Saw shop tech: The axe as a survival tool.


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

I’ve written on this blog before about the different types and weights of axes and their various uses. Today I’m going to talk a little about the axe as a “must have” survival tool.

I ran across this video on YouTube tonight that questions “is the axe the best survival tool?”. I’m going to review a little bit of my previous axe primer, get into a little about “specialty” axes, and where this video gets it terribly wrong.

Poll axes (single bit) generally come in two common sizes: the boy’s axe (2 1/2 lb head with 28″ handle) and the full size poll axe (3 1/4 to 3 1/2 lb head with 32″ to 36″ handle). Poll axe heads with very thin bits are better for chopping, wedge shaped bits (such as the vintage Snow and Neally axes I usually have in stock) and better splitting axes.

First, forget carrying any single bit axe with more than a 3 1/2 lb head. Not only is it way too heavy, you shouldn’t be trying to cut anything in a survival or camping situation that needs an axe that big. Remember, bigger tools are not always better tools. That scratches the 4lb Geber axe used in the video from consideration immediately.

Second, forget the “specialty” axes. The Gerber axe used in this video has wide, flaring cheeks that are highly optimized for splitting. DO NOT try to chop with an axe like this! These flaring cheeks make it much more likely that the axe will glance off the wood rather than biting (as shown multiple times in the video). This is VERY dangerous! The axe is not under control and you have no idea where that sharp bit is going!

Third, the Gerber axe in this video had almost no mass in the poll, all the weight is in the bit. Fine for splitting, dangerously unstable once again for chopping.

So, is the RIGHT axe the right tool for survival? It will certainly out cut any folding survival saw and no survival knife I know of is going to do a small fraction of what the right axe will. Read my axe primer, educate yourself on what you really need, and then call me for the RIGHT top quality restored vintage axe to do what you need!

Visit me at any of the following locations:

Elm Plaza, Waterville, ME (Mondays)
Tractor Supply, Skowhegan, ME (Tuesday and Wednesday)
Arundel Flea Market, Rt 1 & Log Cabin Rd, Arundel, ME (Fridays)
298 W Front St, Skowhegan, ME (all other days)

If you’re looking for a special tool, please drop me an
email and let me know and I’ll restore one just for you!

SwiftWater Edge Tool Works provides mobile sharpening services across Maine and mail in services around the world for handsaws, carbide blades, planer knives, hand planes, chain saws, knives, scissors, hair clippers, router bits, and almost any blade!

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One thought on “Saw shop tech: The axe as a survival tool.

  1. Axe geometry is fascinating. Those old S&N axes are particularly. A lot of folks pick them up and declare “its a splitting axe. look at the wedge shape.” Problem with that being that they are too thin towards the edge to really excel at splitting, youd need to grind and round the edge out for that. I have around 6 of the Maine wedge pattern axes from various makers. I find they work well in pitchy or green woods. the fat upper cheek keeps the axe from binding and the chips popping.

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