What is an American Felling Axe?
The development of the American Felling axe parallels that of the Hudson Bay axe and the designs are similar in the sense that they both evolved away from the European head designs that they originated with. The early European head designs were forged from a single piece of metal ‘wrapped’ into a round eye with no poll. This resulted in two less-than desirable features.
First, the lack of a poll meant that the head was bit-heavy and not well balanced. Swinging the axe hard resulted in wobbling with diminished accuracy. The second problem was the narrow head of the cutting edge widened abruptly into the round eye and prevented the ax from driving deep into a cut or getting wedged into notches.
As the American felling ax and the shorter Hudson Bay ax evolved the heads became narrower creating a tool that could plunge deep into a cut, and be easily removed. This narrow design created the oval shaped eye most commonly seen on modern axes. On some designs the cheeks were fluted which changed the cheek surface area to help prevent sticking in the cut.
The next substantial change was the addition of a poll on the back of the head. This greatly improved the balance of the axe, smoothed the swing and provided additional weight for driving cuts. The typical head weight was 2.5 – 3.5 pounds making an axe that was tough enough to topple trees but of a reasonable size to pack into the woods. Some felling axes were designed with a “double bit” head to provide two cutting profiles one for chopping and one for limb work or for work close to the ground where a more durable profile was necessary.
The handle length varied but ended up somewhere in the 28-36 inch range and access to the resilient and tough American Hickory wood provided a perfect complement to the new designs. The hickory was rigid and durable enough to work in the new slimmer eye that the narrow felling axe head demanded. The handles were also made with a curve for added grip and control when swinging which greatly improved handling.
If any axe can be considered a jack of all trades, it’s the American felling axe; built to drop trees but light enough for smaller jobs and reasonable to pack around. If you can only buy one axe, choosing a quality felling axe is a smart move. Here is some info to help you choose the best felling axe.
Council Velvicut American Felling Axe
This axe is from Council Tool’s premium line “Velvicut” and a fine example of an American style felling axe. Council prides themselves on being made in the USA and hand-finished.
The head is made from 5160 grade drop forged alloy steel. After forging and shaping they are heat treated and hardened to Rc 52-56 specifications. The final finish of the bit is done by hand by experienced forgers, sharpening and applying a final leather stropping.
Although smoothed and polished, the Council Velvicut American Felling Axe doesn’t insist on cleaning up all the forging marks and as a result, each axe head is unique, a look that Council says ‘adds character’.
The final result is a 4 pound head with a 4.5 inch cutting edge in a Dayton shape. It has a narrow profile that smoothly transitions in width towards the eye and the cheeks are slightly beveled at the top and bottom of the head, helping to minimize pinching when making deep cuts.
The handle as you would expect is American Hickory with straight grain oriented to the head. It has a mixture of heartwood (red) and sapwood (white) and is mounted in the eye in the traditional manner with a wood wedge secured with a metal pin. The profile is on the narrow side with a slight curve along its 35-3/8 inch length .
A leather sheath is included with this axe and features a buckle for fastening and an embossed logo. This is an an American made axe with excellent features, good balance, and great performance at a reasonable cost. The Velvicut American Felling Axe from Council is a quality axe that you can depend on and it will likely be the last felling axe you may need to buy.
An awesome felling axe video by the Adirondack Woodsman