The Basics of Axe Safety

Simple safety rules for all users of axes at camp, in the woods or at home

Axes are great. I use them every week, and have been swinging them around for at least 20 years. They are versatile tools, and as important as a crafting item as an outdoor safety/survival tool. I couldn’t do my job without one.


They’re also (potentially) bloody dangerous, and one misplaced swing with an axe could leave you with a bit more room in your gloves for the rest of your life, or with an extra hole in your leg (and a lot less blood in your body than you would like).


Anybody who has attended one of our North Wales bushcraft courses knows that when the cutting tools come out for the first time we spend a bit of time refreshing those safety basics. For any of our ‘safety rules’ I try and create one simple message that is unchanged throughout the sessions, something that works for users of all experience levels.

In the video below I go through what that safety rule is, and discuss a few other techniques and considerations for using an axe safely, such as The Blood Circle and how changing your body position will greatly affect how ‘safe’ your cutting action is.

The Three Safe Places an axe can come to a stop

The key message for that video, and the baseline standard I try and use for anytime I pick up and use an axe, is that when you are swining an axe of any size, in any way, it can only come to a complete rest at the end of that swing in one of Three Safe Places:

In The Workpiece

axe safety tips

In The Cutting Surface

axe safety tutorial
(or in the ground)

In The Air

safe axe use

If your swing of the axe, and any mishap or problem that might occur during it, means that your axe blade could hit something else before coming to a complete stop in one of those Three Safe Places then you need to stop and reassess what you’re about to do.

A simple change in body position, in the way you are holding the workpiece or the axe, or just slightly changing the orientation of how the axe and the workpiece are interacting will normally fix most problems.

Don’t rely on leather boots to save you – an axe will happily cut right through them.

axe in boot
axe boot safety
axe in bag

Axes get put away after use

All cutting tools should have a designated place that you keep them when not actively in use, and should have a sheath/mask/cover to both protect the cutting edge of the blade, and to protect you FROM that cutting edge.

Respect the Blood Circle

You need to create a safe working area around you, with enough room for you to safely work and do what you need to do with that axe. You also need to communicate that to those around you, and they need to respect your working space.


Why is there an ad here?

We place ads on blog posts and articles that reach a wide audience, especially visitors from overseas who probably won’t get a chance to come along to one of our skills courses or trips. By running ads alongside the more popular articles and blog posts we can help cover the costs of running the website and the blog.

Some Safe Axe-use Techniques

splitting maul use
A wide-legged stance is good for longer handled tools, and a knee-dip helps with both power and safety
kneeling with axe
Moving to a kneeling position is safer for shorter tools, and can be nearly as effective
axe cutting techniques
Holding the workpiece and the axe together changes the orientation of things, but reduces the chance of missing the swing
axe safety tips
Use a long piece of wood (a 'Chicken Stick') to steady a wobbly workpiece before splitting
mallet with axe
Use another log as a mallet to help drive the axe blade into the workpiece without swinging the axe itself

This is the video where we make a mallet from a single piece of wood with green woodworker Doug Don.

standing axe use
When standing upright position your body off to one side of your arc of swing

It’s not rocket science

That rule should work for all axe users, in all use cases. There are many elaborate ways to use an axe for carving, shaping, splitting, snedding and felling. Different axe styles, different wood types and even different user sizes will dictate exactly which technique is best for that time and place, but all safe uses of an axe should mean that the axe only lands in one of those Three Safe Places:

1. The Workpiece
2. The Cutting Surface (or the ground)
3. The Air

Watching James Blunt get "Cold" in North Wales
Lost on Snowdon? Find a fence.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.