I’ve heard it said that there is no knife quite as dangerous as a dull knife. The same can be said for axes. There’s no point having the best hatchet if it has a dull blade. If the blade is not sharp, you end up using it like a club, not an axe. It becomes hard to control both the axe and the wood being chopped, and loss of control is what leads to accidents. Let’s take a look at the tools we need to sharpen an axe as well as the proper technique to use.
Tools Needed to Sharpen an Axe
- A mounted vise: This is used to hold the axe head in place while you work
- A metal (bastard) file: Used to sharpen the axe
- A wire brush: Used to clean the file
- A sharpening stone: Used to get a finer edge than the file gives
- A leather strop: Used for the finest edge possible
- Sharpening oil or water: Used with a stone
- Sandpaper and steel wool: Used for initial cleaning of the axe
- Metal polishing paste
Steps to Sharpen an Axe
- Clean any dirt or rust from the head of the axe with steel wool or a rust eraser.
- Rub rough grit aluminum oxide or silicon carbide sandpaper firmly over the entire axe head in a single direction.
- Using a finer grit of sandpaper, rub the entire head again, going in the same direction.
- Put the metal polish on a rag and rub it over the whole head of the axe.
- Clamp the ax into the vice.
- Put on heavy safety gloves.
- Using the file, rub the edge of the blade, pushing toward the blade. The file should be as close to flat against the head of the axe as possible.
- As metal shavings clog the file, clean it with the wire brush.
- After filing one side of the axe, turn it over and file the other.
- Repeat, using the finer edge of the file.
- Each time, before using the axe, hone the edge with a whetstone–either an oil stone or a water stone. Apply a little of the proper liquid and then rub the edge of the blade with the stone, using a bit of a circular motion.
You can find videos on YouTube and other places on the web that illustrate this process. You will find some that suggest using an electric grinder. However, you will also find that most people do not recommend that amateurs use a grinder unless they are willing to replace the axe head. Put simply, the high speed of the grinder can overheat the axe head, causing it to weaken. It can also cause uneven sharpening. Unless you know what you are doing, using the technique described above, or one similar to it, is safer and more effective.