From Academic Kids

For other uses, see Axe (disambiguation).
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Firefighter with a fire-axe

An axe (also spelt as ax) is a tool with a metal blade that is securely fastened at a 90 degree angle to a handle, usually of wood, while a blade fastened horizontally is called an adze. The typical use for an axe is to split and shape wood and chop down trees, but in the past they have been used in war, like the Neolithic and later battle-axe, the hurlbat, and throwing-axe (the Frankish axe or francisca), cf tomahawk. See also: Halberd

The method for fastening the blade to the handle has varied over time. It can be lashed, but also simply 'wedged', whereby the end of the handle is slit, then inserted into a socket in the blade, and is held tight by a wedge introduced into the slit and pounded in with a mallet.



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Splitting log with an axe
  • Felling Axe - The most commonly known of the various axes
  • Racing Axe;
  • Mortising Axe - An axe whose bit is shaped much like that of a chisel -- long and narrow, though the bit is still sharpened with the Double Bevel of a felling axe, rather than the single Bevel of a chisel. This type of axe is currently one of the least common in use in the United States at this time.
  • Broad Axe - Broad Axes exist in the greatest variety of any of the Axes. The great many patterns of Broad Axe, vary enormously in weight, and the length, and shape of the face. The number, and the extent, of the curves, also vary, markedly, between the many types.
  • Goose Wing Broad Axe - Goose Wing is a general term for a particular shape of axe. As with Broad Axes in general, this pattern may vary greatly from one to the next. The main, identifiable, feature of this axe is that the eye is not centered behind the bit, but, rather, that it is quite high atop the face of the axe, so that, when hafted, the bit extends well below the connection of eye to handle, so much so that when held, with one hand nearly touching the steel of the eye, that high is almost, or very much so, centered behind the bit. In addition, the uppermost part of the bit, rises sharply, to a dramatic point.
  • Bearded Axe;
  • Flathead axe - Wide, narrow blade with flat on opposite face.
  • The double-bit axe, generally with two distinctly different pitches to the two blades making up the axehead — one designed for felling trees, the other side used for splitting.
  • competition throwing axes, similar in design to the ancient hurlbat, typically lighter and made (sometimes entirely) of spring steel, and used for target throwing contests.
  • Side Axe - Side axes are only beveled on one side of the blade (like a chisel) and can be left or right handed. Used for squaring off timber to make large joints in wood framed buildings and for making blanks for greenwood turning on a pole lathe.
  • Fire-axe - wide blade with pointed tip on opposite face, in various handle-lengths, from 14 inches (35 cm) to 36 inches (90 cm).

Modern Axes of a variety of styles are still hand made in Sweden. The process and product is described: Gransfors website (


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Iron age axe head from Gotland
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A collection of old Australian axes

Early stone tools like the hand axe were probably not hafted. The first true hafted axes are known from the Mesolithic period (ca. 6000 BC), where axes made from antler were used that continued to be utilized in the Neolithic in some areas. Chopping tools made from flint where hafted as adzes. Axes made from ground stone are known since the Neolithic. The were used to fell trees and for woodworking. Few wooden hafts have been found, but it seems that the axe was normally hafted by wedging. Birch-tar and raw-hide lashings were used to fix the blade. Since the late Neolithic (Michelsberg culture, Cortaillod culture) very small axe blades of a rectangular shape became common. They were hafted with an antler sleeve. This prevented both the splitting of the haft and softened the impact on the stone blade itself.

The earlier Neolithic axe blades were made by first knapping and then grinding a stone. By late Neolithic times, sawing (wooden saws and sand) became common. This allowed a more efficient use of the raw material. In Scandinavia, Northern Germany and Poland axe blades made from knapped and polished flint were common.

