Friday, April 1, 2011

What is the Right Size Axe for You-A Gransfors Bruks Axe Comparison

Selecting the right size axe is not an easy task, especially if you are not already an axe user. For those who have been around axes for a long time, the choice is a very intuitive one, but if you are trying to select your first or second axe, the task is not easy. This post will not make that decision any easier, but I wanted to do a brief comparison between several popular size axes, to at least give a reference point.

The axes I will be showing here are all form the Gransfors Bruks line. They are the American Felling Axe (3lb head; 35 inches in length), the Scandinavian Forest Axe (1.75 lb head; 25 inches in length), the Small Forest Axe (1.5lb head; 20 inches in length), and the Wildlife Hatchet (1lb head; 14 inches in length). The Scandinavian Forest Axe is actually advertised as having a 2lb head, but after measurement, the weight seems to be closer to 1.75lb.

The size difference is clear, and the feel of the axe gets progressively more “serious” as they grow in size.

Here you can see a closer look at the American Felling Axe next to the Scandinavian Forest Axe.

Here you have the Scandinavian Forest Axe next to the Small Forest Axe.

And here you see the Small Forest Axe next to the Wildlife Hatchet.

The four axes perform very differently, as is to expected. After forty (40) swings with each axe, these are the results. The wood is oak. Keep in mind that I just got the American Felling Axe, so I still don’t feel comfortable putting too much force into my swing. Someone who is experienced with that particular axe will probably get even more significant results.

My favorite of the above group when it comes to chopping and splitting wood is the Scandinavian Forest Axe. It’s probably because of the axes I grew up using, but I like a 26 inch handle and about a 1.75lb to 2lb head. I feel comfortable enough with it to add significant force to my swing.

Larger axes like the American Felling Axe work great, but I find them too tiring to use for a prolonged period of time. You will hear people say that you shouldn’t use force in your swing, and that you should just let the axe do the work. Well, that is true if you want the job to take twice as long, but even if you do that, swinging a heavy axe takes a lot of energy. For whatever reason, I get a lot less tired doing the same job with the Scandinavian Forest Axe than I do with the American Felling Axe. Obviously the larger axe gets the job done faster, but I find that at the end of the job I am more tired.

When it comes to carving I find the Scandinavian Forest Axe to be inadequate. It is just too big. Sure, you can use it to carve, but it is far from ideal. For that task, I would much prefer the Small Forest Axe. Actually, I would prefer a hatchet with a 1.25lb head. I find the Wildlife Hatchet to be too light for my liking, even when used just for carving.

The Small Forest Axe is a good compromise if you want to do carving, but also want to be able to do some chopping. It is a jack of all trades, but expert at none. For a backpacking trip, it is certainly a good choice.

For me the choice would come down to the Small Forest Axe and the Scandinavian Forest Axe. Which one I use depends on what I expect to be doing in the woods. Both are light enough to carry in a ack.

All of the above reflects nothing more than my personal preferences. I hope the pictures at least give some point of reference. At the end of the day, it’s not going to matter what size axe you carry if you can’t use it properly.


  1. I think it IS a matter of what you grow up with. Give me a 3-1/2 pound double-bitted axe with sharp corners and a 36 inch handle. I even put straight handles in the single-bitted axes I've used. I like the looks, but not the accuracy of the curved handles. For camping, a Boy Scout pattern with a straight handle suits me just fine.

  2. This was for trail-work and the type of chopping associated with it mind you, but I was told that you should be able to swing the axe between your legs without it hitting the ground or you. At any rate, I'm 6'3" and have found shorter handled axes to be better suited to the work I do. Power helps to some extent and a 36" handle will help in that regard. Tho as you say, it's about technique.

  3. @Gorges-Yeah, people often underestimate how much muscle memory goes into an axe swing. A small change of an inch, or a sightly more curved handle can easily throw off ones swing.

    @cooperhill-You are right. I’ve seen a lot of people use a boy’s axe for bucking for the reason you described. If you want to do it with a full size axe, you would have to choke up on the handle. A good picture of that can be seen in the Axe Manual of Peter McLaren.