It’s critical to maintain the blades on many axes, from backpacking axes to bushcraft axes, including axes used for cutting firewood. Having a sharp blade on these simple tools makes them functional, dependable and you can use them without exerting too much effort.
There are countless ways how to sharpen a hatchet using oil stones, wet stones, files, and more.
When you’re out in the wilderness or the woods and don’t have access to your sharpening tools, DIY axe sharpening comes in useful.
In our guide, you can learn all the ways you can start sharpening your axe to get a clean edge. By the end, you’ll know much more, and be on your way to having a sharpened blade, no matter if you are at home with your splitting axe or away from home with your felling axe. (Find the Best Reciprocating Saw Blades)
What Is The Best Way To Sharpen An Axe?
If you are in the right area and have the time, follow these steps to go from a blunt edge to reviving your dull axe to having a sharp ax blade.
Protect your hands and face while sharpening a dull axe. Wear thick leather gloves and goggles to avoid metal dust.
1. Clean and Polish the Head
If your axe has any rust, use a rust eraser or steel wool to remove it.
Sand with aluminum oxide or silicon carbide sandpaper with coarse grit. Start from the poll (hammer end) toward the blade, and rub the axe head with even pressure.
Using finer grit sandpaper as you progress to get more of a shine. (Learn How To Remove Rust From Chrome)
2. Clamp in a Vise
For easy filing, clamp the axe horizontally or vertically, to offer an equal edge and access to alternate sides. When you clamp horizontally, tilt the axe, so the bevel’s angle is 20 -30 degrees, so you can keep the file parallel to the table and keep the correct angle instead of doing it by sight.
3. Pick Your File
Choose a bastard mill file of about 10–12″. One that is single cut, coarse, and tapers slightly is best to use on most axes. You’ll discover a shorter file doesn’t have the same density of teeth, although, if you are sharpening a hatchet, it is possible to use a short mill file.
Clean any clogged file teeth using a file card, or if you have purchased a new file, chalk the file to avoid clogs.
4. Inspect Your Bevel
Examine the angle of the axe’s bevel. Most axes should have a 20–30 degree convex edge.
When cutting hardwoods or frozen wood, you will benefit from a wider, more convex shape since the curve pushes wood out of the way to help preserve the edge.
Before you start sharpening, decide on the shape of your axe, and keep a close eye on the edge as it grows.
5. Hold Your File
File your axe properly with a steady stroke by holding the file handle in your dominant hand.
Hold it in your palm with your thumb on top, and then wrap your fingers of your other hand on the tip of the file.
Stand with one foot in front of the other, lean forward, and lead with your front hand to transfer effortlessly across the blade until you finish the stroke.
6. Start to File
File into the edge repeatedly, across a fan-shaped area using long, steady strokes. Change the strokes starting position and form the fan-shaped curve on the blade, such as starting close to the edge at the top of the axe head by around 2–3 inches in the center and curve back down to the edge toward the bottom of the axe head.
Don’t touch the axe blade with your file on the return stroke, as this does nothing for the sharpening and can ruin the blade or danger your file.
Should any metal particles accumulate on your file, use a file card or wire brush to remove them.
7. Change Sides
Once you feel a slight burr on the side you are not sharpening; it’s time to switch sides. Continue sharpening until your burr appears on the first side.
Switching sides frequently results in an even edge.
8. Use a Bevel Gauge
Using a bevel gauge, measure the edge. This is also known as a sliding bevel and comprises two hinged arms that can be tightened to any angle using a nut. This is a simple project that you can do using waste lumber.
Set your bevel gauge to the desired angle of roughly 25 degrees and slot it over the edge of your axe. If the angle isn’t right, file away more material where it’s needed.
9. Use a Whetstone
Using a coarse whetstone, sharpen the edge. Apply honing oil or sewing machine oil to the extreme edge, and then rub it in a circular motion using the tip of your coarse whetstone.
To shift the burr from one side to the other, sharpen both sides alternately until it has almost vanished. The “feather edge,” or a very thin, curved end, is the burr.
Clay or sandstone “water stones” hone faster but wear faster as they use water to wash particles away.
10. Remove Feather Edge
Use a fine whetstone or an optional leather strop to sharpen. Repeat honing using a finer whetstone to remove the feather edge. A correctly honed edge doesn’t reflect light, yet if there are only small nicks showing, these are not a significant issue.
To protect your blade from rust, you can wipe it using light machine oil when your steel is warm.
How Can I Sharpen My Axe At Home?
Safety is essential when sharpening an axe, and don’t use your hands to test the blade’s cutting edge on purpose or accidentally.
Wear gloves made of leather, but not too thick, or it could affect your stroke. Regardless of the sharpening process, keeping hands and eyes protected is a must.
