Skip to Content

Axe vs Chainsaw: Settling the Age-Old Debate on Cutting Tools

Axe vs Chainsaw: Settling the Age-Old Debate on Cutting Tools

Share this post:

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Also, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

The debate between axes and chainsaws is one that has raged for many years. Many people believe that the axe is a more suitable and precise tool, while others are of the opinion that the chainsaw is a more powerful and accurate tool.

However, if you had to choose between the two, you might be confused. At first glance, both of these tools seem to serve the same purpose: they are both designed for cutting, right? However, if you start evaluating their uses, you will realize that the two are designed for very specific purposes.

Before we get started and compare the two, it’s important to closely look at the history of both of these devices.

History and Uses of the Axe

The axe is perhaps one of the first examples of a simple machine. It is designed to minimize human effort when performing simple tasks, and was originally created for woodcutting. The first axes were usually quite small and designed to be held with one hand.

In fact, they were known as hand axes because they didn’t have a handle either. The axes had knapped cutting edges usually made of flint or some other robust stone, and were designed for cutting small things. They could be used for shaving edges of the wood as well.

According to some earlier examples, the history of hand axes can be traced all the way back to 1.6 mya. In Southern Ethiopia, axes have been seen for thousands of years. They were developed at some point in the Pleistocene period.

In certain parts of Australia, the history of axes can be traced back to 44,000 years! Grind axes came later, having been introduced in the Neolithic period that dates all the way from 4000 BC to 2000 BC.

The hafted axes were first introduced in the Mesolithic period, which began around 6000 BC. There was a time when prehistoric axes were widely traded, and it is actually one of the main reasons why they became so popular.

Many traders and merchants would carry axes made of different materials. For instance, one of the most popular materials used for axes was copper. Sometimes, copper mixed with arsenic was also used.

These axes were also flat and had been hafted like the stone ones in the past.

The axes were used as weapons as well and there have been many wars in which axes were used. Throwing axes were commonly found in many parts of the world, and had a balanced head that allowed for an easier throw.

Archer’s axes or battle axes were popular, and the tomahawk is still a popular symbol. Used almost exclusively by the Native Americans, the Tomahawk is perhaps one of the most popularly featured axes in mainstream media.

Today, however, there are plenty of axes available in the market. They are obviously not designed for throwing or harming purposes, though!

The felling axe is designed for cutting complete grains of wood, and is strong enough to bring down an entire tree. They usually have a single or double bit depending on the size and shape.

The splitting axe, on the other hand, allows for an easier rotation and is used for splitting the wood. Broad axes are designed for splitting the wood at very precise points.

Hatchets are used by campers and travelers and are widely considered to be all-purpose tools. Then, you have the carpenter’s axe, which is a relatively small axe that is primarily used for joinery and woodworking purposes.

They are also used for log building.

History and Uses of the Chainsaw

Now that you know the history and uses of the axe, it’s time to focus on the chainsaw. The chainsaw is a fuel-powered machine and is designed to be quite portable.

It can either be operated with electricity or a battery. Electrical chainsaws are now quite popular because they can be charged easily and don’t need as much maintenance as their gasoline-powered counterparts.

The origin of the chainsaw is actually quite different when you think about it. Whereas axes were created to help humans cut down trees, the chainsaw was actually created by a couple of Scottish doctors.

John Aitken and James Jeffray created the first chainsaw that contained a serrated link chain affixed between two metallic handles. It was actually invented in the late 18th century, and was even shown in a medical journal.

This was perhaps the original chainsaw. Then, in 1830, Bernhard Heine, a German orthopedist came up with the chainsaw design that most people are familiar with.

His instrument was known as the osteotome, and consisted of links of chains that had tiny cutting teeth. The entire chain could be moved with the help of a guiding blade, that was affixed to a sprocket wheel.

The teeth would move when a person would turn the blade attached to the wheel. As the name clearly suggests, the sole purpose of this tool was to help the orthopedist cut through bone.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century when the first patent for a practical chainsaw was filed. Known as the “endless chainsaw,” it contained a repeating belt.

The patent was granted to Samuel J. Bens in San Francisco in 1905. His primary intent for registering the patent was to create a machine that could help him cut through giant redwood trees.

Then, in 1918, the first portable chainsaw was created by James Shand, who promptly patented his invention. In 1930, his rights lapsed, and the German company Festo began to develop the chainsaw even more in 1933.

With the passage of time, chainsaws completely replaced conventional saws that were used in forestry. They are now available in a host of different sizes, and they can easily be used for a number of reasons.

