What is a Hatchet?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Hatchets are often described as a small ax that can be utilized with the use of one hand rather than two. Featuring a handle that is often half the length of the standard ax handle, the hatchet is a handy tool that can be used for a number of smaller jobs, such as cutting through thick shrubs or small limbs. Along with use in woodcutting, the hatchet has historically been used for other tasks around the home, as well as a weapon.

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.

Hatchets were often used in frontier settings as a tool that could be used for a number of chores around the home. A hatchet is ideal for splitting sections of kindling into smaller sections, as well as cutting through small sections of wood, such as a young tree. In a time when many people hunted and killed game for use at the dinner table, the hatchet was also a great tool to use in cutting through the bone or cartilage of a deer carcass. Even with domestic animals, the hatchet would be just the right size to use in severing the heads from chickens, or as part of the tools that would be used to butcher a hog.

Along with use around the home, a hatchet has also been used as a weapon. Because the tool can be wielded with one hand, it is possible to use the hatchet with the same dexterity of a knife. The hatchet is common part of camping gear, simply because it is compact, and it provides both uses that are utilitarian in nature and also provides an element of protection in the wild.

The hatchet has also achieved a certain amount of prominence in the genre of horror films as well. Over the years, many movies would use hatchets as the weapon of choice that murderers would use for violent means. To a degree, this trend helped to obscure the more common uses of the hatchet. The result is that many people think of the hatchet in terms of being a weapon of destruction, rather than a useful tool.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


Hatchets have definitely made their marks in horror flicks. But they are great tools for preparing kindling for fires and such. Overall, they are traditional tools, great for survival when needed, but have earned a bad rap. If anyone has ever read the classic young adult “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. It’s of a young boy who has survived a plane crash in a northern Canada forest, with only his hatchet left for him to use for survival—a gift from his mother before he departed on his trip. Obviously, the hatchet has more meaning than a simply survival tool, but I’ll not be a spoiler here.


I actually used to take a hatchet and throw it at a large tree for target practice. I'd seen someone do that in a movie and I thought I could learn to do it, too. I found out it wasn't as easy as it looked. I had to figure out how to throw the hatchet so that it would flip over a few times in the air before hitting the target blade-first. I spent more time retrieving bad throws than anything else.

I eventually got pretty good at hatchet throwing, but not good enough for competition. If there's ever a zombie invasion, I might be able to do some damage, though.


When I was a kid, I carried a hatchet with me every time I hiked into the woods behind my house. It was fun just to chop down a few saplings and drag them back to make a fort. I'd also help my dad split the firewood. He'd use a chainsaw to cut a tree trunk into manageable pieces, and I'd use a hatchet to split them into kindling. We'd use a splitting maul to make the bigger logs for the fireplace.

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