What’s The Difference Between A Hatchet and An Axe?

Choosing the right woodworking tool for your camping excursion or homesteading project is imperative to being successful.

cutting wood with an axe
an axe with a wooden handle

A couple of the primary tools that outdoor enthusiasts use frequently would be the axe and hatchet.

The most common applications for both of these tools are to process firewood for your home or campsite and to refine raw wood material for shop projects.

Both axes and hatchets are similar tools with some major differences and they can often get confused by beginners.

But, what are the primary differences between an ax and a hatchet? Aren’t they pretty much the same thing?

An axe is a long-handled heavy tool designed to split large pieces of wood with both hands. Hatchets are smaller versions of axes designed for lighter jobs like cutting saplings, and are used with one hand. The hammerhead opposite the hatchet’s blade allows for hammering objects.

Both the ax and hatchet are designed to handle unique situations so it’s best to have both as opposed to just one type.

They complement each other in the field that you could easily utilize both in whatever activity you’re doing.

A two-handed tool with a long handle for more power.Short handle meant for one-handed use.
Used for splitting large pieces of wood, typically for firewood.Can split smaller pieces of wood but is generally for sheering branches and hammering stakes.
Generally curves or flares up at the tip of the blade for more force distribution.The head is generally smaller and flares at the beard and top. Sometimes just the beard is flared. 
Depending on the type of axe, it can be very heavy.Hatchets are generally lightweight tools for light work.
Tend to be used for the larger jobs, limiting versatilityDue to the size and included hammering feature, hatchets are used for a variety of tasks.
hatchet on leather sofa
a hatchet

Ax And Hatchet Components

Both axes and hatchets are composed of the same elements. You have a shaft or handle and the head where the blade is.

The size and composition of both these tools can be further changed into different variations of themselves.


Noticeably shorter, a hatchet handle looks just like a regular axe handle. Some even come with the flare at the bottom so your hand doesn’t slide off.

Axe handles are generally made of wood like hickory or oak whereas a lot of hatchets have plastic, steel, and fiberglass handles with rubber grips for durability.

Keep in mind that not all handles are equal when it comes to hatchets and axes. There are multiple variations of each that further change the handle length, thickness, and style.

The idea to go with is that axes will have longer handles and hatchets have shorter handles just to avoid confusion.


The head is where the classification can get tricky as beginners and experienced axe users can get this distinction incorrect.

Axe heads differ depending on the type of ax that you’re using but they have a bladed side and a blunted side.

Obviously, the axe heads are heavier than those of a hatchet, though both can use hardened steel as the head.

Hatchets can have a more pronounced “beard” which is the lower portion of the blade.

Since a hatchet is more of a hewing blade you can move your grip upon the handle so it’s closer to the head which gives you more power when you’re hacking smaller limbs.

For a tool meant to be used with one hand, having the more steeped blade gives it the extra striking power needed.

The Hammer Head

This was briefly talked about before but hatchets also have a flat hammerhead opposite the blade on the head of the hatchet.

This feature is almost just as functional as the blade because it gives you the option of hammering things like nails and stakes which you generally won’t see with a long-handled axe.

This is a great option for survivalists or campers who want to pack light. Hammering in tent stakes to pull out your tarp is a classic use for a small hatchet.

tomahawk axe on the ground
a tomahawk

The Hand Axe And Tomahawk

There are two other categories of axes that can trip people up if they aren’t aware of the differences.

A tomahawk is not a hatchet, and is commonly thought to be used in the same capacity as one.

Tomahawks are a creation of warfare and are designed to be thrown at targets instead of processing wood.

While you can still use a tomahawk to hew wood the smaller profile of the blade will lack the proper weight and power to get through tougher pieces.

Hand axes often confuse most because they are a cross between an axe and a hatchet. They are closely related to the hatchet but generally have a longer handle than one.

Hand axes won’t have the hammer head that you’d see on a hatchet, true axes don’t use them.

Hatchets generally have slightly curved handles and you’ll see hand axes with handles that are 90 degrees to the blade.

Is One Better Than The Other?

Each of these tools has its intended jobs and you really could use one or the other for most work. Of course, this is depending on the size of the axe or hatchet.

For example, I would not use a splitting maul axe to chop branches off a tree before processing it.

The same goes for not using a hatchet to try and split a huge log, even with the addition of the hammer head, a hatchet simply cannot get enough force to cut through.

The easiest way that you could categorize these two tools in an outdoor setting would be to compare them to living in the woods.

A hatchet is a tool for the backcountry camper who is looking for a small campfire and light wood processing.

An ax is for the survivalist who needs to create a shelter and prep wood for the coming winter.

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