There’s nothing cozier than a fireplace or wood-burning stove in the winter. Yes, it can be a pain to chop all that wood, but think about it like this: you’ll get ripped and cut your heating bill at same time. Of course, a good ax also makes a big difference. To find out which ones work best, we called in five of the most popular models and put them to the test.
To gauge cutting prowess, I bought half a cord of madrone, a dense wood that’s extremely knotty and tough to chop, and went to work. I cut wood with each ax for a week, but I also used them side by side, taking into consideration chopping power, swing weight, ease of use, and how they worked with small and large pieces of wood.
Leveraxe: The Smart Axe ($240)
Best for: Ease of use
The Leveraxe is unlike any other ax on this list because it uses a counterweight on the upper-right side of the blade that’s designed to pull the head to one side once it hits the wood. This sideways motion creates leverage that helps ply the wood apart (watch a video of it in action). A weight at the base of the head also helps it drop with extra force. Both features make the ax ultra-efficient and effective, so much so that I could split wood without raising the ax over my head. My only complaint: at 35.5 inches, it felt a little long and unwieldy, which made it hard to use when splitting smaller pieces of wood.
Stihl Pro Universal Forestry ($100)*
Best for: Precision chopping
The Stihl Pro was the most precise ax on this list, thanks to the curved hickory handle that helped me guide the head wherever I wanted. It also has the longest blade, so it was easy to connect with the wood. Nice touch: Stihl put a steel sleeve just below the head, which keeps the ax from breaking if you overstrike. It also adds a little weight and force when you’re trying to smash through a big piece.
Council Tool Velvicut Premium Hudson Bay Bush Craft/Camp Axe ($140)
Best for: Camping trips
The Hudson Bay was the sharpest and smallest (it has a two-foot handle), and therefore it excelled at chopping kindling and small pieces of wood. It was outgunned by other axes when it came to chopping larger rounds, but it’s not designed for that. For me, the Hudson is the perfect camping ax because it fits nicely in a trunk and is ideal for cutting firewood down to size.
Fiskars X27 Super Splitting Axe ($70)
Best for: Lumberjacks
This is the ax you need if you’re trying to crush through big rounds. At 36 inches long and 6.6 pounds, it came down hard and fast, while the convex blade worked like a maul to ply wood apart. The textured handle and slight curve at the base helped with control, but I have to admit that the long, straight shaft and heavy top made this ax hard to control. (I’m 5'11" and 175 pounds, and I sometimes missed my target.) Larger (read: lumberjack-sized) users will likely love this thing.
Gerber Splitting Axe II ($75)
Best for: All-around use at a great price
Fiskars owns Gerber, so this is just a smaller version of the X27 mentioned above. It still has a hefty wedged blade, but at 28.5 inches long and 5.4 pounds, it’s much easier to swing. It didn’t eat through large pieces of wood like its big brother, but it still held its own and was much better at splitting small rounds. It also has an antifriction coating on the head, which helped when I wedged the ax after an initial strike. Overall, this is the best all-around ax on the list. I recommend it for camping. At about half the price of the Hudson Bay tool, it’s a killer value.
*The name of the ax has been corrected.