Handle length vs. Head Weight

Discussion in 'Axe, Tomahawk, & Hatchet Forum' started by RossA, Dec 29, 2015.

  1. RossA


    May 28, 2004
    Is there a general rule as to how long a handle should be in relation to the weight of the head for an axe, hatchet or hawk? I have a couple of pieces that I want to re-haft and I'd like some guidelines. I have re-hafted a few hammers and a double bit axe, but I'm still a beginner. Thanks in advance.
  2. 300Six


    Aug 29, 2013
    Sites (Tennessee Hickory Products, House Handle etc), that sell replacement hafts, have a pretty good 'handle' on this. If you're young, fit, testosterone-blessed and know what you're doing you can go short of convention but otherwise this is not recommended. The other thing (critically important) is 'eye size'; whatever it is you have on hand will have a corresponding standard eye fit replacement (ie direct or nearly so) so as to avoid having to rasp away or having to use shims.
    Best bet for you is to try out, so as to find out, what you're comfortable with. Boy's axe handle on a 5 pound head is going to feel 'out of place/stupid' and a 36" handle on a Boy's head (2 lb) will generate similar sentiment.
  3. Operator1975


    Sep 24, 2010
    It is whatever feels right to you, nothing more. Your height, strength, stamina, and most important, comfortability will be more of a factor than true technical mathematical relationship between axe head and handle length. Case in point, I am 6'3" tall, which conventional thinking might say I need a 36 inch handle, however I much rather prefer a 30, 31 inch handle as I am more accurate with it on heads 3-5 lbs. But, that's just personal preference.
  4. BG_Farmer


    Mar 13, 2014
    Good advice so far. You'll be limited to standard lengths somewhat, but unless you are a strange physical specimen, you should find what you like. I'm 5'11" but generously proportioned with longish arms and short legs much like an ape :). I always liked 36" handles for full sized axes, but I got one with 34" handle and like it just as well if not better for general use. Likewise I can use a 28" boys axe fine for limbing and light bucking off the ground, though the 26" handle on my son's HB is bordering on too short for me two handed. I like hatchets to be on the longer side of convention, as even a couple extra inches makes them much more useful, seemingly.

    I'd advise you to try something more or less standard first, eg 32-34 on full sized axe. Don't forget to factor in straight vs. curved. I really like straight handles on bigger axes especially, but others like curved.

    Finally, a couple of inches either way isn't going to make a big difference on axes unless you are near the limits!
  5. Bo T

    Bo T

    Feb 12, 2011
    I saw a 3 1/2 pound head on a 14" hatchet at an auction. It felt really unbalanced to me but it worked for someone.
  6. Square_peg

    Square_peg Basic Member Basic Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    In general you will enjoy a light axe on a longer handle more than a heavy axe on a short handle.

    Here are some suggestions which will vary widely based on personal preference.

    Boy's axe - 24" to 30" handle. 28 is standard. I'm thinking of putting one on a 32" handle for wilderness trail projects where weight is important to me but a little longer haft would be nice both for added power and for use in underbucking with a crosscut saw.

    3 pound axe - 28" to 36" handle. 30" to 32" is standard. I traded away my last 3 pound axe on a 30" handle and I miss it bad. I want to find another and put it on a 32" handle.

    3-1/2 pound axe. 30" to 36" haft. For bucking work choose the one that fits your height and arm length best. 32" to 34" is good for a 6' man for chopping and bucking. For felling or splitting the increased power of a 36" haft is nice.

    4-6 pound axes - 30" to 36" haft. Some professional Timbersports men will use as short as 30" on a 5 pound or heavier axe. But they are using them for a special purpose and for short spurts. 4 pounds is about as heavy as you'll ever want for falling. 34"-36" hafts would be my choice for falling. 30"-34" would be good for bucking. 34"-36" would be good for splitting.

    Again, it's all very subjective.

    Side note: hawks and hatchets 1-1/4 to 2 pounds. 14" to 22" hafts. Carving tasks are better served with a shorter haft. You can generate more power with a 22" haft on your hawk but be careful, 20"-24" hafts are best suited for chopping into your own leg. They're too long to be hatchets and too short to be axes. Still, they can be super handy for bushcraft if you're careful.
  7. cooperhill


    Nov 14, 2011
    handle length is a personal preference but a heavier axe head on a shorter handle (thinking 26"-27") may feel unbalanced. A further consideration is what you are using the axe for. I do a lot of chopping (bucking) and find that 30-32" handle is optimum and that I always feel like I'm reaching with a 27"-28" handles. Anecdotally a larger number of the old handles I see and sometimes re-use are 30" or shorter (usually 28" or shorter). A 36" handle will usually be "safer" but can sometimes feel unwieldy if you're not used to it or if clearance is an issue (if out on the trail). If I'm bucking a large diameter tree - I usually like a 35" handle (as I've sometimes cracked a handle on the center part of the cut and you are cutting what is furthest away from you). Axe pictured is 35" long or so.

  8. gben


    Nov 26, 2014
    There is no rule. There are industry standards which most handles are sold at, you will see them when you go to the hardware store.

    I have old hewing axe heads which are very heavy and they are on very short handles because the log being worked on is usually up on supports. I picked up a heavy Jersey head this fall that has a very short handle, shorter than a boy axe, but it is old and used looking so it suited someone or some purpose. Likewise I have a very heavy cooper's axe which is on a very short handle.

    I don't think head weight has much to do with it, a heavy head will do the same work as a light head, you just swing the heavy head slower and the light one faster, same foot-pounds of energy.

    So think of what you are going to do with it and go from there. Experience will quickly let you know what you need and you can just buy more axes until you have one that is every shape and size.

    I am older now and certainly prefer different weights and lengths than I did 40 years ago when I was immortal and indestructible!
  9. 300Six


    Aug 29, 2013
    Hear hear! But I'll bet these choices don't differ all that much from 'convention'. For you, single handhold on a 4 lb'er is likely still as much a "no go" as is 3 foot swing on a 2 lb.
  10. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    Heavier heads add more power at the expense of (obviously) a higher tool weight and decreased control.

    Lighter heads are easier to control and less tiring per swing and when packed, but at the expense of decreased striking power.

    A long handle increases striking power and reach without a significant increase in total tool weight, but at the expense of being harder to pack, being less handy to choke up on, and requiring more clearance to swing them.

    Short handles increase control and ease of packing or choking up for carving/shaping tasks, but at the expense of striking power.

    Use the combination of length and head weight that best meets your contextual needs.
  11. RossA


    May 28, 2004
    Thanks for all the help, guys. I think I may be doing some experimenting until I find out what works best. I need the practice, anyway!
  12. 300Six


    Aug 29, 2013
    If you fit 2 or 3 different-length handles on the head and hold them in temporarily with protruding wedges (that can easily be pulled out) you should be able to experiment to your heart's content. Looking forward to how you made out with this and why you chose what you did.

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