What is a Hatchet?

What is a Hatchet

The Hatchet is a versatile and ancient tool with many uses.

Chances are, you have heard the word “hatchet” thrown around at some point in your life, whether it be at home, in the media, at school, or perhaps in a Girl or Boy Scouts troop. 

Hatchets are specialized short-handled axes designed to be manageable with one hand and commonly equipped with a hammerhead opposite the blade bit or cutting edge. They are sharp tools designed to cut through wood. Most importantly, their ability to be effectively wielded with one hand differentiates them from a two-handed axe.

There are many variations of hatchets. They are incredibly versatile tools useful not only for camping trips but also for a plethora of other outdoor activities, trades, and home-bound chores. 

This is my heartbeat like yours, it is a hatchet It can build a house or tear one down.

Andrea Gibson

The anatomy of a hatchet

Knowing a hatchet’s defining feature is one thing, but it is a completely different level to understand the full anatomy and build of a hatchet.

Understanding the many components that make a hatchet a hatchet can provide a greater sense of understanding and increase your skill in using a hatchet appropriately.

There are many parts of a hatchet and some hatchets will be different, based upon their intended purpose and build. Below is a thorough list of hatchet parts:

  • Eye
  • Cutting Edge
  • Upper Corner Toe
  • Lower Corner Heel
  • Blade Bit
  • Cutting Edge
  • Side Cheek
  • Butt (or Pole)
  • Head
  • Lug (or Lip)
  • Shoulder
  • Handle (Belly, Shaft, Back & Throat)
  • Grip
  • End Knob (or Swell Knob)

A brief history of the hatchet

A big part of understanding what a hatchet is is knowing its history and the roots of the tool. The history of the axe dates back well before the year 0 and was one of the primitive tools used. Stone Age axes were made from wood and rocks crafted in a way to work efficiently. 

It even dates back to the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian societies as a means to start building civilizations. The early versions would be made of wooden handles and copper or bronze blades. Eventually, the ax’s shape was adopted into what we would consider a hatchet. Back then, there probably was not a hard distinction made between the two.

Although there were probably hatchets during these times, according to the Revolutionary War Journal, the first look at what we know as a hatchet came in 400 AD and was known as the Franziska ax. Although called an ax, it featured a shorter handle. It was even short enough to wield with just one hand. 

As time moved on, more and more iterations were established. Each one would improve upon the last and create more opportunities for innovation. 

Why use a hatchet? 

Why not just use an ax? Well, not every situation is best suited for an axe, and vice versa. What is the purpose of a hatchet? Let’s break it down. 

At a very basic level, a hatchet is used for many things and many similar things to an ax. For instance, chopping wood, clearing brush, preparing firewood, chopping down small trees, and more. The difference is the size of the work. An ax can handle heavy, thick work, whereas hatchets should be used with a little more finesse and smaller work. 

For example, big chunks of wood can be split by heavy axes. Hatchets do far better with smaller pieces that could be used as tinder and smaller fuel. 

By using a hatchet, you are taking advantage of the work that does not require big pressure but is too big for something that can fit in your pocket. If you can become comfortable with the tool, it can be one of the best that you own. 

You also get access to a great tool that does not take up a ton of room or weigh a lot. When backpacking, for instance, you probably won’t want to lug around a big axe. A hatchet, however, is perfect for this occasion. 

Common hatchet uses

Knowing why to use a hatchet and what to use it for are the two most important parts of understanding what a hatchet is. Since we covered the essence of using a hatchet, it is time to lay out a few options for use, because, at the end of the day, this is the most important aspect. 

Preparing firewood

The most common use is for preparing firewood. More specifically, tinder and kindling can be prepared with a hatchet very easily. Because of how compact a hatchet is, you can handle the smaller parts of a fire with ease. 

Chopping small trees and limbs

Along the same lines is trimming limbs and taking down small trees. You don’t need a giant axe to take down a tree with a 2-inch diameter. That is overkill. 

Shelter building

Constructing shelters of all shapes and sizes is down really well with a hatchet. This plays into the dropping of limbs and trees but also the actual construction of the shelter. Cutting grooves and notches to build up a structure is what the hatchet excels in. 

Alternate uses with the backside of the head

Many hatchets will have a hammer-type surface on the back of the head which adds even more versatility to the tool. Driving stakes, breaking up surfaces, and so much more can be used with the non-blade side. 

At the end of the day, the hatchet is a super versatile tool that can be used in a number of scenarios. Knowing the various uses will help bring your camping experience to the next level.

A modestly quick introduction to an ancient tool

If you have ever asked yourself, “What is a hatchet?” you should hopefully now know a bit more about the subject. Hatchets are incredible tools that can elevate any outdoor experience that requires a tool of that kind. Knowing the history, common uses, and why and when to use it can help you feel more comfortable with the tool and your abilities in the wilderness. 

John Sunder

John Sunder, an outdoors and bushcraft enthusiast, is the founder and operator of Hatchets.net. A collector of axes and hatchets, he enjoys writing and educating people about these amazing and ancient tools while also writing about other outdoor experiences.

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