I’ve never found a hatchet very useful, but they are very common camping equipment. If hatchet carriers tried a short, full-sized axe, I am confident they’d dump the hatchet.
An axe, even a short handled one is used with two hands most of the time and packs much more impact when splitting firewood than a one-handed hatchet can deliver.
Axes come in different sizes and head-weights. An axe with a head of 2 to 2.5 pounds and a handle as long as the inside of your arm will probably fill all your chopping needs around camp. Mauls and wedges are good for the winter woodpile, but are over-kill for most camping situations.
Axes usually have straight-grained wooden handles, but if you can afford it, a steel handled axe, such as the American-made Estwing, removes any broken handle problems. They are also light enough to use one handed in appropriate situations.
When splitting or making kindling, the piece to be split should always be set up on a block about knee height. If you then split through the piece, the axe stops in the block beneath rather than hitting the ground, which can damage the edge or hit your leg or foot.
I am very hard on an axe handle where it enters the head because I often reach out further on the actual chopping swing than I originally estimate.
I now wrap a double layer of 3″ wide leather or Ensolite foam sleeping pad with duct tape around the handle at the head, which acts as a shock absorber and keeps the handle in better shape.
A loose head is a common problem and is often the result of the wooden handle drying out and shrinking. This can be remedied by placing the axe in a bucket of water overnight, which swells the handle. Sometimes the looseness is caused by the smallness of the wedges or the wedges falling out. Replace missing wedges (either wooden or metal) and soak the axe to make a tight fit.
Like all edged tools, axes work better and are safer to use when they are sharp. They can be sharpened with a grinder or even a belt sander, but the most convenient and available way to get the edge back is to use an axe file available at local hardware stores.
Just a few strokes on each side with a file will make it as good as it was or better than ever. But still, you’ll never be able to shave with your file-sharpened axe.
Axes stay in better shape and last longer if the head is occasionally oiled or greased to prevent rust and the axe is brought inside when not in use.