While I would probably recommend buying a chainsaw first over an axe if you are a property owner with some woods, an axe is a close second. Further I find I really enjoy using an axe and for some smaller tasks it can be quicker than getting out and starting a chainsaw plus an axe is lighter to carry into the woods. I sure wouldn’t want to cut my winters firewood with an axe and hand saw, but I still wouldn’t want to be without one (or more) on my little homestead. There are some good ones still being made, but there is also a lot of junk and of the several I’ve bought at places like Home Depot and Tractor Supply have been close to useless.
In my experience cutting the small branches off of a tree is where you run the greatest risk of the chain coming off your chainsaw. A good sharp axe can take those off of a green tree with one hit. further the back side of the axe can be used to drive in a felling wedge (not metal, I use plastic) and help you get your chainsaw un-stuck when something didn’t go according to plan. An axe always starts, is quite and doesn’t run out of gas until you do. Further if you do any kind of green woodworking an axe is one of the basic tools.
If you want to buy new Husqvarna has a line of axes in the $60 range that have received excellent reviews and I own 3 of them and have to agree. However I haven’t found any retail store that sells them, even Husqvarna dealers would only order one for me if I made them, so I just went to Amazon and the axe showed up on my doorstep. These are forged heads and they are a little rough in that the head of the axe is not ground smooth. Just the cutting area is ground so you can still see the hammer marks further back, however I do not consider this a negative. To start with I would recommend the Multipurpose Axe and while I normally don’t like multipurpose tools as they often don’t do any job well in this case I feel this is the right design. I wouldn’t want to fell too many trees with it but for something you are going to carry into the woods it is a great size, small enough to carry and just big enough to do the job. Be careful because it is very sharp and I cut my thumb good because I was used to duller junk axes. Gransfors Bruks is another excellent brand, but all of their stuff starts in the $100 range and goes up. There are others names I would consider like Cold Steel and Council Tool, but I just do not have any personal experience with them.
Another good option is to look at garage sales and flea markets, but this usually takes some patience to find something and you will frequently need to replace the handle. However these can be a great deal (sometimes only a few dollars) and gives you the chance also to learn how to replace the handle or “hang” the axe. Avoid anything that looks cast and I find in older tools the metal almost looks black. Unless you are an axe collector or know what you are buying I would be careful going over $10-$15 for an axe head or $25-$30 for one with a good handle. Further you might be able to make a little pocket-money buying axe heads and refurbishing them and reselling the known brands. Below are a couple of good YouTube videos from the US Forest Service. The first shows how to hang and sharpen an axe and the second on how to safely use one. A great bit of safety advice is 9 minutes into the second video and I taught it to my son. If you follow it you will never cut your foot or leg with your axe. Below that is a couple of links I found on where to get good quality hickory handles online. Beware once you start buying axes and discover how usfull a good axe is you might find the number going up every time you find a “great deal”. Of course my opinion is there is no such thing as too many axes.
Tennessee Hickory Products Lots of good information but it appears they only sell larger quantities
Hickory Handle Store From what I can tell this is the way to buy small quantities of Tennessee Hickory Products