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If I am in a survival situation with a knife as my only cutting implement, and I need an axe to chop trees (because I know burning through them is not practical) how would I make one?

What attributes do I look for in wood, stone and binding? Using only a knife and items found in the wilderness how do I fashion an axe that chops trees for making fires or building structures.

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    there is a very good youtube channel where several primitive techniques are being displayed, including making a stone axe to chop wood: youtube.com/watch?v=BN-34JfUrHY – njzk2 Jan 22 '17 at 1:12
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    better question: how can I get firewood and build a shelter if I only have a knife? Making an axe does not seem the right plan to me at all. – Kate Gregory Jan 22 '17 at 15:21
  • @njzk2 I watched the video, it is the foundataion of great answer. You can use the video as a reference. – James Jenkins Jan 23 '17 at 14:01
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    A caveat: beware of soft stone, especially if used on hard wood. This last weekend I tried out some axe heads and chisels I made of a softer stone - I'm not sure what kind it was - and the stone barely cut into the wood at all before it broke. The ones that did not break apart completely did crumble away at the edge quickly until they were not usable - again after barely cutting into the wood at all. So my last set I made was useless for chopping/chiseling. Some of the smaller, sharper fragments I did successfully use as knives for making clean cuts on plants and cordage though. – Loduwijk Sep 25 '17 at 19:12
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There are two principal techniques for making stone tools, depending on the properties of the material you have available.

The first and probably best known is knapping. This is used with glassy rocks like flint and obsidian which can form sharp fracture surfaces when struck or pressed. This process takes a fair degree of skill as you need to understand how the stone will fracture and is a very different technique to conventional stone carving.

Flint tools can perform surprisingly well, in particular they can take an extremely sharp edge, in some cases sharper than can be achieved with steel. The downside is that the material is quite brittle and the edge dulls fairly quickly when used for chopping.

The second method is to shape stone by abrasion as in this example using a second stone as a grinding surface, possibly aided with a sand and water mixture. As an aside it is also interesting to note that a lot of early cast metal axes (ie copper and bronze) look very similar to this type of stone axe.

Having said that in a survival situation making a stone axe is likely to be a very low priority. Building shelter etc only requires thin poles which can usually be cut with even quite a small knife with relatively little effort and standing wood does not usually make good fuel, you are much better off collecting dead wood which should by dry enough to snap easily.

Equally the techniques required are somewhat specialist and labour intensive and so unless you have prior experience there is a good chance that making them will require more effort than is saved.

In terms of binding a common material is rawhide or processed sinew which is applied wet and shrinks as it dries, tightening the bindings. For obvious reasons fixing a stone head to a haft is a bit more tricky than a steel one and it is far from easy to achieve a connection strong enough to withstand the rigours of chopping and you also have to consider the potential danger if the head does come off during use. With all this in mind, in a survival situation just using the head as a hand axe is potentially more practical.

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As an alternative to making an actual axe head you could create a simple chisel, which you then hit with a piece of wood that serves as a hammer.

This can be used fairly efficiently to slowly cut through even larger trees and has the several benefits versus a proper axe:

  • A chisel is far quicker to make and thus more easily replaced.
  • You save yourself the headache of creating the binding between axehead and handle, which is quite tricky and will probably fail the first couple of times unless you know exactly what you're doing.
  • As with any stone tool you should not be putting it through the works like you would a modern day steel axe - while using a chisel you're less likely to strike with too much force thus breaking your axehead or handle.

Example:
On the channel, Primitive Technology, a guy shows how to use a chisel while creating a proper axe.

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In the book "Poland" Michner describes a technique for embedding a knapped stone axe into a growing tree, a maple if I recall. This is a slow technique, the tree has to grow enough to retain the stone. No binding, lashing, glueing, etc needed, just a lot of time. The end result is a long handled stone axe.

  • Interesting concept, can you expand you answer to include in relevant details on how to make this work? – James Jenkins Mar 27 '17 at 12:18

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