Maul vs Axe – What’s the Difference, and Which One Should You Pick?

Gear Knives and Blades

Whether you’re going to build a campfire on a trip or you have a log fire at home, sometimes you have to prep firewood to keep you warm and cozy. Both a maul and an axe can help with that. 

The question is, which one should you use, and what’s the difference between them? We’ll answer those questions, so you can figure out which one will work best for you.

Maul vs Axe – the Main Differences

close-up of a hand holding a splitter axe maul and axe

There are some key differences between a maul and an axe:

  1. A maul is designed to split wood, whereas an axe is designed to cut wood
  2. The maul has a blunt edge, whereas an axe has a very sharp edge
  3. A maul is larger and heavier, whereas an axe is smaller and easier to hold
  4. The maul is less likely to get stuck in the wood, whereas an axe may get stuck from time to time
  5. A maul requires a bit more force to use, whereas an axe is easier to use
DesignSplit woodCut wood
EdgeBlunt edgeVery sharp edge
SizeLarger and heavierSmaller and easier to hold
Likelihood to get stuckLikely to get stuck in the woodMay get stuck from time to time
UsabilityRequires a bit more force to useEasier to use

What is a Maul Used For?

Axe splitting log into two pieces - Chopping in the early morning

A maul (or a ‘splitting maul’) is used for splitting wood. It’s a blunt, strong tool, and it can split wood in half by forcing the wood fibers apart and cracking it open.

You can use a splitting maul by placing a wood round on a solid surface. Gripping the maul with two hands, you have to raise your arms over your head and then swing them back down, striking the wood round. It may take a few attempts to split the wood completely, and it can take a bit of practice.

The good thing about using a maul is, that it is less likely to get stuck in the wood. It’s designed to split rounds and works very effectively.

The downside is that it takes more effort to use. It’s heavier, with a longer handle, so you’ll have to exert more energy to use it.

What to Look for in a Maul

There are a couple of key things to look for in a splitting maul:


Red cedar log and axe with oak in the background.

There are usually 2 types of handles to choose from composite handles (usually made from fiberglass) or wooden handles.

Composite handle

Composite handles are lightweight, and they have a decent grip. They dampen shock, causing less vibration on impact. The downside is that composite handles are very difficult to replace if they break, as they’re usually bonded to the head.

Wooden handle

However, wooden handles are great too. They’re much easier to replace than composite handles, and many people prefer the traditional look of a wooden handle.


Splitting maul and wedge

Mauls can be heavy, and this is mostly down to the head. The heavier the head, the more powerful the splitting maul will be. Heavier mauls will require more power to use, so you may get tired quickly if you go for the heaviest option.

Top 3 Splitting Maul Recommendations

If you think a maul is a right tool for you, here are a few recommendations:

  • Truper 32415 12-Pound Splitting Maul – this is a hefty little splitting maul with a lot of power, ideal for splitting thick rounds. For a maul, it has a relatively short handle, which means you’ll have to put a lot of effort into using it. However, the head is heavy, and it’s a powerful tool ideal for those with strong arms.
  • Spear & Jackson 3765LM Razorsharp Splitting Maul – this is a traditional wooden splitting maul with a long handle. It has a heavy head and a high-quality hickory handle.
  • Wilson B.A.S.H Splitting Maul has a non-slip grip, and it’s comfortable to hold. It’s designed to reduce vibration, and it has a strong, heavy head.

What is an Axe Used For?

Hatchet stuck into a splitting block surrounded by leaves

An axe is used for chopping, rather than splitting, wood. It’s a sharp tool designed to cut across wood fibers. The sharp bit cuts into the wood, and the blade slips in to create a deep cut. Finally, the eye of the axe head separates the wood.

To use it, place the round on one of the ends, on a solid surface. Grip the handle of the axe with 2 hands, raise it, then strike the end of the round. It may take several goes to split the wood completely, and care must be taken if the axe becomes wedged into the wood.

