They are an indispensable tool for any camping or outdoor excursion. Familiarization with the different styles (splitting, hand ax, splitting maul, etc.) and safe handling procedures will ensure that you get the most out of your new tool. First, make sure you have selected the right tool for the job. The hand ax, as the name implies, is designed for single-handed use and is most suitable for cutting small firewood or thinning branches. Hand axes may have either wood or metal hafts (or handles). A good rule of thumb is to rely on a hand ax for anything up to 3 “in diameter. Larger than that, and it's time to upgrade to a bow saw or two handed instrument.
To bring down live trees, a falling ax is required. Felling axes are manufactured with various head weights and haft lengths – be sure to choose a size that is comfortable enough to wield safely. A medium-size felling ax generally has a 3.5-4.5 pound head and 30-35 inch haft, with larger axes sporting heads up to 6 pounds. In any event, whether you are working with hand axes or falling axes, keep the blade masked when not in use and never leave your ax outside overnight or in wet weather. A quality filing ax is a very valuable tool which will last a lifetime if properly cared for. Be sure to keep the ax head well oiled to prevent rust, and sharpen the ax with a carborundum stone when necessary.
If you plan to use your ax primarily to split seasoned wood, consider investing in a Scandinavian-style splitting ax. These splitting axes have a wedge-shaped head that are ideal for wood splitting but poorly suited for felling work. Scandinavian splitting axes often have shorter handle lengths than other two handed axes, and usually relly on a 3 pound head, although other sizes are usually available. Larger splitting axes may be referred to as splitting mauls. These types of tools typically have much heavier heads, and have a straight handle, as opposed to the curved handle. Turnaround hooks are frequently shaped on the end of a mauls splitting head in order to assist with flipping logs over during the splitting process.
Great care should always be taken when using edged tools. Injury not only to yourself, but also to those around you can occur if certain safety precautions are not met.