts have been found from this period, but it seems that the axe was normally hafted by wedging
and rawhide lashings
were used to fix the blade.
The distribution of stone axes is an important indication of prehistoric trade
. Thin sectioning is used to determine the provenance
of the stone blades. In Europe, Neolithic
"axe factories", where thousands of ground stone axes were roughed out, are known from many places, such as:
* Great Langdale
, England (tuff
* Rathlin Island
, Ireland (porcellanite
, Poland (flint)
* Neolithic flint mines of Spiennes
, Belgium (flint)
, France (pelite
* Aosta Valley
, Italy (omphacite
Stone axes are still produced and in use today in parts of Papua
. The Mount Hagen
area of Papua New Guinea
was an important production centre.
From the late Neolithic
onwards, axes were made of copper
or copper mixed with arsenic
. These axes were flat and hafted much like their stone predecessors. Axes continued to be made in this manner with the introduction of Bronze metallurgy
. Eventually the hafting method changed and the flat axe developed into the "flanged axe", then palstave
s, and later winged and socketed axes.
Symbolism, ritual, and folklore
At least since the late Neolithic
, elaborate axes (battle-axes, T-axes, etc.) had a religious
significance and probably indicated the exalted status
of their owner. Certain types almost never show traces of wear
; deposits of unshafted axe blades from the middle Neolithic (such as at the Somerset Levels
in Britain) may have been gifts to the deities
In Minoan Crete
, the double axe (labrys
) had a special significance, used by priestesses in religious ceremonies.
In 1998 a labrys, complete with an elaborately embellished haft, was found at Cham-Eslen, Canton of Zug
. The haft was 120 cm long and wrapped in ornamented birch-bark
. The axe blade is 17.4 cm long and made of antigorite
, mined in the Gotthard
-area. The haft goes through a biconical drilled hole and is fastened by wedges of antler and by birch-tar. It belongs to the early Cortaillod culture
, stone axes were sometimes believed to be thunderbolt
s and were used to guard buildings against lightning
, as it was believed (mythically
) that lightning never struck the same place twice. This has caused some skewing of axe distributions.
axes were important in superstition
as well. A thrown
axe could keep off a hail
storm, sometimes an axe was placed in the crops
, with the cutting edge to the skies to protect the harvest against bad weather
. An upright axe buried under the sill
of a house would keep off witches
, while an axe under the bed
would assure male offspring
ns and New Zealanders
have developed variants of rural sports that perpetuate the traditions of log cutting
with axe. The Basque variants, splitting
horizontally or vertically disposed logs, are generically called ''aizkolaritza
'' (from ''aizkora'': axe).
In Yorùbá mythology
, the oshe (double-headed axe) symbolises Shango
(god) of thunder and lightning. It is said to represent swift and balanced justice. Shango altars often contain a carved figure of a woman holding a gift to the god with a double-bladed axe sticking up from her head.
The Arkalochori Axe
is a bronze, Minoan, axe from the second millennium BC thought to be used for religious purposes. Inscriptions on this axe have been compared with other ancient writing systems.
Parts of the axe
The axe has two primary components: the axe ''head'', and the ''haft''.
The ''axe head'' is typically bounded by the ''bit'' (or blade) at one end, and the ''poll'' (or butt) at the other, though some designs feature two bits opposite each other. The top corner of the bit where the cutting edge begins is called the ''toe'', and the bottom corner is known as the ''heel''. Either side of the head is called the ''cheek'', which is sometimes supplemented by ''lugs'' where the head meets the haft, and the hole where the haft is mounted is called the ''eye''. The part of the bit that descends below the rest of the axe-head is called the ''beard'', and a ''bearded axe
'' is an antiquated axe head with an exaggerated beard that can sometimes extend the cutting edge twice the height of the rest of the head.
The ''axe haft'' is sometimes called the handle
. Traditionally, it was made of a resilient hardwood
, but modern axes often have hafts made of durable synthetic materials. Antique axes and their modern reproductions, like the tomahawk
, often had a simple, straight haft with a circular cross-section that wedged onto the axe-head without the aid of wedges or pins. Modern hafts are curved for better grip and to aid in the swinging motion, and are mounted securely to the head. The ''shoulder'' is where the head mounts onto the haft, and this is either a long oval or rectangular cross-section of the haft that is secured to the axe head with small metal or wooden wedges. The ''belly'' of the haft is the longest part, where it bows in gently, and the throat is where it curves sharply down to the short ''grip'', just before the end of the haft, which is known as the ''knob''.
