5 Differences Between a Hand Axe and a Hatchet

A hand axe (camping axe) is held in front of a fire.

Technically, a hand axe is a Paleolithic stone tool. Today, camping axes are commonly called hand axes, and many people mistakenly call them hatchets as well. The differences between a camping axe and hatchet are numerous, ranging from the size of the tool to how each is intended to be used. Knowing the difference can make it easier to pick the proper tool for the job at hand.

1. Shaft Size

A camping axe is about two-thirds the length of a regular axe. When the three are laid out side by side, the hand axe is six to twelve inches shorter than an axe, and a hatchet is roughly half the size of the hand axe. The different lengths of the shafts enable different cutting angles and increased leverage for more difficult chopping tasks.

2. Head Shape

The shape of an axe head is different than the head of a hatchet, even though they are similar. The hatchet usually has a narrow head with a relatively small body and a large cutting blade. The axe head is larger and tapers only slightly from the cutting edge to the back of the axe head.

Some hatchets are designed for special purposes and include a hammer head on the back side of the axe head. True axes are never designed for hammering.

3. Head Weight

As discussed before, a regular axe head is the largest of the three, weighing two or three times as much as a camping axe. The camping axe head is second largest and may weigh twice as much as a hatchet head. These differences in weight allow for different uses.

The hatchet is intended for light chopping, such as small limbs or bushes; the hand axe is designed for intermediate chopping; and the regular axe is meant forchopping jobs of all sizes. Some axe heads are even double-bitted to increase the work interval between sharpening.

4. Shaft Design

The shaft of a hatchet tends to curve or angle forward. The result is that the head of the hatchet is roughly flush with the forward-most point of the lower handle. Hand axes may be angled slightly but are more commonly extended at almost a 90-degree angle to the head itself.

Also, metal handles are relatively common in hatchets and are almost never found on hand axes. For larger axes, metal is not dependable and will bend or break under the leveraged force from an experienced blow.

5. Portability

Hatchets are much more portable than hand axes. Using a belt holster, you can carry a hatchet on your side, but a camping axe would make moving more cumbersome, as the long handle would be constantly hitting your shins and knees. Hand axes are meant to be taken to a campsite and left there, whereas a hatchet can be taken along wherever you may go.

>> Using Different Kinds of Axes