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FE: Sledgehammer vs. Flat-Axe (Throwback)

FE: Sledgehammer vs. Flat-Axe (Throwback)

I first wrote this post in 2008. I'm reaching back into some archives to re-share this information for those who missed it. Also, I'm not editing any of it. So it's a fun opportunity to see how (if) things have changed over the years, and how my thoughts or knowledge might have changed. So be sure to let me know in the comments - does this still fit? Or have things evolved?

In the truckman’s world the debate between the sledgehammer and the flathead-axe has become equivalent to the age old smoothbore/fog nozzle debate. Over the past few years, the sledgehammer seems to have gained popularity – buy why? Personally, I had a brief affair with the sledgehammer (admittedly, because it was the “in” thing) but after some experimentation and experiences, I’m back to the flathead-axe.


Hopefully it’ll spark some good discussion, but here are a few of my reasons to choose the axe over the sledge for your next forcible entry operation. 


1) The great “force” debate. When asking a firefighter why they choose the sledgehammer, the most likely response is that the sledgehammer delivers more force. Does it? Reaching deep into my high-school days, I seem to remember that Force = Mass X Velocity (Newton’s 2nd Law).

In truckman terms: how big a stick you swing and how fast.

Assuming that Mongo puts just as much effort into swinging an axe as he does a sledge, the variable then is the mass (weight) of the tool.

Now I will grant you that if you have a 10 or 12lbs (or greater) sledgehammer, it will deliver greater force. However, those heavier sledge’s are a BEAR to swing repeatedly – especially in tight spaces or on your knees. Yet it seems that most companies that run a sledge with the irons have a 6-8lbs sledge….

I would argue that an 8lbs axe will deliver just about as much force as equally weighted sledge, with the added benefits of increased versatility (discussed below).

Many departments still buy a 6lbs axe. The next time you buy axes, think about springing for the extra 2lbs.


2) Increased versatility. Sledges are great for “pounding”, but thats about all they have. I have found many times, particularly when forcing inward opening doors, that I run out of leverage. The door bends or breaks enough so that when I push on the bar, it is flat against the body of the door – but the door is not open. This is where the axe comes in….

When the bar is out of leverage, it’s time to re-position. But if I just pull my bar out, I lose the ground I’ve gained. With the flat-axe, I can instruct my partner to “wedge” – swing the blade of the axe into the gap we’ve created.

This will at least hold the progress we’ve made while taking the pressure of the Halligan bar and allowing me to re-position. Maybe I move closer to the lock, or if I can, flip the bar around and get the adz in the gap – effectively giving me at least 90 degrees more of leverage.


3) Lone-Firefighter Forcible Entry. Despite what the “safety squad” may say about this, understaffed companies are an unfortunate reality for most of the country and we still have a job to do.

When forcing an outward opening door alone, the axe blade can be used to get a gap between the door and the frame so that the Halligan bar may be placed. This function cannot be performed with a sledgehammer.

This was just a quick little rant about my preferences and why. There are surely more factors to consider, not the least of which being your department’s normal operations and a size-up of the forcible entry challenges in your particular box alarm district.

The main take home point I’d like to leave everyone with is: why do you carry whatever it is you carry? Do you know? Are there reasons? Are you sure those reasons are correct? Or do you do it just “because“?

For forcible entry, which STRIKING tool do you prefer?