Types of axes
Axes designed to cut or shape wood
* Felling axe: Cuts across the grain
of wood, as in the felling
of trees; in single or double bit (the bit is the cutting edge of the head) forms and many different weights, shapes, handle types and cutting geometries to match the characteristics of the material being cut. More so than with for instance a splitting axe, the bit of a felling axe needs to be very sharp, to be able to efficiently cut the fibres
* Splitting axe: Used in wood splitting
to split with the grain of the wood. Splitting axe bits are more wedge shaped. This shape causes the axe to rend the fibres of the wood apart, without having to cut through them.
* Broad axe
: Used with the grain of the wood in precision splitting or "hewing
" (i.e. the squaring-off of round timbers usually for use in construction). Broad axe bits are most commonly chisel
-shaped (i.e. one flat and one beveled edge) facilitating more controlled work as the flat cheek passes along the squared timber.
: A variation featuring a head perpendicular to that of an axe. Rather than splitting wood side-by-side, it is used to rip
a level surface into a horizontal piece of wood. It can also be used as a pickaxe
for breaking up rocks and clay
: A small, light axe designed for use in one hand specifically while camping
* Carpenter's axe
: A small axe, usually slightly larger than a hatchet, used in traditional woodwork
. It has a pronounced beard and finger notch to allow a "choked" grip for precise control. The poll is designed for use as a hammer
* Hand axe: A small axe used for intermediate chopping, similar to hatchets.
axe: Used for creating mortises, a process which begins by drilling
two holes at the ends of the intended mortise. Then the wood between the holes is removed with the mortising axe. Some forms of the tool have one blade, which may be pushed, swung or struck with a mallet
. Others, such as twybil, bisaigüe and piochon have two, one of which is used for separating the fibres, and the other for levering out the waste.
Axes as weapons
thumb|upright|The execution of the Duke of Somerset
after the Battle of Tewkesbury
* Archer's axe: a one-handed axe with bearded head carried by medieval archers
. It served both as melee weapon
and tool. Defensively deployed archers in line used the poll of this axe to hammer wooden stakes
into the ground and then sharpened the still exposed upper ends of these stakes by chopping them to points with the blade. Lines of such stakes were primarily intended to serve the archers as protective obstacles
* Battle axe
: In its most common form, an arm-length weapon borne in one or both hands. Compared to a sword
swing, it delivers more cleaving power against a smaller target area, making it more effective against armour
, due to concentrating more of its weight in the axehead.
: used almost exclusively by Native Americans
, its blade was originally crafted of stone. Along with the familiar war version, which could be fashioned as a throwing weapon, the pipe tomahawk was a ceremonial and diplomatic tool.
* Spontoon tomahawk: A French trapper and Iroquois collaboration, this was an axe with a knife-like stabbing blade instead of the familiar wedged shape.
* Shepherd's axe
: used by shepherd
s in the Carpathian Mountains
, it could double as a walking stick
: a Japanese
weapon wielded by ''sōhei
'' warrior monk
(Ji or Ge): A variant of Chinese polearm
like weapon with a divided two-part head, composed of the usual straight blade and a scythe
-like blade. The straight blade is used to stab or feint, then the foe's body or head may be cut by pulling the scythe-like horizontal blade backwards. Ge has the horizontal blade but sometimes does not have the straight spear.
: a spear
like weapon with a hooked poll, effective against mounted cavalry
: designed to defeat plate armour
. Its axe (or hammer) head is much narrower than other axes, which accounts for its penetrating power.
* Dane axe
: A long-handled weapon with a large flat blade, often attributed to the Norsemen
* Throwing axe
: Any of a number of ranged weapon
s designed to strike with a similar splitting action as their melee
counterparts. These are often small in profile and usable with one hand.
: An entirely metal throwing axe sharpened on every auxiliary end to a point or blade, practically guaranteeing some form of damage against its target.
or Frankish axe: a short throwing weapon of the European Migration Period
, the name of which may have become attached to the Germanic tribe associated with it: the Franks
: The parashu ( sa|paraṣu) is an India
n battle-axe. It is generally wielded with two hands but could also be used with only one. It is depicted as the primary weapon of Parashurama
, the 6th Avatar of Lord Vishnu
: An ancient weapon used by Scythians
Axes as tools
* Double bit axe: A common axe in the ancient world; introduced to America
in the 1800s. The heavy head makes it ideal for felling
trees. Often one bit is designated for tasks that would more quickly dull the edge such as cutting roots through dirt.
