What Is A Hatchet Used For – 12 Uses + Bonus


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What Is A Hatchet Used For

To answer the question of what is a hatchet used for – here are some of the more common uses. After all, a hatchet is an extremely portable wood processing tool.

Most people are bringing hatchets instead of felling axes on camping trips because they are so portable and do the job of several individual tools. Among these, hatchets have multiple uses.  Here are a few good ones:

Splitting Wood

Hatchets are OK for splitting wood from medium or small logs. The key is to aim for the outside portions of the logs and chip your way around splitting off pieces as you go.

A good rule of thumb is to watch the grain direction. If you strike along the same direction of the wood grain, the pieces are much more likely to break off.

Whatever you do – don’t bang your hatchet bit on a knot or try to strike the log at the middle. This is something a big heavy splitting axe does well, however in a bushcraft situation we can work around it with a smaller hatchet.

Processing Game

For you hunters out there, the right hatchet can be the only tool you need. When it comes to cleaving carcasses or splitting the pelvis of big game, hatchets are perfect.

In fact, the Gransfors Bruks Hunters Axe is designed specifically for that. The back of the head and the shape of the bit are all designed to help process game.

One technique is to place the bit on the bone you want to cut through, and use another heavy tool to cleave through striking the back of the axe.

Of course there is also skinning the animal, which can be done with a knife but a hatchet or any small axe works really well for this.

Making and Pounding Tent Stakes

This is one of the more common campsite tasks. Knowing how to create steaks from a piece of wood – debarking and sharpening the tip and finally hammering it into the ground to secure  your tent is something every boy scout learns.

Just about any type of hatchet is good for this, but a traditional wood hatchet is what is most preferred.

The tent stakes shouldn’t be too big so a felling axe is not needed. First de bark the small log or branch, then sharpen the end of the steak with the bit like its a knife.

The weight of the hatchet head will allow you to use a little bit of force to get some good cutting force out of your hatchet.

Camp Stake Hammered In

Keeping a Fire Going

Grab your hatchet to quickly chop off some branches from nearby trees, or work your way around a bigger log. Splitting fairly thick branches and logs can still be done pretty easily with a hatchet. Plus being very light weight and portable helps on long trips back and forth.

Having a big log nearby and chopping bits off of it is also another way to go. The reason a small axe is much better for this compared to a heavy knife is because the axe head will always be heavier.

For Self Defense

This one is kind of obvious, but still feel the need to put it in here. Vikings and many other warriors all used different forms of axes and hatchets in battle.

Axes for fighting and self defense were forged for hundreds of years. In modern times we have military issued tomahawks, although they are more of a backup weapon. Many survivalists like to keep a hatchet close by for this reason.

The bearded bit was designed to hook the enemy shield off an opposing warrior to go in for the strike. Tactical axes evolved out of these with totally different designs(head and handle one solid piece) with even more specialized uses than a traditional axe.

Debarking Trees

The small quick chops you are able to create with a hatchet are great for debarking trees. There are many reasons to debark a tree around a cap site, or just out in the wilderness.

Good luck using any heavy hunters knife VS a small hatchet. The hatchet will win in term so speed and efficiency 10 times out of 10.

Of course, debarking with a bigger felling axe like the Helko Black Forest Woodworker Axe would be pretty easy, but using a different technique a smaller hatchet can be great at it.

Instead of taking big chunks out at once, focus on coming in at an angle using its lightweight to quickly cover a big area of the tree.

Throwing Hatchets

Axe and Hatchet throwing is becoming more and more of a popular sport every year. There are federations like the NATF and the WATL that people compete in axe throwing venues.

All standard axe throwing is done with a hatchet. Most small to medium sized hatchets are good for throwing, like this official WATL throwing axe here.

The US and Canada has seen a lot of axe throwing bars popping up everyday. A more traditional alternative of just throwing your axe at a round tree trunk stump target has been going on for many years. Small axes and hatchets – even big double bit axes are used in these types of events.