Obviously chainsaws are incredibly dangerous, so they should only be handled by a trained professional. The traditional chainsaw usually comes with a two-stroke engine that is powered with internal combustion.

Some are also made with electric motors inside, and they need to be connected to a power outlet to function. Obviously, the gasoline-powered chainsaws require appropriate adjustment and tuning from time to time.

The carburetor often needs to be adjusted and the air filters need to be cleaned as well. Battery-powered chainsaws are also used in homes, though they are not as powerful and cannot be adapted to industrial applications.

Most saws sold nowadays are dampened to prevent user fatigue.

As you can understand, saws are primarily used for cutting large things, and they are primarily designed for cutting through wood. They come with a range of safety features as well, which can prevent an average user from hurting themselves.

Axe Versus Chainsaw – Settling the Debate

When you think about physical exertion, axes and chainsaws both generally require the same amounts. This might confuse a few people, but it’s important to understand some basic things.

First of all, the vibration factor produced by the chainsaw, despite the dampening, is still quite a bit. More importantly, chainsaws are incredibly heavy. Some would easily say that the weight of a chainsaw is more than twice that of an axe.

The axe, on the other hand, has a cutting motion. It needs to be lifted and brought down with great force for the desired impact. Obviously, this requires a considerable amount of effort and it really antagonizes the user’s upper body.

Some think that because they are not moving the chainsaw up and down, they are not exerting as much force. While the effect is minimal, you should know that the misconception of chainsaws not requiring any effort is completely false.

Let’s talk about this.

Range of Operations

First of all, let’s talk about the range of operations. The axe requires two primary things to function properly: a sharpening stone and human strength.

With the passage of time, the blade is obviously going to get bad, so it’s important that you use a whetstone or any kind of sharpening stone.

On the other hand, the chainsaw requires four things to function properly: a sharpening file for continually improving the cutting chain, the bar oil, the mixed gasoline needed for the fuel, and of course, human strength.

Without any of these things, the chainsaw is not going to function. These are the requirements for the two-stroke chainsaw.


This one is a no-brainer. Axes can be sheathed and taken virtually anywhere that you want without any issue. They can also cut through virtually anything and you can handle them any way you like with minimal hassle.

Chainsaws, on the other hand, have a slightly limited range. If the chainsaw overheats, you won’t be able to handle it properly. You will have to hold it by the handle and then carry it out.

On top of that, you can’t even use a sling to carry it around you, or even put them in the case. The excessive heat generated by the chainsaw could permanently damage the case, the chainsaw, or both.


When it comes to maintenance, axes are a clear winner. The wooden handle just needs a bit of polish from time to time, and the axe head can be sharpened with ease.

As long as you care for the axe properly, you won’t have to worry about any problems. The handles are usually made from inexpensive wood and can be replaced.

The real value of the axe lies in the axe head. The handles can be replaced with ease, so that’s never a problem. Obviously, this brings the costs down by a considerable margin, you don’t have much to worry about.

However, the only issue with axes is that you need to have a proper handle. If the handle is not crafted accordingly with the shape of the axe head, the axe will not be able to work to its maximum efficiency.

The same cannot be said for the chainsaw. First of all, the cutting chain on the chainsaw does not need to be polished as frequently. But, you should know that chainsaws require a considerable amount of energy to use.

They need considerable time and energy on the part of the user to maintain them. For instance, the bars are going to wear out over time, and you will have to replace those.

The same goes for the chains. Cutting chains are expensive and need to be replaced from time to time. The tension slack on the chainsaw is likely to give way as well, and the teeth might break sometimes.

In most cases, the oilers are likely to clog. Depending on the make and model, the spare parts are going to cost you differently. Virtually everything on the chainsaw can be replaced, and it’s one of the reasons why companies sell spare parts.

Cutting Attention

A prolific axe user is able to identify just how big of an impact they are going to make with every hit using their axe on the tree. They even stop from time to time to check just how they are affecting the tree.

It might take a bit of time, but the attention on the cut is quite precise. Axe users are very careful about the kind of work that they do.

On the other hand, chainsaws are quite fast, but the attention to the cut is not as much as you would expect. It is one of the reasons why chainsaws are primarily used for bigger applications.

You wouldn’t want to use a chainsaw for making precise cuts. If your saw isn’t powerful enough, it could get stuck under the tree. On top of that, when you consider the weight of the chainsaw and the vibration factor, accuracy is often difficult.

This is a comprehensive comparison of axes and chainsaws, and how the two are different. While they may seem to be designed for the same purpose, there’s a considerable difference.


If you want more backyard tips including recipes, how-tos and more, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel

Share this post: