The term “hatchet” refers to many items used for cutting or chopping but can generally be defined as a cutting device consisting of a single or double-edged sharpened blade attached to a short handle. Many varieties are available, including drop forged versions in which the blade and handle are formed from one solid piece of steel. The blade is then ground and polished to create a sharp cutting edge. Other types of hatchets consist of a sharpened wedge-shaped steel “head” securely fastened to a wooden handle. A compact, lightweight hatchet is a very useful item to carry when backpacking or on a hunting trip. They come in handy for smaller tasks such as clearing brush or small limbs, as well as making tent stakes when camping.
Native Americans made their cutting heads from chert, which is a sedimentary rock consisting of very fine-grained quartz. When broken, chert forms sharp edges that can be honed to create cutting surfaces or arrowheads. Those hatchet heads were attached to the wooden handle using rawhide strips soaked in water. As the rawhide dried it shrank to tightly bond the cutting surface to the wood. Most of these items fall into the category of tomahawks, as they were used for defense as well as everyday tasks. Modern tomahawks have steel heads securely attached to hickory or fiberglass handles. Many have a cutting edge which is curved to lessen the effort required to remove it when chopping wood.
Chopping devices which are equipped with longer handles are classified as axes. They have larger heads with longer cutting edges and are better suited for splitting firewood and removing trees. Hand axes have medium length hickory or fiberglass limbs and work great for clearing thick brush or medium size limbs. The largest axes are designed specifically for the toughest tasks, such as chopping down trees and splitting mounds of firewood with the least amount of effort. Some of them have two cutting edges and are referred to as labrys or double-bitted axes. They are commonly used today in forestry and for hewing logs used in building log cabins.