For anyone who needs to survive in the great outdoors, a good ax is one of the most important tools to own. It lets you fell trees with minimal effort, and quickly gather the necessary components for campfires and improvised shelters. However, an ax (sometimes spelled “axe”) isn't just a crude wood handle with a sharp metal wedge at the end—there's a lot more to this seemingly simple tool than you might think.

If you'd like to learn more about the long history and design elements of this important chopping tool, the U.S. Forest Service has an excellent resource called An Ax to Grind: A Practical Ax Manual. This 68-page document was developed in 1999 by the United States Department of Agriculture for the Forest Service, and covers some of the following topics:

  • A brief history of the ax, and its evolution in America
  • Types and patterns of axes (and adzes)
  • How to sharpen an ax, and how to hang the head (mount it on the handle)
  • Various examples of using axes
  • Where to buy a good ax
Ax to grind manual 04

How to chop an undercut and felling notch, and safely knock down a large tree.

Trust us, there's a ton of useful info and illustrations in the manual. Even if you only use an ax occasionally, you can learn something from it. We just found out that the phrase “can't get the hang of it” originated from lumberjacks struggling to mount their ax heads correctly—interesting, huh? Well, with this guide, you can get the hang of your ax head.

Ax to grind manual 02

A few of the multitude of different ax head designs, and their associated weights.

Possibly the most useful part of the entire guide is its commentary on ax safety, and how to chop limbs off trees without accidentally removing a chunk of your own limb. It's essential for beginners and experts alike.

Click here to download a free PDF of An Ax to Grind from the U.S. Forestry Service.

If you don't have an ax or plan to own one, do yourself a favor and at least learn to split logs with a knife.


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Disclosure: These links are affiliate links. Caribou Media Group earns a commission from qualifying purchases. Thank you!

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