When buying axes, I’ve found there are loosely 4 “tiers” of quality and price range. But it can be hard to know which brands are really good, or what they are good for – and price alone is not a full indicator.
All the axes listed have been bough and tested (many for years), to help steer you in the right direction.
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A Good Cheap Axe: Cold Steel
I recommend avoiding cheap axes, but the Trail Boss is great exception.
In general, there are better axes – BUT the Trail Boss is surprisingly good and can sometimes be as low as $30 (on sale) on amazon. At that price, it’s a pretty damn good deal.
It has a nice blade profile, a surprisingly well-hung handle, and decent grain orientation (at least in mine), but understand what you are getting.
The Trail Boss is built for chopping
The Rhineland(ish) pattern head, is great for chopping through small trees and branches (trail boss = trail clearing). They gave it a surprisingly nice and aggressive blade angle, which is exceptional for cutting deep . And with a little sharpening, it can be great for felling or clearing branches.
The blade has a fatter profile than most Rhineland patterns, which makes it capable of some light splitting. But this is not an axe for splitting large logs or a lot of wood.
The downside of the head pattern is there is only a small connection point with the handle that is more likely to loosen with time and heavy use (especially splitting).
The softer 1055 steel is better than the nameless steel cheap axes usually have, but will still need regular sharpening.
You need to tune the Trail Boss for better performance
The handle is REALLY fat and comes covered in varnish (and stickers for some reason). Fat handles and varnish are hard on the hands and arms after just moderate use.
The Trailboss can be cheap (especially on sale), but it doesn’t come with a sheath – which is a must for safety. So you have to factor that into the cost.
Good (high value) Axe Brands Under $100(ish)
These are the axe brands I recommend most. They are made by quality companies, perform well but don’t break the bank.
Note: I’m trying to keep the price tables accurate – but inflation is a little crazy right now, so you may see some differences.
* The Agdor hatchet is good but kind of pricy
Fiskars are easy high-value axes
These axes are an easy choice because they come sharp, have nearly indestructible composite handles, and require almost no maintenance. Plus they have a pretty smart sheath solution. Given all that, they are surprisingly affordable.
The steel is softer, they need sharpening after some use – but these really are a good choice for people who just need a tool that works.
Honestly one of the best features is the low maintenance. You can leave them in a vehicle, shed, garage, and just not care. But they also perform well.
Fiskars are the best value splitters
Fiskars has the best value splitting axes for the money. The specialized flared head is a really strong design, and the composite handle absorbs shock, won’t be damaged by overstrikes and can be used to help pry stubborn wood apart.
Fiskars is my go-to for splitting most of the time. They just work. What can be confusing is picking the right model – they offer 8 different splitting axes.
I recommend the X27 as the best splitter for most people – but if you want to learn more I have a comparison of all the models here: Which Fiskars splitting axe is right for you
Versatile Chopping Axes and Hatchets
The chopping axes are great “general-use” axes. They have a wedge shape head that can chop, but also split quite well. That makes the hatchets great for camping and kindling.
The Fiskars the X7 is what I recommend for a “standard” hatchet, it’s great as a kindling hatchet. But there are so many options even for this task, I have an article on that as well: Best Fiskars for Kindling.
I wouldn’t pick the 28″ Chopping axe as a felling axe. While it can certainly chop down a tree, it’s a little off-balance and slick for extended use swinging horizontally. But it splits better than most other axes this size – so it’s decent if you want a midsize “all-arounder”.
Fiskars has wide range of both chopping and splitting axes (15+ models) from 9″-36″. Because there are so many we have a couple articles to help you pick: How to choose a Fiskars axe
Estwing all-steel axes are a classic and made in America
Estwing offers a small range of all-steel hatchets and chopping axes (26″). The all-steel design is great for storing in a vehicle or seasonal property.
They have a slender flared head design that performs well for general use but doesn’t come particularly sharp. They have a leather or rubberized grip and come with a nylon sheath.
A lot of people love these hatchets, and they are certainly proven by a long track record. But personally, I don’t like all-steel axes (which is why this one hasn’t been used much). They are cold in the winter, and awkward to choke up on.
The classic 14” Sportsman is the iconic Estwing axe, but the 18” camper is a more capable all-around option. They are quite affordable, and American-made.
Note: The camper is always listed as 16″ – but it’s 18″… No idea why it’s mislabeled, but it’s bigger than I expected.
Council Tool Sport Utility
Traditional American axes, with hickory, handles and made in the USA. They are good for chopping, felling, and ok for standard splitting tasks.
The Sport Utility line is very affordable but can come kind of rough from the factory. The heads are simply shaped and blued, and the wood seems pretty quickly sanded. But the edge is good, and a little sanding and oiling on your end will make it look and feel much nicer.