's axe, fire axe, or pick head axe: It has a pick-shaped pointed poll (area of the head opposite the cutting edge). It is often decorated in vivid colours to make it easily visible during an emergency. Its primary use is for breaking down doors and windows.
* Crash axe: A short lightweight handheld emergency chopping tool with a sharp or serrated
blade spanning a quarter circular from the axis of the handle, sometimes with a notch in the blade to catch on sheet metal, and often a short pick opposite the blade, this tool or a prybar is required to be carried in most large aircraft cockpit
s with 20 seats or more to quickly chop and pry walls and cabinets to gain access when extinguishing
a fire while in flight or to escape when exits are unavailable. A crash axe is sometimes also used by crash rescue firefighter crews to chop through the airplane's sheet metal
skin for a rescue opening; modern crash axes are often made with an electrically insulated
* Ice axe
or climbing axe: A number of different styles of ice axes are designed for ice climbing
and enlarging steps used by climbers.
* Lathe hammer
(also known as a lath hammer, lathing hammer, or lathing hatchet): a tool used for cutting and nailing wood lath
which has a small hatchet blade on one side (which features a small lateral nick used for pulling out nails
) and a hammer head on the other.
: A dual-purpose axe, combining an adze and axe blade, or sometimes a pick and adze blade.
: An axe with a large pointed end, rather than a flat blade. Sometimes exists as a double-bladed tool with a pick on one side and an axe or adze head on the other. Often used to break up hard material, such as rocks
: An axe with a mattock
blade built into the rear of the main axe blade, used for digging ('grubbing out') through and around roots as well as chopping. The pulaski is an indispensable tool used in fighting forest fires
, as well as trail
clearance and similar functions.
* Slater's axe
: An axe for cutting roofing slate
, with a long point on the poll for punching nail holes, and with the blade offset laterally from the handle to protect the worker's hand from flying slate chips.
* Splitting maul
: A splitting implement that has evolved from the simple "wedge" design to more complex designs. Some mauls have a conical "axehead"; compound mauls have swivelling "sub-wedges", among other types; others have a heavy wedge-shaped head, with a sledgehammer
File:Travellers' Axe - Project Gutenberg eText 14861.jpg|Climbing axes from circa 1872
File:Firefighter with axe.jpg|Firefighter with a fire axe
Hammer axes (or axe-hammers) typically feature an extended poll, opposite the blade, shaped and sometimes hardened for use as a hammer
. The name axe-hammer is often applied to a characteristic shape of perforated stone axe used in the Neolithic
and Bronze Age
s. Iron axe-hammers are found in Roman military contexts, e.g. Cramond
, and South Shields
, Tyne and Wear
* Axe murder
* Cleaving axe
* Corded Ware culture
* Hibernaculum (zoology)
* Kaiser blade
* Nzappa zap
; Related forestry terms
* Log bucking
* Log splitter
* Splitting maul
; Neolithic axes
* W. Borkowski, Krzemionki mining complex (Warszawa 1995)
* P. Pétrequin, La hache de pierre: carrières vosgiennes et échanges de lames polies pendant le néolithique (5400 – 2100 av. J.-C.) (exposition musées d'Auxerre Musée d'Art et d'Histoire) (Paris, Ed. Errance, 1995).
* R. Bradley/M. Edmonds, Interpreting the axe trade: production and exchange in Neolithic Britain (1993).
* P. Pétrequin/A.M. Pétrequin, Écologie d'un outil: la hache de pierre en Irian Jaya
(Indonésie). CNRS Éditions, Mongr. du Centre Rech. Arch. 12 (Paris 1993).
; Medieval axes
* Schulze, André(Hrsg.): Mittelalterliche Kampfesweisen. Band 2: Kriegshammer, Schild und Kolben. Mainz am Rhein.: Zabern, 2007.
; Modern axes
* Gottfried Reissinger: ''Die Konstruktionsgrundlagen der Axt'' Parey, Hamburg 1959, ISBN 978-3490211163
* H. Bächtold-Stäubli, Handwörterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens (Berlin, De Gruyter 1987).
* Section about types of axes is originally based on a Quicksilver Wiki
article at under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License
Category:Woodworking hand tools