Can a big blade replace a hatchet/axe?

Discussion in 'General Knife Discussion' started by DangerZone98, Jan 30, 2021.

  1. CShepherd


    Feb 27, 2006
    Anytime you get into a “survival” scenario, whether actual or preparing for, you are dealing in compromises. You cannot carry everything that would be ideal. Think about this - just how likely are you to carry an axe into the woods for a hike, or even overnight camping trip? If you are, then you have your answer. An axe is absolutely the best choice for some serious wood prep. But it is heavy and bulky.

    It’s more likely you would carry a knife, and perhaps a small hatchet/hawk. Then it becomes a question of the area you’re likely to be in. Here in Tennessee we have enough smaller dead wood that it is pretty easy to get an emergency fire going with just a good fixed blade knife for prep. Because of that I don’t carry a hawk/hatchet unless I just want to. Maybe in your area the hatchet/hawk would serve better.

    So, in preparing for survival, I would be totally comfortable with a larger fixed blade knife in place of a hatchet/hawk. In my mind, while it won’t do as well the work of a hatchet/hawk, it will still do those tasks while at the same time it can do tasks the hatchet/hawk can’t do very well. For me the knife wins the debate.
    Reallybigmonkey1 and MtnHawk1 like this.
  2. comis

    comis Gold Member Gold Member

    May 17, 2013
    I think it will depend on where you are using this tools and what are you using them for. There are tropical places where one may favor the use of parang over an axe or hatchet, but in northern atmosphere it maybe the other way around.
  3. Chapp


    Mar 28, 2018
    For outdoor/camping, give me a big knife over a hatchet any day. Hatchets are too much of a compromising and its current popularity is more a fad than anything. It's a cute object that looks like it could be useful, so it's easy to market, but it isn't really practical.

    Carrying a big knife is also easier than an a full-fledged axe if you have to cover a big distance. If it's just 3km of flat, it doesn't matter, but otherwise you'll feel the weight of a decent sized axe.

    To answer your question more directly : yes, absolutely, in fact it might even be your best bet.

    Bear in mind most people here like to go way overkill, like on most hobby forums. Some carry two EDC on them or go camping with a total of 4 cutting tools on them and don't see the ridicule in it (see some post above). It's like kitchen mom bragging about having 10 kind of pans online while she can't cook for shit. You even have people carrying special knives on weddings... You might not get the most level headed answers from here.
    Reallybigmonkey1 and MtnHawk1 like this.
  4. Pilsner

    Pilsner Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Oct 28, 2017
    ‘The hatchet and knives shown in the engraving will be found to fit the bill satisfactorily, so far as cutlery may be required. Each is good and useful of its kind, the hatchet especially’

    George W. Sears “Nessmuk” 1884

    ‘A woodsman should carry a hatchet and be as critical in selecting it as buying a gun. The notion that a heavy hunting knife can do the work of a hatchet is delusion. When it comes to cleaving carcasses, chopping kindling, blazing thick-barked trees, driving in tent pegs or trap stakes, and keeping up a bivouac fire, the knife has not been made that will compare with a good tomahawk.’

    Horace Kephart 1906

    Now then, given that both these distinguished gentleman gave their respective names to knife patterns still made today, it is fair to say that their insistence on the value of hatchets or small axes was perhaps something other than a fad.

    Worth noting, also, that Kephart wrote elsewhere that he had “tried nearly everything in the knife line, from a shoemaker’s skiver to a machete.”
  5. SteelPanther


    Nov 9, 2019
    go cut a tree down with a knife
    have fun
    I'd suggest an axe
    LEGION 12 and Pilsner like this.
  6. Chapp


    Mar 28, 2018
    It's opinion from a century ago. What's next ? Quoting their opinions on folders ? Practices and tools evolve.

    From all the activities mentioned in the Kephart quote, a bushcraft knife can do the job perfectly (outside of thick barked three, but who does that ?) and double as a nice cutting tool for food prep, processing a dead animal, feather stick... essential activities that a Hatchet would always struggle with.

    I'd never understand the need to hide behind someone's else opinion. Make and give your own.
  7. MarkN86


    Sep 3, 2012
    My answer to the original question is: Not entirely.

    A full sized axe would be wasted energy, you can't chop down a tree for firewood in a survival situation anyways. Green wood won't burn and it takes months or years to dry, so you'll want to look for already dead and dry wood if you need to start a fire. If you have neat, squared off ends to stand on a stump to split with a full sized axe, you aren't likely in a survival situation, and in that case I'm using a splitting maul or log splitter. The hatchet was designed to be a practical, portable multitool for splitting deadfall, breaking up sticks, driving tent stakes, breaking ice, building a basic shelter, and tons of other stuff without being overly heavy.

    It's never been debated that a knife is a crucial survival tool. A knife is necessary for a lot of tasks that an axe can't do, and bigger knives can chop and split well enough to get by fine in situations where you have smaller deadfall to use up and will be moving on quickly. If you will be staying in one place for any amount of time adding a hatchet to your kit will end up being beneficial, especially if you have a lot of dry oak, hickory, walnut, etc. in the area. Hatchets can be used to create a wooden wedges, then the poll can be used to drive the wedges into a log and split it. Try as you might, you're not doing that with a knife.

    Machetes are a little different. Shorter machetes can function as a survival knife, longer machetes are only really good for clearing soft green vegetation.

