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Basic Information

An axe (or ax) is a chopping implement - some are intended as tools, others as weapons, but most can serve as either.

As a tool, the axe was incredibly important in changing the landscape of the world as it was the tool that enabled humans to fell trees effectively for the first time. Not only did this allow them to clear land for agriculture, but to obtain timber for construction - it's a key piece of kit for settlers and pioneers of all kinds and with that and a knife a skilled man is all set for the frontier.

In combat, the axe is relatively easy to use (although not as easy as it looks) and performs reasonably well against armour, given that it focuses quite a bit of mass and leverage on a fairly short cutting edge. It is also cheap (compared to a sword) and that, combined with its dual-use status has made it fairly popular historically. In cultures who have difficulty forging blades, the axe is often a top line weapon. Unusually for a slashing weapon it is reasonably effective against inanimate objects and should be the go-to choice for breaching doors etc. - a task which most RPGs make far too easy to perform with weapons that are, in reality, completely unfit for the task.

Against this, the axe is a very aggressive weapon - it is next to impossible to parry with and tends to commit the wielder to an attack, making it not much of a weapon for the faint hearted. It also tends to lack reach and, as a short bladed slashing weapon, can sometimes have difficulty achieving a definitive kill.

Various historical designs have created purely military axes, some of them throwable, with handles of various lengths, different designs of blades and an assortment of cutting heads. Some designs tread the boundary between axe, military pick and mace.

In general, a smaller axe, especially a one handed one may be termed a hatchet, some of which are further designed as thrown weapons.

Also worthy of note is the shepherd's axe of central and Eastern Europe (especially Hungary and Romania, but also found in Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Ukraine). This is, essentially a walking stick, usually metal shod, with a T-section handle, the ends of which are respectively a small axe head and a small hammer head. The combination provides a useful walking aid, a tool for cutting brush and building shelters and a reasonably effective weapon. Although rarely used except for ceremonial purposes in the modern era, this design may date back as far as the Scythians. Even those versions not made for display use (or as tourist bait) tend to be heavily decorated as it was traditional for shepherds to hand carve the shafts of their axes during their abundant idle time.

Military Axe Types:



Game and Story Use

  • First choice weapon for Ax Crazy murderers everywhere. See also An Ax To Grind.
  • Looking for a Masterwork Weapon in the Modern Day, and guns or swords just won't do? I just found this cool link to Best Made Axe Company, and it definitely looks like it would fit the bill.
  • The shepherd's axe gives the impression of being something that could be the focus of some obscure martial art - possibly the sort that has its drills included into a folk dance or something…
  • The axe remained a military issue weapon well into the C20, as provided to naval boarding parties and assault pioneers - in the modern era, axes are for tool use only (except in emergencies), but some units still carry them for ceremonial duties (generally in the hands of the farriers of cavalry regiments and infantry pioneers).
  • The fire-axe is a popular cinematic emergency weapon … although these don't seem to be as widespread as they used to be.
    • Firemen, of course, still use them - although these days the actual tool is usually an alarming looking multi function thing that miscegenates axe, crowbar, pick and hydrant key.
    • Speaking of firemen, a fire house in the UK was found, on modernisation in the 1980s, to be using Nelsonian era naval boarding axes, still inscribed with the name of the ship to which they had been issued, as their fire axes.
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