There are many types of chopping tools used in forestry work, area clearance, and emergency rescue. When you consider which of these tools to use, keep in mind the specific purpose of each one. In this chapter, you will learn about different types of chopping tools and their uses. You will also learn how to select the right chopping tool for the job, use various types of chopping tools, and provide the proper care of the chopping tools to keep them in good working condition.

When you have completed this lesson, you will be able to do the following:



Types and Uses


Axes are cutting tools used for the cutting down of trees and for the chopping and splitting of wood. They may be either single or double-edged. Single-bit, double-bit, and crash axes are the most common types. Sizes of axes vary depending upon their design and purpose.

Single-Bit Ax

The single-bit ax is used to cut down or prune trees. It can also be used to cut or trim logs and heavy brush, or to split and cut wood. It has a forged, hardened steel head, a ground polished cutting edge, and an elliptical tapered eye for the long, slightly curved handle. The head has a flat face at one end and a cutting edge or “bit” at the other.

Double-Bit Ax

The double-bit ax s used for the chopping down and the lopping and topping of trees. The double-bit ax has a wedge-type head with two cutting edges.

Crash Ax

The crash ax, or fireman’s ax, is used by emergency personnel to gain quick access to a given area. This ax has a steel head with a cutting blade or bit at one end, and a spike-like extension at the other.



The half-hatchet, commonly called a hatchet, consists of a forged steel head with a hardened, tempered blade and a hickory handle firmly attached with wedges. The hatchet has an octagonal, flat striking head opposite the blade. A beveled slot in the blade is for removing nails.


The adz is a chopping tool used for chopping and smoothing lumber or logs where a great deal of wood or bark is to be removed. The adz is a form of ax where the edge of the blade is at a right angle to the handle. It has a curved steel head attached to a curved handle.

Timber Wedges

The timber wedge is used with a sledge, primarily to split logs and timber. When sawing timber or thick lumber, it may also be used to spread the cut so the saw will not bind. The timber wedge is a steel tool resembling a slender single-bit ax head. One end is slightly fan-shaped and sharpened to a dull edge. The other end is flat, where a sledge can strike when driving the wedge into a log.


The maul features an octagonal face on one end of the head and an ax on the other end. These hardened, heavy striking tools will have a striking face on one end and a striking face or a special purpose striking end on the other.

Using the Single-Bit Ax


Always wear suitable eye protection.



Reverse the position of the hands, feet, and shoulder if lefthanded.

The following steps describe how to use a single-bit ax properly:

  1. First, clear the work area of material that might deflect the ax blade. The user’s body weight should be evenly distributed, with knees set, but not tense. The feet should be spread at a comfortable distance to retain balance, while the body should be relaxed and free to swing and bend at the waist.
  2. To use the ax, grasp the ax handle with both hands close together near the end of the handle, with the right or leading hand closer to the ax head. The left foot should be closer to the work.
  3. To start the swing, bring the ax back over the right shoulder (Figure 1), bending the elbow as the right hand slides up the handle toward the ax head.

Figure 1 — Start the swing with the ax over the shoulder.

Figure 2 — Finish the swing with the hands together.

  1.  On the downswing, let the right hand slide down the handle, toward the left hand.
  2. At the end of the downswing, the right hand will be beside the left hand at the end of the handle (Figure 2).

Using the Adz


Always wear suitable eye protection.

The following steps describe how to use an adz properly:

  1. To use the adz, first clear the work area of branches and debris.
  2. Block the timber to be worked on so it cannot slip, slide, or roll.
  3. Straddle the timber and grip the adz handle with both hands (Figure 3). The right hand should be held approximately 12 to 15 inches above the left hand.

Figure 3 — Straddle the timber.

Figure 4 — Use short, choppy down strokes.

  1. Use short, choppy down strokes (Figure 4) while keeping the hands in approximately the same position on the handle. The right hand does not slide toward the left hand as in swinging the ax, because the right hand must be in a position to keep control of the adz head at all times. Sliding the right hand to the end of the handle would allow the adz blade face to be deflected toward the user.

As wood chips accumulate on the work surface, clear them away to prevent deflection of the adz blade. Reverse the position of the hands if left-handed.

Using the Timber Wedge


Always wear suitable eye protection.

The following steps describe how to use a timber wedge properly:

  1. To use the timber wedge, first block the log to be split, or steady it so it cannot roll.
  2. With the left hand, hold the wedge’s narrow edge on the log where a split is desired.

Do not use a timber wedge that has nicks or burrs, since the rough sections can scratch the hands or can cause chips to break off when struck by sledge.

  1. Hold the sledge handle in the right hand, close to its head, and start driving the wedge into the log with a pounding action (Figure 5).

Figure 5 — Drive the wedge into the log.

Figure 6 —Alternate driving the wedges.

  1. Give the wedge a few blows, then start a second wedge on the line farther along the log and drive it with a few sledge blows.
  2. Alternate driving the wedges (Figure 6) into the log until log splits. For longer logs, more than two wedges should be used.

Reverse the position of the hands if left-handed.

Care of Chopping Tools

Use the following guidelines when working with chopping tools:


Linseed oil is a flammable liquid. To avoid personal injury, properly dispose of all cleaning rags in non-combustible containers.


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Review Questions

1. Which of the following axes are the most common?

A. Hatchet, maul, and crash
B. Salvage, maul, and adz
C. Single-bit, double-bit, and crash
D. Single-bit, hatchet, and salvage

2. Which of the following chopping tools is used by emergency personnel?

A. Adz
B. Crash ax
C. Hatchet
D. Single-bit ax

3. What type of chopping tool has a beveled slot in the blade for removing nails?

A. Adz
B. Crash ax
C. Hatchet
D. Single-bit ax

4. What type of chopping tool has a curved steel head attached to a curved handle?

A. Adz
B. Crash ax
C. Hatchet
D. Single-bit ax

5. When using a single-bit ax, what step should occur first?

A. Clear the work area of material that might deflect the ax blade
B. Place both hands together at the bottom of the handle
C. Place both hands together at the top of the handle
D. Position your feet shoulder’s distance apart

6. When using a timber wedge, for what reason is it important to block the log to be split?

A. Aligns your feet
B. Easier to split the log
C. Guides the wedges
D. Prevents it from rolling

7. Which of the following protective devices should be worn when using chopping tools?

A. Climbers
B. Electrical gloves
C. Eye protection
D. Hard hat

8. When should chopping tools be cleaned?

A. After each use
B. Before each use
C. Monthly
D. Annually

9. For prolonged storage of chopping tools, keep the tools free from rust by wiping the tools with what substance?

A. Anti-seize compound
B. Grease
C. Oil
D. Paint

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Answers to Exercises

1. C
2. B
3. C
4. A
5. A
6. D
7. C
8. A
9. C

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Copyright © David L. Heiserman
All Rights Reserved