Stone axes are quite efficient tools; using one, it takes about 10 minutes to fell an ash of 10 cm diameter, one to two hours for an ash of 30 cm diameter. (Modern comparison, 25 cm white pine, standing chop, under two minutes with a 3.5Kg competition felling axe)

From the late Neolithic onwards (Pfyn-Altheim cultures) flat axes were made of copper or copper mixed with Arsen (As). Bronze Axes are found since the early Bronze Age (A2). The flat axe developed into palstaves, flanged axes and later winged and socketed axes. The so-called Battle-axe people of 3rd millennium BC Europe has been suggested to correspond to early Indo-European peoples, ancestors of the later Celtic and Germanic tribes. Axes also were a important part in the Chinese weaponry.

The Proto-Indo-European word for "axe" may have been pelek'u- (Greek pelekus πέλεκυς, Sanskrit parashu), but the word was probably a loan, or a neolithic wanderwort, ultimately related to Sumerian balag, Akkadian pilaku- (see also Labrys).


Late Neolithic 'axe factories', where thousands of ground stone axes were roughed out are known from Great Britain (for example Great Langdale in Cumbria), Ireland (Lambay Island, porphyry, Rathlin Island and Tievebulliagh, porcellanite) Poland (Krzemionki, flint), France (Plancher-les-Mines, Vosges, pelite, Plussulien, Brittany, meta-dolerite) and Italy (Val de'Aoste, omphacite. The distribution of stone axes is an important indication of prehistoric trade. thin sectioning is used to determine the provenance of ground stone axe blades.

Religious use of axes

At least since the late Neolithic, elaborate axes (battle-axes, T-axes, etc.) had a religious significance as well and probably indicated the exalted status of their owner. Certain types almost never show traces of wear; deposits of unhafted axe blades from the middle Neolithic (such as Somerset Levels in Great Britain) may have been gifts to the gods. In Greece, the double axe (labrys) had a special meaning. Double axes are known since the Neolithic as well. In 1998, a double axe, complete with an elaborately embellished haft, has been found at Cham-Eslen, Zug, Switzerland. The haft was 1,20 cm long and wrapped in ornamented birch-bark. The axe blade is 17,4 cm long and made of antigorite, mined in the Gotthart-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.

Symbolic use of axes

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In the ETA symbol, the axe symbolizes strength.
In the Roman , the axe symbolized the authority to decapitate.
In the Roman fasces, the axe symbolized the authority to decapitate.

Stone axes today

Stone axes are still produced and in use today in parts of Irian Jaya, New Guinea. The Mount Hagen area was an important production centre.

Axes in folklore

In folklore, stone axes were sometimes believed to be thunderbolts and were used to guard buildings against lightning, as, mythically, lightning never hits the same place twice. This has caused some skewing of axe distributions. Steel axes were important in superstition as well. A thrown axe could keep off a hailstorm, 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.

Modern axe variants

Among more uncommon modern forms of the axe are:

  • The Pulaski, 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. In addition to the McCloud, (a tool similar to a hoe/rake combination) the Pulaski is an indispensable tool used in fighting forest fires, as well as trail-building, brush clearance, and similar functions.
  • Mauls, splitting implements that have evolved from the simple 'wedge' design to more complex designs, some of which are mauls with a conical 'axehead' and compound mauls with swiveling 'sub-wedges', among other types; have a heavy wedge-shaped head, with a sledge-hammer face opposite.
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Climbing axes from circa 1872

Climbing Axes

A number of different styles of axe are designed for ice climbing, and, though less used today than in previous times, for rock work, especially in enlarging steps used by climbers.

In the illustration to the right, from an 1872 "Art of Travel" publication, figure 1 represents a light axe or pick which has the great advantage of lightness and handiness, with a single blade suited to step-cutting and with a small hammer-head at the back which balances the pick, and is useful in inserting pegs into rock and ice. Figure 2 represents a travellers' axe, slightly heavier than the first, and which, at least at the time, was recommended as adapted for mountain work of all kinds.

Combined tools

A Halligan bar and flat-head axe can be joined together to form what is known as a married set or set of irons, used for forcible entry to structures.

See also


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).


H. Bächtold-Stäubli, Handwörterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens (Berlin, De Gruyter 1987).


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