Tools of the trade 05 Hatchets

The word “Hatchet” itself has an interesting etymology. It comes from the old French word “to throw”. The Frankish armies (when the Normans invaded) carried 2 small axes into battle that had severely short and curved handles. Before engaging in the hand to hand melee they would hurl them at the enemy, intending to have them hit the ground and bounce wildly and dangerously up behind the enemy’s shields…

Most languages call a small axe a “carpenter’s axe” and don’t have a separate word for them.

The thing about hatchets is that you only need one… but, then you learn that a smaller hatchet is better for carving little things like spoons.. so you get a little camp hatchet to use for that, and that a flat faced hewing hatchet is better for truing up stock before taking it to the shaving horse. So you have to try one of those. And then you are hewing a lot of large stuff so you think that a cooper’s side axe might be a good idea… I think that you get the picture.


                                          a few of the axes I have as “loaners” for teaching                                                    L to R camp, limbing, lathing or shingling (modified), hewing

Really you only need one. and I’ll insist that any hatchet can do the work. Some hatchets may do the work better, or with less effort than others.

For starting I recommend that you get a hatchet (any hatchet) from a second hand store that carries old tools and stuff. And you learn to sharpen it. Use a file and then a sharpening stone.

There are many styles and types, shingle and lathing hatchets, limbing hatchets, scout hatchets, camp hatchets, hewing hatchets…

I have a good limbing hatchet that does really well for hewing. I have a hewing hatchet that I also like really well for my hewing.

Safe practices and procedures are paramount while using Hatchets and Axes.

Generally: Green Woodworkers use wedges and froes for splitting wood, so there is no reason to ever do the dangerous “hold the stick up with one hand and bring your hatchet down on the end as you whip your hand away at the last minute” trick that gets so many people injured.

However after you have split your stock to approximate size there is a sometimes a need to reduce the size a little or to take off a gnarly edge that won’t split off. Here the hatchet comes into its best use.


You can hold the stock upright on your stump/hacking stock with one hand and hew the lower half of it, and then flip it over to hew the other half. and never ever have the cutting edge come close to your hand!

be well and count your fingers



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