Overall, both these axes are very similar and can be used in very similar ways. These are some of my favorite work axes, and they both have the same level of quality in terms of handle and finishing. But if you really want to look at the nuances – I have them laid out below.
The Yankee and Montreal axes can both cut down trees, remove branches, and do some light splitting. However, the Yankee axe is a bit longer with a more general-purpose blade shape, while the Montreal axe has a wider and more curved blade that is slightly better suited for chopping and limbing.
Both these axe designs have been around for over 100 years, and there have been subtle changes over time – but I am focusing on the current iterations produced by Agdor / Hultafors / Hults Bruk.
Note: Agdor, Hults Bruk, and Hultafors are all the same company, so depending on your region you may find axes branded differently (but they are the same).
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The Yankee Pattern
The Yankee is a classic American pattern that has been around since the late 1800s and has been one of the most widely produced patterns ever since. It’s a fairly rectangular design with a long blade length and a mid-size cutting edge. The bit has a small even curve, and lightly flares in the toe (top) and only a little bit more in the heel (bottom).
It’s a very effective chopper, the profile is a thin wedge that concentrates the force into the narrow blade. This makes it great for chopping deeper into the denser wood in the middle of the largest hardwood trees.
While it’s definitely not a splitting axe it’s capable of light splitting. The thin wedge can be a little sticky but not too difficult to remove.
The Montreal Pattern
Being Canadian – I have a soft spot for the Montreal pattern.
The Montreal pattern is a classic Canadian pattern that goes to at least the early 1900s. It has a slightly shorter eye than most axes of a similar size and has a very distinct notch under the blade. These two factors allow for a wider blade without adding overall weight. The longer cutting edge has a more dramatic curve that pulls back more at the bottom of the head.
The more dramatic curved bit can roll a little more on impact creating wider cuts. The wider blade is very efficient for felling and chopping small to mid-size trees, and makes it easier to clear branches. But it can be a little less efficient chopping through the middle of the largest (24″+) hardwood trees as it won’t sink as deeply into the dense wood.
The Montreal pattern is fine for light splitting, and the blade width/profile is basically the same as the Yankee pattern. But the wider curved bit is “stickier”, and the corners (heel and toe) of the blade are likely to get pinched in larger pieces of wood.
The Montreal 28 has also become a surprise hit with axe throwers.
There are more options for Yankee heads compared to Montreal, and you can see below how the differences in the cutting edges compared to the weights.
Canada, the UK, and Europe actually have way more options for Hultafors/Agdor axes than what is available in the US. You can find Yankee heads in basically every 0.25lbs interval between 1.5-4lbs, plus extra large 4.5lbs and 5lb versions. There is actually a large 5lb Montreal as well (although it’s not common).
I don’t have all the blade specs for all those models (because I’m not rich), but you can start to see the differences with the core selection above.
Tuning for Maximum Efficiency
The Yankee and Montreal pattern axes are considered “standard” quality, and so they will both perform better with a bit of tuning (but they can also be used right away).
And I don’t want to put you off these axes – like I said they are some of my favorites, and I think they are a high-value tool. But it’s important to know what you are getting.
The blades are roughly sharpened
These axes come with a quick ground edge, that is sharp but uneven and quickly done. The clear transition from the primary bevel to the rest of the blade so you should refile the profile if you want to your axe to be as efficient as possible.
The handles are thick
The nice thing about these axes is the hickory is good quality and comes oiled and not varnished. However these standard handles are very thick, and a little thinning down will make them much more comfortable in hand.
I also recently tried shaping the palm swell as part of the thinning process to better catch my hand in use.
I have an article on how to thin an axe handle if you are interested (it’s not hard).
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 crap websites, so I set out to build a reliable one myself.
Jim B. – Owner, Creator