Cheap vs Expensive Axe – What’s The Difference?

I’ll start by saying that any axe is what you make it. Like most people, my first axe was a $10 bargain basement tool you’ll find at any hardware store. It was a small hatchet with a plastic molded handle with rubber grip and a not-so-sharp cutting edge.


My dad had some old logs that he intended to burn one night and wanted me to help him to chop it up into bits. It worked just fine, there’s not much to it is there? Fast forward 20 years and I’ve collected dozens of axes ranging from 10 bucks up to 400!


And guess what? I still use a cheap-ass hatchet – granted, that first one didn’t last very long but I have a couple in my shed nowadays for specific jobs I wouldn’t use an expensive axe for.


Note: In this article when I say ‘axes’, I’m including mini hatchets all the way up to splitting mauls – no distinction between them is required because the same applies to all kinds of ‘axe’.

Do I NEED an expensive axe?

Absolutely not. If you’re new to axes I would not recommend you go out and buy a Gransfors Bruk Scandinavian Forest Axe. Start off with an inexpensive axe and beat the crap out of it. Break some handles and learn the capabilities of your cutting tools first. Learn how to swing an axe properly. Learn how to sharpen an axe… the right way.


Related Article: How to sharpen an axe – A step by step guide


Try splitting some logs or limbing a few branches – hell, try chopping down a tree! The experience you get will enable you to make an informed purchase down the line if you do need to upgrade. But you can do plenty with an inexpensive axe.

The difference between a cheap vs expensive axe

Firstly, an expensive axe WILL last longer – there’s no question. Expensive axes are generally made of higher quality materials such as high carbon steel that has been hand forged to retain the razor edge and capable to withstand all the chopping and splitting it will endure.


Axes from the likes of Swedish master craftsmen Gransfors Bruk or Hults Bruk for example, produce the finest quality handmade axes around, with decades of expertise going into the engineering, manufacture, balancing, setting and finishing – so you’ll pay more for this, as you would with any handmade product.


The highest quality axes tend to be made using traditional methods and usually comprise of a hickory handle and a hand-forged high carbon steel head with factory sharpened cutting edge. These are known as ‘heirloom’ axes as they truly can last a lifetime if used as designed.


Cheaper axes are generally mass-produced on a factory assembly line using cheaper materials – and there’s nothing wrong with that as such. Just don’t expect one of these axes to last a lifetime.


The problem with cheaper axes – especially for beginners, is the fact that the cutting edge is almost always too blunt to do any serious cutting. So a new axe will need to be sharpened before use. The majority of casual axe users will not necessarily have the knowledge, tools or skill to sharpen an axe effectively.


Related Article: Do New Axes Need To Be Sharpened?

Are expensive axes worth the money?

Are expensive axes worth the money?

Cheap vs Expensive Axe – What’s The Difference?.. For a seasoned axe user or someone who appreciates the craftsmanship of a high quality axe, I’d imagine it would be difficult to persuade them to use a cheap axe instead. As I say, I’ve had dozens of axes over the years and can absolutely vouch for spending more on an axe I know won’t snap on me or become blunt after an hours chopping.


Cheaper axes also don’t have the feel or balance that a high quality axe has, so it’s not going to be very comfortable to use for any length of time and with cheaper, softer steel comes the need for more regular sharpening to keep a keen edge.


If you think about it, spending over $300 on an axe seems excessive at the outset, but would you rather spend that amount of money ONCE or spend $50 every six months on replacements for your cheaper axe?


I like to use the airpod analogy here, you know the wireless headphones? I refused to pay the $120 for a set of apple airpods out of principle. It took me 3 sets of cheap ones and $60 before I thought, damn it I’m just gonna buy them. And guess what? They connect to my phone every time, the sound quality is FAR better and they’re still going strong after 2 years.


You can’t put a price on quality! Well apparently you can because that stuff isn’t cheap – but you know what I mean.

How much should I spend on an axe?

Initially I’d advise not buying a top of the range axe before you get some chopping experience under your belt. That said, it’s best to have at least a DECENT quality axe rather than the cheapest hardware store axe you can find – those won’t last a day of any serious chopping.


For a good mid-range axe I’d look for something from either Council Tool or Husqvarna. These are considerably cheaper than Gransfors Bruk axes but will do just fine to start with. Hell, you may never need anything else, it’s very much dependant on what you use it for. If an axe does what you ask of it, there’s no real need to change it or upgrade to any ‘heirloom’ axe at all!


As for how much to spend on an axe… That would vary depending on the type of axe we’re talking about.


Related Article: 28 Different Axe Types – And What They’re Used For


Below I’ve made some recommendations on a number of different axes that can be purchased at a more affordable price and still offer high quality:


Hatchet: Husqvarna 13 in. Wooden Handle Hatchet ~ $50

Small axe: Fiskars X10 Chopping Axe ~ $85

Medium axe: Council Tool 2.25 lbs. Boy’s Axe ~ $45

Felling axe: Snow and Nealley 3.5 lbs. Single Bit Axe ~ $82

Splitting maul: Council Tool 6 Lb Sledge-Eye Maul ~ $60

Conclusion

So, are ‘expensive’ axes any better than a cheap axe? Absolutely. Better materials, craftsmanship and attention to detail go a long way to make a fine axe that is stronger, sharper and FAR more durable. Do you NEED one of these high-end axes to be able to chop wood? Absolutely not!


In my experience, people who own Gransfors Bruk axes have gravitated to them over time. It’s a nice to have rather than a necessity. I use a Gransford Bruks Large splitting axe for most of my log splitting, and it’s fantastic. I’ve also got a Fiskars Super Splitting Axe that is almost as good at splitting wood… and it cost about a sixth of the price! But nothing feels quite like a Gransfors Bruk axe!


Thanks for reading, please leave a comment below. I’d be happy to hear from you.

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