I get asked which is the best axe for carving a lot so thought it would be good to make a blog post which I can refer folk back to.
If I were to only have one axe (a terrible thought) it would be a Gransfors Bruks Swedish carving axe. It has 3 drawbacks, first it is expensive at around ?80, second it needs someone with reasonable forearm strength to use it properly and they don’t make a lighter version and third whilst Wille designed it to have a slightly longer bevel on the left side to help control carving and they used to come that way it now comes either completely flat on the left like a side axe or with an even bevel. Another axe from the Gransfors stable that I rate highly is the wildlife hatchet, these are quite good value at around ?50 the handle is 14″ same as the carving axe but the head is around half the weight at about 1lb. Another axe which looks good value, I have heard good reviews of but have not picked one up yet is the husqvarna hatchet These retail just over ?20 but come with sheath and sharp.
This is a film of the sort of carving I tend to do with axes, the axe does matter but correct technique is much more important. EDIT August 2014 4 years have passed since I wrote this article and I have now started to have  my own made since I had never found just what I wanted.
Hehe, perhaps helve and haft just make it clear it is a handle for a hefty tool for hitting or hacking, like stail makes it clear it is a long handle for a tool such as a rake, or porringer is a local name for a turned wooden eating bowl with a handle. Levity aside Robin, would you mind sometime expanding on the axe theme with some detail on what makes a good profile for the carving axe?
The bevel should be either dead flat scandi grind or some prefer just very slightly convex. I would suggest buying one with the symmetrical bevel through a dealer that stocks the full range or is prepared to order it in.
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One handed axes are often called hatchets whilst the longer handled axes of various designs were for felling, limbing and splitting. This axe was designed by Wille Sundqvist the Swedish mastercraftsman who first inspired me in my work and it is specifically designed for one handed carving.
Out of the two I would favour the even beveled one as the flat sided one tends to dig in a little and be more difficult to carve concave areas. I do like their axes and the beauty of them is they come sharp and ready to use and with a sheath to keep them sharp.
I have not had one yet to know whether the bevels are good for carving as they come but it sounds a good option.
It came with a rough convex edge so not as blunt as the Bahco but still would need file work to shape the bevels properly before sharpening. All our grandparents generation had hand hatchets for splitting kindling, at boot fairs they tend to have loose handles and be completely blunt so need a new handle and a regrind but it is a joyful job to bring one of these old axes back to life. My Father told me there was a right tool for each job, and I have followed that all my life, and have difficulty understanding the modern views on so called bushcraft knives.
I agree that some of the $20 made in China axes are great–especially if you sharpen them. I’m leaning towards the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet, but am wondering how it compares with the Wetterling Camp Hatchet and Small Hunting Axe. They did when I bought my right hander as I had to make sure I chose the correct version when ordering. This full power legal limit rifle provides power at just under 12ft lbs of power, making it suitable for vermin control. This means that the propulsion unit is powered by a sealed gas unit requiring no springs, and no topping up. The Small forest axe is sort of between these at 19″ so you can just about use it two handed though it never feels right or you can use it one handed but the long handle stops it pivoting nicely when held close to the head and used for the sort of controlled carving that I do a lot of.
Again it would be possible to fell and limb a tree with this axe though it is perfect for light carving work, such as spoons or tent pegs. There are many much cheaper axes that work very well but I have yet to find one that is cheap and comes well sharpened for carving. It looks quite nice and the handle is much nicer than the Bahco but it is pretty heavy at 780g compared to 660g for the Gransfors carving axe which many find too heavy.

The truth is however that most folk most of the time are just popping out to the woods to do a bit of whittling or have a campfire much as scouts did 30 years ago, and for that tools that are less of a compromise work much better. It works as a side axe but is deeply frustrating if used to cut concave curves for spoon handles, it just doesn't want to do it. The pistol is not only quieter, there is much less recoil, making the P900 a sophisticated, fun and affordable target pistol. It will fell a tree at a pinch and split it into firewood but if you do a lot of that I would strongly recommend an axe with a 30-33″ handle.
When choosing an axe I suggest you use the heaviest axe you can carve with for 20 minutes or so without getting at all tired.
One of my favourite cheap axes was sold for a while by Argos and reduced for a while to less than ?5. What I have got is a Roselli Wildlife axe and I am very happy with it, it really is very good at splitting wood, does not stick in the wood at all, and I have used it for some carving, particularly a couple of paddles, it's easy to hold close to the head and very well balanced.
To date I have reprofiled a number of small axes from a felling head design…to include a beard.
Gamo is setting a new trend, the new Whisper has a spectacular tactical design coupled with excellent quality. Being spring operated means the gun will last a very long time, before requiring re-springing. This one excels at carving objects with curved surfaces like spoons but is also very good at hewing flat surfaces to make beams, given time and a woodland it would be possible to build a house and it’s contents with this axe. If you can manage a heavier axe the weight will do the work and you don’t have to swing as much but a lighter axe moves more quickly and lots of small cuts remove wood just as a few large ones do.
I imagine most of these cheap axes are made in China but all that I have tried have been good steel and well tempered, they have all however come very blunt, not just needing a sharpen but some major grinding work to get them working properly so I tend not to recommend them unless you have a power grinder and know how to reprofile one. I also got a small hatchet I bought from America, and now I just bought a tomahawk Trail to have a try and see what can be done with them.
I like to use old words when they are clearly part of the cultural tradition of a craft but here I am writing an article to make the craft accessible to beginners. Searching the web for the best deals today this Bahco axe looks about perfect, an 800gm head on a 14″ handle.
When folk are learning a new skill if they find they have to learn a new language first it can be off putting.
I love the weight and balance but it needs more versatility in the cuts it can make to be useful. A very interesting combination of long and slender, light yet robust and razor honed swinging Swedish steel.

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