“What is the difference between a broad axe and a battle axe?” At the Ozark Medieval Fortress the carpenters get most of the questions about axes and woodworking tools, but sometimes they are directed to me as a guide. The axe as a tool and a weapon goes way back in history. They have been found in Egyptian tombs and depicted in ancient carvings as weapons. The Medieval era saw major changes in the axe. With improved iron, the heads were stronger and capable of more work (tools) or destruction (weapons). Some axes for battle were made with very large heads. That’s the kind of battle axe that gets confused with a broad axe. It is also the kind of battle axe used for executions.
A broad axe is different. A broad axe’s cutting edge is shaped like a wide chisel. It is flat-faced on one side and the other is angled. It was developed during the Middle Ages in the forest country of Germany to be able to hew logs. That means chop the rounded edges off a log to square it to make a beam. In contrast, a battle axe or a chopping axe has the sharp part of the blade is the center of the cutting edge. A broad axe is unique also in that it is either right handed or left handed and often has a handle that curves to the side. A log can also be squared into a beam using a pit saw, such as the one at the Ozark Medieval Fortress, but broad axes are actually more efficient for hewing. Broad axes were used in America to square logs for cabins and railroad ties, but today they have been replaced with saw mills.
So if you are looking at a big headed axe and want to determine if it is a broad axe or a battle axe, get close and carefully look to see if the cutting edge is chisel-shaped or sharp in the center of the blade. Both pictures here are broad axes.