the endless look at hewing hatchets

Even before the Joint Stool book came out, and certainly since then, the number one question I get is where can I get a hatchet for joinery? What do I need, etc.

If you can stand some more about hewing hatchets, here goes. Last time I discussed a few ideas about how to use both single-bevel and double-bevel hatchets for joiner’s work.


While it’s true you can make either work, the single-bevel hatchet is ideally suited for hewing stock prior to planing it.  Joseph Moxon’s  Mechanick Exercises (1683) wrote:

“its use is to Hew the Irregularities off such pieces of Stuff which maybe sooner Hewn than Sawn. When the Edge is downwards, and the Handle towards you, the right side of its Edge must be Ground to a Bevil…”

Here’s my everyday hewing hatchet.


Fuchs hatchet
Fuchs hatchet

I was a bit vague last time about its configuration, and Robin Wood chimed in, helping to clarify some stuff. The back of the hatchet I often have called the “flat back” but it ain’t that at all. So I shot some views illustrating how it’s shaped. Think of it as a very large, very shallow, in-cannel gouge. Here is a straightedge held along cutting edge on the “back” i.e. the side w no bevel:

straightedge on hatchet's "back"
straightedge on hatchet’s “back”

The benefit of this shape is readily apparent when you try to use one that is NOT shaped like this. Then the tool digs into the wood, and here it scoops the chips out. I next put the straightedge perpendicular to the cutting edge, to show relief in that direction as well. Some of this is the shape of the tool, some is exacerbated by honing:

the other way
the other way

I have another hatchet, same maker, JFR Fuchs, Cannstat, Germany, c. early 1930s. This one has a cranked eye, to keep your knuckles safe when hewing. This leans the handle away from the plane of action, without having to make a bent handle. I use this one particularly when hewing wide panels. Here the back of the hatchet is sitting flat on the board, and the handle is lifted off:

the "other" Fuchs hatchet
the “other” Fuchs hatchet

The shape of the back of the head is about the same as the previous.



BUT – you ain’t gonna find one of these hatchets in the wild. I doubt it anyway. Nobody gets rid of them. Mostly. When I recently discussed these tools with Drew Langsner, he said “probably the best hatchets ever made” or words to that effect. A strong & un-provable statement, but it gets the point across that these are mighty fine tools.

One type of hatchet you will find readily in the UK and US is the so-called Kent pattern hatchets. (A hairy-handed gent, who ran amok in Kent…)  This one weighs about 3 1/2 lbs, about the same as the Fuchs…

Kent hatchet
Kent hatchet

Similar shape:

Kent w straightedge
Kent w straightedge



Nice thing about these hatchets – you can find them. They aren’t expensive. They can work. and they are reversible for lefties. Knock the handle out, and put one in from the other end. Often the cutting edge is straight. I prefer a curve to the cutting edge. So do others, I didn’t do the alteration on this one.

Here’s an earlier post about some of the same tools:

17 thoughts on “the endless look at hewing hatchets

  1. Hi Peter,

    Very nice entry on hewing hatches. I have been meaning to ask, do you know John Neeman of Neemand Tools and if so what do you think? I have been corresponding with them and think they are going to replace the Barr tools that I use with students.



  2. So where can you get them the Fuchs hatchet?
    As for Neeman Tools, I have an axe from them and an Ice chisel, really well made tools. I’m sure you would ask them to reproduce one of these Fuchs hatchets with all the characteristics needed, and they would make it better!!
    And thank you, it is a lot of great infos!!

  3. Peter — That’s **really** good news. I’ve been grinding and lapping, grinding and lapping (to check flatness) an extra hatchet head. Thought I had a fair ways to go. But if it’s **allowed** to have a slight curve to it — maybe I’m actually done!!!


  4. Thanks for the photos Peter, laying a steel rule on is a great help to understand a tool and that’s exactly what I would have expected from watching them at work. And the one Alexander had forged is that flat?

  5. So my Winchester hewing hatchet does not have that curvature. Two questions. 1. How do I put one on the leading edge and along it’s length…and 2. How large is the curvature?

  6. Thanks, Peter. This is a great example of the subtle things that make one tool work sweetly while working with another is a struggle. Find a good tool, then really get to know it well through use.

  7. […] Here is a short video of my main hewing axe in action. It works beautifully due to the efficient distribution of steel in the head, and very very slight convexities on the back of the blade, which at first glance appears completely flat. Follansbee explains it better with a steel rule against the back of one of his axes: […]

  8. I realize that I am essentially necroposting, but I’d like to thank you for pointing out that the Kent pattern bit is reversible. I actually found this blog post because I was googling hewing hatchets to see if such a thing were possible!

    That means I can actually use this Plumb I found at a garage sale that’s hafted backwards (ahem…it’s lefty and I’m not).

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