Clean Your Head
Cleaning the axe head removes dirt and rust that hinders sharpening. Secure your axe in a vise and buff away surface rust using steel wool. (Read Cleaning Unfinished Wood With Vinegar)
Rust can be removed using abrasive treatments, and if you have time, you can use white vinegar or WD40. Remove the handle from the head when using white vinegar and submerge the head overnight.
With WD-40, spray the head and let it sit for put to an hour.
So long as it’s mostly gone, you can proceed to your chosen sharpening process.
How To Sharpen An Axe with a Whet Stone
What You Need:
- Axe sharpening stone (whetstone)
- A vise (optional)
- Oil or water for lubrication depending on stone type
- In a vice, secure your axe (if you have one)
- On the coarse side of your whetstone, apply honing oil for lubrication.
- Match the angle of the bevel to the edge of the head on the stone.
- Begin working the head in small circles with moderate pressure while counting the number of strokes used.
- Work your way around the axe’s edge from one side to the other.
- A small amount of paste will start to accumulate; do not wipe it away.
- Finish one complete pass by working the entire side and returning to your starting place.
- Switch to the other side of the blade and repeat the process with the same number of circles.
- After working with the coarse side of the axe blade, switch to the fine side of the stone and repeat the operation.
- Apply honing oil to the whetstone’s fine side.
- Place the edge of the head on the stone, matching the angle of the edge.
- Work in small circles again with moderate pressure while counting the number of strokes used.
- Start on one side of the axe edge and work your way around to the other.
- Work the entire edge back to your starting place for a complete pass.
- Using the same amount of strokes, work the other side of the head in the same way.
- For a nicely honed axe edge, repeat 2 to 3 times on each side.
The blade should now be razor-sharp after working on the fine side, and you can test this sharpness on your arm hair or run your fingernail against the blade.
If the edge cuts your hair or leaves a notch in your fingernail, it’s sharp and ready for service.
Should An Axe Be Razor Sharp?
Axes and hatchets must be razor-sharp to be effective. They’re used for complicated tasks like carving, limbing small branches, kindling fuel, and other camp chores, much like a bush knife. Axes and mauls for splitting don’t need to be as sharp.
Can I Sharpen An Axe With A Grinder?
If you think about sharpening your axe fast, you may wish to turn to belt sanders or bench grinders.
While sharpening your axe differs from doing it manually, you need to be aware of the caution you should take doing it this way.
Sharpening your axe with an angle grinder or bench grinder isn’t recommended as the heat from the grinder can damage the axe steel’s temper.
To avoid excess heat accumulation, use light pressure and occasional grinding when you sharpen axes. To help maintain your temper using such grinders, keep a tub of cold water close by so you can dunk the head of your axe into the water.
Besides this, if you are not wary, you can also leave a hollow grind on your blade.
What You Need
- Bench grinder
- Tub of cold water
- Protective gear for eyes and mouth
- Mill file
- Fine Grit Sharpening stones
Steps to Sharpen Axe with Bench-Grinder
- The bevel angle should match the angle of the grinding wheel at the starting point.
- Grind with light pressure so that the wheel slides away from the blade rather than onto it.
- Dunk your head in the water frequently to keep it cool and your temper under check.
- Dunk the head frequently while grinding the other side of the axe blade the same amount as the prior side.
- To eliminate the burr and give the axe a sharp edge, clean the edge with a wire brush.
- You can remove a lot of damage with a few minutes of grinding that would have required a lot of filing by hand.
- After a brief touch-up of the blade edge with a mill file and a few strokes on a sharpening stone, your ax head will be razor-sharp like new.
It could be better to use this method to sharpen splitting axes. Once you start using your chopping block, you don’t need to properly sharpen your ax using coarse and fine sharpening stones.
Sharpen Axe Using a Dremel Tool
What You Need
- Dremel tool
- Coarse and fine grit side sharpening stone
- Tub of water
- Protective gear for eyes, and a dust mask for mouth
Steps to sharpen your axe’s shape using a Dremel.
- This method is much the same process as above, yet you hold the tool and axe handle and move the grinder.
- Use a sharpie to cover the whole edge of your bevel and create a guide for sharpening the blade.
- Match the angle of your axe bit with your Dremel tool.
- Use light pressure, grind from one edge of the blade to the other.
- Dip the head into the water to cool off and preserve your temper.
- Grind the other side of the axe blade the same amount as the previous side, dunking the head frequently.
- Clean up the edge using a wire brush so you can remove the burr for a sharp edge.
- Using your Dremel tool is a great way to speed up the process. After a few minutes of getting to grips with your grinder, you can have an axe razor-sharp and ready for use.