What is a Hammer Axe?

Alan Rankin

A hammer axe, also known as an axe hammer, is a tool that combines an axe blade and a hammerhead on a single handle. The axe and hammer are both at the top of the handle, with the axe blade on one end of the head and the hammer on the other. Users can thus switch from one tool to the other by simply reversing their grip on the handle. In ancient times, the hammer axe was used as a weapon. In modern times, there are versions available for construction, forestry, and mountaineering.

Specialized hammer axes are often used by mountain climbers.
Specialized hammer axes are often used by mountain climbers.

The axe and the hammer are two of the most basic human tools, and their use predates recorded history by thousands of years. In fact, the use of such specialized tools is considered one of the precursors of human civilization. The people of the late Stone Age and early Bronze Age discovered how to shape stone and later metal into tools and weapons. The hammer axe was a characteristic tool of many ancient cultures that had these forms of early technology. Its use continued through the centuries because of the various applications of the two tools in many different situations.

Mountain climbers often carry ice axes.
Mountain climbers often carry ice axes.

In ancient Rome, for example, the hammer axe was one of many weapons issued to Roman soldiers in their wars of conquest. Other ancient cultures used similar weapons, made of stone, bronze, or copper; the handle was often made of metal as well for greater durability. In battle, the axe was an effective weapon against an armored opponent, because the force of a blow was concentrated in the axe head rather than distributed along the length of a sword blade. A hammer axe was discovered among the weapons at the famed Sutton Hoo archaeological site in England, dating to roughly the 7th century AD. Other such weapons have been found without marks of usage, suggesting they were ceremonial items held by a king or other authority figure as symbols of leadership or war prowess.

In modern times, the hammer axe is most often used in carpentry, construction, and forestry. The head is usually made of tempered steel or other extremely durable metals, while the handle can be made of wood, metal, or even high-impact plastic. The most common versions to include hammerheads are smaller tools built for use with one hand, sometimes called hatchets or hand axes. Eye protection is recommended during use because of the risk of flying shards from the material being shaped or the axe head itself. Savvy outdoor adventurers can even use the device to start fires by creating sparks with the axe head.

The hammer axe is also an extremely useful tool for mountaineering. Most mountain climbers carry an ice axe for penetrating ice during an ascent. The hammer is used to place pitons or tent stakes in ice, rock, or frozen soil. Mountaineering supply companies manufacture specialized hammer axes for just these purposes.

Hatchets are small axes with handles about half the length of their larger counterparts.
Hatchets are small axes with handles about half the length of their larger counterparts.

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