Clear Brush

There are special Brush Axes out there designed just for clearing purposes, but a good hatchet can make quick use of overgrown vegetation and overextending branches.

Of course, the sharper your hatchet is the better – but always be careful when you are swinging. Smaller hatchets can be more dangerous than bigger axes.

Early settlers always had their axes out clearing the way on their excursions. It wasn’t until much later that machetes and other brush axes came into the picture.

They do the job a bit more easily, but when you are trying to keep your backpack as light as possible, having a hatchet as a jack of all trades is great.

To Shave With

Lumberjacks and Woodsmen definitely have shaven with their axes before. It is more of a tradition now, but in the early days especially lumberjacks were known to use their axes to get a nice clean shave. Of course, you want to do this with a smaller hatchet preferably.

If you’ve done it a few times it becomes pretty easy. The bit is usually more than sharp enough – steady hands are a must.

As A Hammer

While on the campsite, or any woodland area – there are many reasons to need to hammer something. Opposite of a Hunter’s Axe, any other normal hatchet will have a squared off poll(back area) that can be used as a hammer.

The weight of the hatchet is what makes this a great hammering tool. The same weight gives hatchets more cutting power vs knives also gives enough heft to be used as a hammer.

Remember: always keep your hands and feet away from whatever you’re hammering with your axe.

Making Kindling

Find some dry branches and position one at a time face up. Position your grip right under the axe head and rub the bit against the branch up and down. You will make the stake come to a sharp point quickly using this method.

All the leftover thin scraps of bark and wood are perfect for kindling.

this is a really simple and important task. Yes it can be done with a knife, but once again – using a hatchet for this just makes your life easier. Unless you have a draw knife around, a hatchet will be your best bet.

Making Kindling with a Hatchet

Wood Carving

Carving spoons and bowls out of wood with an axe has been recorded by ancient civilizations. Woodworkers and enthusiasts especially pride themselves on being good with a carving axe.

The slight variations in head shape, weight and length allow for much better carving techniques.

Europe has seen more early wood carving civilizations than any other place. Wood carving continued even through the steel age as it was much cheaper to produce.

In more modern times, the result of a wood carving axes in the hands of a skills craftsman will amaze you.

Axes vs Hatchets

Why would you want to use an axe over a hatchet? Simply put – Axes are made to be used with 2 hands to maximize striking power. hatchets are more for cutting and chopping.

A hand axe is something in between – it has a longer handle but is not used for striking.

The smaller size of hatchets allow you to use them when in tight spots. Also they require less back swing for general uses vs a big felling axe that needs a big wind up.

Looking at the axe heads – one obvious difference is axe heads have a bigger wedge shape to them. This makes them better at splitting wood. Hatchets have more of a V -Tapered head, giving them better hewing and slicing roles.

When it comes to handles, either wood or a solid metal piece both work well for general purposes. A hardcore woodsman or an axe enthusiast tend to lean towards the traditional wood handle axes and hatchets.

In general – wooden hatchets are made with more craftsmanship and often have specialized uses. Gransfors Bruks is a great example of this. Fiberglass or plastic handled axes like Fiskars products are more mass produced items but still hold up pretty well with time.

Check out these hatchets here to get an idea of what price and types are out there.

How Not to Use a Hatchet

Felling Trees

Felling axes exist for a reason. A hatchet is great for taking care of branches – but anything bigger than a small log it will have a very hard time with.

Sometimes you can even damage a hatchet bit by striking it into a hard surface. The thin blade isn’t as resilient as a thick felling axe head.

If you are looking for something to help you power through logs, you need something like a Lumberjack Axe.

Splitting/Mauling Logs

This is similar to felling trees, but has some exceptions.

I’ve seen people line up a hatchet against a piece of wood and hammer the back of it to drive it in causing the wood to split. This is only OK if you know what  you’re doing.

The best Splitting mauls are the heaviest of all axes and are made for the hardest jobs (tree trunks, roots, very dense logs). It doesn’t make sense to use the smallest version of an axe as its largest cousin.

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