The Railsplitter line has some more specialized options and comes with an iconic red painted head.
Council actually manages to have nice comfortable and thinned handles on affordable axes.
A Classic Boys Axe
The 28″ Dayton Boys axe is an excellent work axe at around $65 (see amazon), and is super popular. It is a great feller and chopper for trees and branches up to about 12″ wide, and I would pick it over the Trailboss or Fiskars for that roll. But while it can do smaller splitting tasks, it’s not as strong as Fiskars for that job.
It has a really nice slim handle, and a good edge profile – even if it doesn’t come shaving sharp. It’s hard to beat the value of this axe if you live in the US.
Council axes don’t come with a sheath, or it’s offered as an additional option – so consider that when making your choice. They have an aftermarket one for like $20, but it’s not great – you can find much nicer ones on Etsy.
An American-Made Splitting Axe
New at the end of 2021 – Council has released a 5lb splitting axe. It doesn’t have the flares of the Fiskars, but it’s one of the only affordable wood-handled options. And the only mass-produced splitting axe made in the USA.
A Great Affordable Bushcraft Axe
I really love this axe. The Flying fox is a 16” hatchet that has a wide thin blade that can be used for carving, and chopping and can still split kindling. And the back of the head (pole) is hardened for hammering. is a super affordable camping/bushcraft option at around $55. (See amazon).
Note: These axes can be almost twice the cost outside the US, so the value isn’t quite as high internationally.
Council offers quite a few models and versions, including full-size Jerseys and double bits.
Husqvarna offers budget Swedish axes
A small line of affordable traditional Swedish “style” and composite axes.
UPDATE: As of 2022, it seems Husqvarna has been moving at least some of its axe production out of Sweden. I have seen an example of a splitter with a tag that claimed “Made in Italy” (likely Prandi) – and a commenter from Finland says his came with a “Made in Germany” tag. Any mention of “Made in Sweden” has also been removed from the Husqvarna website.
While I can’t confirm if this impacts all models or all regions, it is something to be aware of – but they still do specify “Hand Forged”, so hopefully the quality is still there.
Husqvarna Wood Axes
The traditional line has a similar design to more expensive Swedish axes and are still hand forged, plus come with a leather sheath (not welted). The handles are quite thick, and the head may need sharpening, but it’s at about half the price of the similar premium Swedish options.
You will certainly need to do work to get these axes up to the same level as the premium axes – but it’s doable yourself. Sharpening the blade, and doing some work to thin/shape the handle.
I think these are really good value axes, and the hatchet is perfect for camping. The head is heavier than most other hatchets which makes it great at splitting firewood on the campsite.
Husqvarna Composite Axes
The composite line is similar to some of the larger Fiskars axes but is designed to take a little more abuse. They have a hardened pole that allows them to be hammered if needed and a reinforced handle near the head. They are often used as chainsaw companion axes.
I would choose Fiskars hatchet over these composite axes for camping, but many people swear by these large splitters.
Note: These composite axes are sold under the Gardena brand in the UK for some reason.
Agdor is a quality hard-working axe
My favorite. Great traditional all-around axes that look and feel a step above the rest in this group.
They all come with a brilliant blue painted head, and have the same hard Swedish steel as the premium axes, but come in larger American style felling heads which are great for all-around use. They also include a nice American-made leather sheath (Only in the US).
Agdor axes were launched in the USA (July 2021), and were previously the Hults Bruk Standard line of axes. There are differences between the US versions and International versions which you can learn about here.
Obviously, the price is higher than the other brands in this grouping, skirting much closer to the premium end of the spectrum, but they get extra tooling time, better steel, and nicer sheaths.
Extra attention has been taken to grind slight tapers in the top and bottom of the blade – which is a nice touch that helps with chopping, splitting, and freeing your axe. The council tool axes don’t put this much detail in, which is why they are cheaper.
The actual sharpening is still quickly done, and the handles are very fat. But these are the two easiest things for you to fix (if you care). The hang is clean and tight, and the handles are smooth and oiled.
The 2.5lb Agdor 28” Montreal pattern is a very versatile weight and size, and my favorite for chopping/felling, but Yankee patterns are better if you need to do some mid-size splitting as well.
Hultafors standard axes are my favorite outside the US.
Outside the US there are actually WAY more models of Agdor axes. Some blue like the US, but also some are co-branded Hultafors. They are typically just called Hultafors standard axes (even though Agdor is there too). If they are available to you these are some of the best value axes on the market.
The standard line is really affordable and has a ton of models that primarily using the Yankee pattern heads (which are good for all-around use). In my experience, they are a rougher finish than the blue Agdors and don’t come with sheaths, but the fundamental designs and materials are the same.