    I think even small wood processing can be done pretty well and safely with a hatchet. I learned a trick from my dad. Hold the hatchet to the stick and tap the stick on a hard surface, it will get stuck and you can tap until it's split through. No baton needed. I've made several feather sticks by choking up on the hatchet and using the weight of the head, it's pretty fast and easy. It's really a shame that the hatchet has fallen so far out of favor, they are very useful tools.
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  8. Chapp


    Mar 28, 2018
    If you think cutting a tree with an axe is fun, I bet you never tried it. In your outdoor life, if you ever need to cut down a tree for weird reasons, take a saw with you.
    DMG and Lee D like this.
  9. Chapp


    Mar 28, 2018
    It's a dangerous technique in my opinion. I know what you're speaking about. The risk is the hatchet not getting stuck enough and rolling toward your wrists. Not a risk I'd take.

    I prefer to baton. Plus, it's much more engaging than being like Golum, arched over, hitting stuff together.
  10. DocJD


    Jan 29, 2016
    I'd far rather be guided by an informed , knowledgeable , experienced , expert , professional wisdom opposed to "popular" opinion .
    jaypopsti, MarkN86 and desmobob like this.
  11. kvaughn

    kvaughn Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 28, 2005
    I've found a a well made medium weight khukri is an excellent replacement for a hatchet for most camping uses.
    I have had a Himalayan Imports KL Village Utility Knife for about 10 years now and it has a much wider range of uses than any of my hatchets or boy's axes.
    Mine is 16" and 19 ounces. I highly recommend H.I. for their quality, traditional designs and customer service. Check them out.
  12. Pilsner

    Pilsner Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Oct 28, 2017
    Have you spent much time in the woods yourself? They haven’t changed much in far more than a century or so. I quoted these sources not as an appeal to authority, which is what I think you are rather rudely accusing me of doing, but because I agree with them and my own experience bears it out.
  13. EngrSorenson

    EngrSorenson Gold Member Gold Member Basic Member

    Jul 3, 2019
    No one's hiding- Pilsner brought up a great point made by two separate and exceptional woodsmen which seem to indicate that the desire for a hatchet is not a passing fad, but rooted in practicality.

    It is fun. I enjoy every minute of it because I have the right tool for the job- an axe.

    I use this particular technique often- it's effective. A good method is to place the wood to the bit and swing both gently down at the same time, which starts the split and hangs the wood onto the bit. for precise splitting, this is the sole method I use. Just don't be an idiot and you'll keep all your fingers.

    ^^^ this. Sears and Kephart knew the value of tools. That's not to say their way is the only way, but it certainly is a way that served them well. I think it speaks volumes to the subject, when most of us are just internet personalities.
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  14. DocJD


    Jan 29, 2016
    Saws are very efficient , but have their limitations also .

    Try to cut wood that's in compression with a saw , good luck ! ;)
  15. desmobob


    May 5, 2003
    You obviously don't know the technique to do it safely with a hatchet; there is no risk of the hatchet edge being anywhere near your wrists. They are at the handle end of the hatchet and the hatchet's edge is at the far end, from the beginning of the process to the end. But that's typical of a safe but antiquated technique used by full-time outdoorsmen like Kephart, Sears, et al, not modern experts such as yourself. ;)

    I'm wondering what kind of saw you prefer to an axe to "cut down trees" if it's something other than a chainsaw. The felling saws that were sometimes used here in the Adirondacks were tools that required two men. Men working alone used an axe and a few still do.

    I'm also wondering how many of the respondents have any done any winter camping in the north. Even with the proper tools, wood processing takes up a good amount of your time. You aren't going to get it done with a big knife! If the OP expects his survival situation would happen in southern climes, for a short time, then a big knife could do. Not so in winter in the northern part of our country...

    I have winter camped in NY, VT, NH and ME in the past. I'm getting too old for it now! ;)

    Notice the size of the firewood in the first photo. It was a standing dead tree felled with an axe and bucked with a bow saw.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2021
  16. Pilsner

    Pilsner Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Oct 28, 2017
    THIS ^^^^

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  17. desmobob


    May 5, 2003
    You sleep on the ground? You heathen! ;)

    jfk1110, EngrSorenson and Pilsner like this.
  18. desmobob


    May 5, 2003
    When you cut up and burn those rocks for a campfire, do you use a big knife, hatchet, or axe? :D

    That looks like a fairly inhospitable place and not very hammock-friendly. Wood seems a bit scarce...
    jfk1110, EngrSorenson and Pilsner like this.
  19. cbach8tw

    cbach8tw Gold Member Gold Member

    Jan 9, 2006
    I used my small hatchet to split kindling, it would have been more efficient if I had maintained the edge on it better. I think it would be more efficient in firewood prep than a big knife, but that is not a survival situation. I think it’s far more important to know your tools and how to use and maintain them, and let the tool work for you and not lose control in a swing or movement, where accidents can happen. I would think that in most places there would be enough deadfall where you could start a fire, unless soaked and had to get into the dryer wood inside. An above post did point out that it was colder in the north. The proper tool for the job, and this more a camping trip. However, if backpacking, I can can see the bigger knife being more useful, not a perfect tool but still a jack of all trades, not in the belt but strapped to the pack. I am biased, I like big blades, and to me I do not believe I would travel but a few trails, maybe 2 to 4 miles, not far from an established site, not traveling miles everyday. For those who travel light and many miles, a big knife would be a hindrance as well as a hatchet, more of the SA knife and MORA fixed blade type.
    Reallybigmonkey1 likes this.
  20. Pilsner

    Pilsner Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Oct 28, 2017
    Aye! We’d left the trees down below by a few thousand feet at that point... ;)
    EngrSorenson and desmobob like this.

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