It has the benefit of being a little easier to use than a splitting maul. The edge is sharp but the handle is lighter, which means you can use an axe for longer without getting tired. An axe may be more accessible for people who have slightly weaker arms, too.

The downside is that the axe can get stuck in the wood. This is a problem, as it can be difficult to remove it again without a lot of effort. Plus, it may take several swings to split the wood, which will take longer.

Some people feel a small axe is a camping essential, as it can be used for other jobs too (more on this in the frequently asked question section).

What to Look for in an Axe

There are a few things to look for in a decent axe:


Carpenter's axe with a wooden handle in the hands of a working man, isolated on a white background

Much like a splitting maul, axes tend to be made from either synthetic materials, wood, or metal. Synthetic handles have some advantages. The shock absorption is good, reducing the impact of each strike on your body. They’re pretty durable too. However, they are difficult to replace if they break. For this reason, many people prefer to go for a wooden axe.


A blade of an axe on a brown wooden background

Look for a sharp steel blade. The blade may be powder coated to prevent rust from forming, which is great for improving longevity. A good axe blade should last for a long time, even if the handle gets worn or broken.

Top 3 Axe Recommendations

Here are a few recommendations for excellent quality axes:

  • Schrade SCAXE2L Survival Axe – this is a great axe for camping. It’s small enough not to take up too much room in your backpack but sharp enough to allow you to chop up firewood with ease. The handle has an excellent grip too.
  • – this is a strong, durable steel axe. The great thing about this axe is the shock absorption, reducing stress on your body each time you use it.
  • CRKT Woods Tomahawk Axe – if you prefer a wooden axe, this is the one to go for. It’s a lightweight camping axe, ideal for chopping firewood, and it’s easy to replace the handle if necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some commonly asked questions you may want to know the answers to:

How can I build a fire on a camping trip?

camping fire countryside

Building a campfire takes a bit of practice, but it gets easier once you’ve got the hang of it. It can help you to create a comfortable campsite and will allow you to toast marshmallows and stay warm while you stargaze at night.

The first thing to do is to pick a safe space for the fire. Your campsite may have a fire pit which makes things easier. Always check to see if campfires are allowed where you are. Clear away anything close to the fire pit/ring that may catch (dead branches, dry grasses, etc). The base of your fire pit should be gravel, sand, or soil, not grass.

Then, you can create a tinder bed. Tinder can be cardboard strips, wood chips, pine needles, dry leaves or grass, or store-bought fire starters. Next, add kindling (a layer of small twigs and branches). Then you can add your firewood in a teepee shape.

Then you can light the fire, and you’re done!

If you’re looking for more ideas on staying warm, check out our guide to the best heated portable chairs for the most luxuriously comfortable camping trip.

Is it worth buying a camping axe?

strong hands chop firewood with axe for bonfire

We think so – there are a lot of potential uses for camping axes. As well as chopping firewood, you can use a camping axe to hack ice (on a fishing trip, this is useful for keeping your catches cold), clean fish and game, trim branches, and even chop food (in an emergency).

Can I take a maul camping?

An axe on a wooden block

You can take a maul camping, but they tend to take up more room as they have a longer handle, which means they’re not as convenient to carry around as an axe.

How can I stay safe when using a maul vs axe?

Detail of two flying pieces of wood on log with sawdust. Man is chopping wood with vintage axe

There are a few basic safety tips you should always follow:

  • Watch your fingers, keeping them clear from what you’re doing
  • Choose a solid surface if you can. This can be tricky, but ideally you want a flat, stable surface
  • Make sure everyone is standing well away from you
  • Put your axe or maul away safely after use

To Sum Up Maul vs Axe

Decoration with axe splitting a wood billet

We hope this has helped you to figure out which one to go for. If you want something very efficient when it comes to splitting logs, you may want to go for a maul. Just remember, it takes a little more physical effort than using an axe.

If you’d rather go for a tool with multiple uses, something smaller and lighter, we’d recommend choosing an axe instead.