Difference Between a Hand Axe & a Hatchet

Updated April 17, 2017

Campers, loggers, builders and do-it-yourself enthusiasts are all familiar with the hand axe. Available in a variety of styles and designs, hand axes are simple tools that have been around since prehistory. The term "hand axe" is an umbrella classification that covers tomahawks, battle axes and camping axes. Hatchets, too, are a type of hand axe.

Ancient Hand Axes

The hand axe may be humanity's most ancient tool. Stone Age people used it to chop the meat and crack the bones of animals they hunted. The original, prehistoric hand axes were single pieces of stone, sharp on one side and smooth on the other. A person would hold the smooth side and cut with the sharp side. People began adding handles to the stone heads around 6000 B.C., creating a more efficient tool.

Modern Hand Axes

Modern hand axes have a sharp axe head and a short handle. They are sufficiently lightweight for a person to swing easily in one hand. The axe head may be sharp on both sides or on one side only and is usually made of metal. The handle may be metal or wood, straight or curved. Hand axes are often manufactured for specific purposes, and designs vary according to the intended use. For example, an axe designed for backpacking is very lightweight, while one designed for camping may be heavier so it can split logs more easily.


A hatchet is a type of hand axe. It has a head and a handle, and it doubles as a hammer. A hatchet's head is made of metal and has a single edge for chopping; its other side is flat for use as a hammer head. Handles are made of various materials, including wood, fibreglass and steel. Depending on the hatchet's intended use, the handle may be covered with a layer of rubber as a grip.

Hatchet Uses

Like other types of hand axes, hatchets come in a variety of designs for different functions. In a camping setting, hatchets are used for hammering stakes and nails when setting up tents, and for chopping and splitting small logs. They are not usually big enough or heavy enough for major wood chopping jobs. In a construction setting, hatchets are used for installing hardwood floors, shingling and gypsum board drywall. One hatchet technique is to set the sharp edge against the surface you want to split and then strike the hammer edge with another object, driving the sharp edge into the surface without swinging the hatchet.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Stephanie Mitchell is a professional writer who has authored websites and articles for real estate agents, self-help coaches and casting directors. Mitchell also regularly edits websites, business correspondence, resumes and full-length manuscripts. She graduated from Syracuse University in 2007 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theater.