Broadaxes come in a wide range of shapes and sizes; big goosewing style broadaxes with a 12″ blade to short handled chopping broadaxe with a 5″ blade. They vary in size in shape based on the region they came from, the type of wood they were designed to cut, the time period they were made, and the craftsman who forged them. It’s one of my favorite tools to use. Most used broadaxe bits can be brought back to life with a little attention. If you want to find a used broadaxe online, eBay always seems to have a fresh supply, but it’s tough to buy something without first examining it by hand. Another way to find a used broadaxe is to post an ad on Craigslist saying you’re looking for a hand-forged hewing broadaxe. That’s how I found my first broadaxe. Of course you can look at antique shops and fairs, auctions, tool shows, etc. At one time these types of axes were common, so they’re not that hard to find. Nowadays most people don’t understand what they’re used for. This article will tell you what to look for when shopping for a used broadaxe.
- Single beveled – this type of broadaxe has a bevel on one side only (hence single beveled), the other side is flat like a chisel. This is also called “Single-Sided Sharpened”. Since this resembles a single blade of scissors, it’s also known as “Scissor Sharpened”.
- Double beveled – this type of broadaxe has a bevel on both sides (hence double beveled). It’s known as a chopping broadaxe since you can use it to cut down the tree, joggling, and hewing. This is also called “Double-Sided Sharpened”.
What to look for
- Good steel. Check the axe head for the stamp of the maker. I like to research the toolmaker by typing the markings in Google. A good website I found to research axe makers is the YesteryearsTools website.
- Proper shape. If you lay a single-beveled broadaxe bit down on a flat surface, with the flat side down, it won’t set completely flat along the blade. The flat side of the bit isn’t completely flat. It has a slight bevel where the middle of the edge should rock on the table, the corners of the bit raised 1/8″ to 1/16″. This shape allows you to cut shallow shavings of wood without the corners digging in.
- Pitting on the back. The back of a single-beveled broadaxe is flat like a chisel. Any rust pits on the back that are near the edge will cause nicks when sharpened. Very shallaw pits can be ground down with an axe stone, but even shallow pits can mean hours of grinding to get a flat surface. Deep pits make it nearly impossible to grind the surface down. Avoid broadaxes that have any serious pitting on the flat side. The beveled side can be pitted because you’ll sharpen away any pits along the edge.
- Don’t worry about the handle. You can get a replacement handle. Most often the axe you find will be unwittingly re-hung with the wrong type of handle. When you’re buying an old broadaxe, focus on the quality of the bit and worry about the handle later. You can order them on eBay for around $20 (www.hickoryhandlestore.com). A word of advice, make sure to ask for a handle with straight grain, running in the same direction as the head of the axe, not perpendicular to it.
The Finished Product
Here’s the same broadaxe after I sharpened it and applied some mineral oil and beeswax.
Me hacking a wany timber with my new broadaxe. After a few uses I’ve decided to cut the handle down a bit. Right now the handle is too long. I’m not as accurate and I can’t hold the axe in front of me without it hitting me. Most broad axe handles are short, 18″ to 24″ long.
[edit: Since this article I shortened the handle, steam bent the handle, and shaved a lot of the bulk around the eye away. That’s the nice thing about wood handles, you can shape them as you use them, making them fit your hands and hewing style.]
“The real meaning of hand hewn” 2007 Gabel Holder.