Premium Axes from $150-250
While many Premium axes can be found on Amazon – they are often overpriced. So you can check the price, but I suggest looking for a local retailer. The only exception is the Council Tool Axes, they tend to be fairly priced.
These axes have established quite a name for themselves. Each axe is hand-made and stamped with the blacksmith’s initials, so they do cool well. They are beautiful to look at and feel great in hand. The handles are tumbled in wax after oiling which is a step above even the other axes in this range.
The 19” Small Forest Axe is darling online for bushcraft, but they have a wide range of smaller/lightweight models for hiking, bushcraft, and camping between the 9” and 26”. They do also offer a big 31″ or 35″, 4lb American style felling axe as well, in both straight and curved handles.
They also make some really well-designed splitting axes that are made with the same care and attention to detail.
Hults Bruks / Hultafors
Hults Bruk is the oldest axe producer here (maybe anywhere) starting in 1697. As a company they are my favorite, I own around 10. A mix of vintage and new, standard and premium axes.
Note: Hults Bruks are branded Hultafors outside the US (Hultafors owns Hults Bruk), and the axes have different names so you may need this article to compare.
Hults Bruk has a similar small axe lineup to Gransfors Bruks, focused on smaller forest axes. The head pattern is similar but unique, and in my experience, the final finish level is not quite as clean. They are still beautiful axes, just no wax coating and even though the blade edges are polished you can see a few more transition lines in the curve. But they are also about $50 cheaper and perform every bit as well.
The Anebey is the counterpart to the Gransfors small forest axe, and it has a 2lb head and 20” handle. So you get an extra inch + ¼ lb of steel to get the job done.
I have a detailed comparison of the Gransfors Bruk Small Forest Axe and Hults Bruk Aneby (Hultafors Ekelund) here.
Some people don’t like the HB sheaths which just use a drawstring and not a snap. It’s a little annoying and it does wobble a little, but it also won’t come off – and is durable thick leather.
We have a more in-depth look at the Hultafors (Hults Bruk) premium and standard axes here.
Council Tool Premium Axes
Made in the USA (they shout this a lot) – The Velvicut and Wood Craft lines use 5160 tool steel which is often used for big camp knives and will have much better edge retention than the cheaper models.
The Velvicut line is the only axe in this article I don’t have experience with – but they have a small range of classic American head pattern designs. If you like the Hudson bay pattern axes – this is the line for you. They are also one of the only higher-end options for a big work axe with the 4lb felling axe. This would make a great all-around homestead work axe.
An American-Made Bushcraft Axe
The WoodCraft axe line is going after Gransfors Bruks hard for bushcrafters and campers looking to do a little more. It’s around $70 less than a small forest axe and has a hardened pole to be used as a hammer, bevels, and an undercut area to choke up on the handle for carving. It is finely sharpened, but the overall finish is not quite as good of the other two premium brands.
Custom Axes are a Cut Above
|Brant & Cochran||$199||$299||–|
Most people do not need an axe in this price range. They are for those who are really passionate about axes and craftsmanship but can take up to a year to get your hands on.
The edges are razor-sharp, the handles are perfectly thinned, oiled, and waxed and come with exceptional leather sheaths.
Probably the most famous of the small-batch makers – only a handful of axes are available for pre-order every Monday (one model at a time), and they have a 1 year turnaround time. So you may have to wait a couple of months for the chance to pre-order an axe (they sell out in minutes if not seconds).
Brant and Cochran
Located in Maine, they make only 2 models that utilize the “Maine Wedge” pattern. But they also do a little restoration on the side.
This is the only one of these Artisan axes I own. These axes are made by a trio of enthusiasts from around the world, who have come together to make great axes. The heads are made in Latvia, the handles made in Canada, and they call come together and get a detailed hand assembly and custom finishing in Idaho.
There are three models made, but they have no fixed release schedule (so follow them on Instagram if you are interested).
For my Light Forest Axe, I was able to choose a White Oak handle with an Appalachian Black Walnut Finish.
Restoring axes is how I really got into the field, and you can buy some beautifully restored pieces – but be prepared for some potentially high prices. Some heads are very collectible, and some aren’t, so you could find a restored axe for $150 or $1000.
If you want to see some really nice work check out Vintage axe works. He has a great Instagram presence too and has been on a couple of axe podcasts for the uber-nerds.
If I missed something or you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment below. I do my best to respond to everyone.
About the author:
I’m just a guy who likes axes – as a tool, the craft of restoring them, and the history. I got tired of only finding crappy websites, so I set out to build a better one myself.
Jim Bell. – Owner, Creator