How to Sharpen an Axe Properly?

Axes have one basic job: chopping wood. They’re extremely durable tools, but only if you maintain them properly, and this includes sharpening them periodically. A dull axe is completely useless and dangerous, as it can glance off the wood or bounce back and cause an accident. In this post, will we will be discussing how to sharpen an axe properly!

Luckily, sharpening an axe is really easy and doesn’t require any fancy equipment.

  1. Clean and polish the head of the axe.
  2. Clamp the axe in a vice.
  3. File the axe.
  4. Sharpen the axe.
  5. Protect the blade from rust.

Read on for more detailed steps and different options to sharpen an axe yourself!

Axe Sharpening Preparation

You need to prepare both yourself and the axe before you start sharpening it.

Protection

As usual, safety gear is essential to protect yourself and avoid injuries. You should wear thick gloves to protect your hands from accidental cuts and safety goggles to protect your eyes from metal dust.

If you choose to sharpen your axe with one of the options that involve using a power tool, you should wear a dust mask or a respirator as well.

Materials

Some of the materials you’re going to need might vary depend on the sharpening tool you decide to use:

  • Safety gear (thick gloves, goggles, and a dust mask)
  • For cleaning:
    • Rust eraser or steel wool
  • For polishing:
    • Sandpaper (coarse-grit and fine-grit)
    • Metal-polishing paste
    • Felt pad or rag
  • For sharpening by hand:
    • Vice and clamp
    • Bastard file
    • File card or wire brush
    • Axe gauge
    • Oil or water whetstone
  • For sharpening with power tools:
    • Vice and clamp
    • Dremel tool with an aluminum oxide grinding stone head
    • Angle grinder
    • Bucket with cold water
  • For protecting the axe:
    • Machine oil
    • Beeswax

Cleaning your axe

It’s important to clean the head of the axe before sharpening it. You can simply use a rust eraser or steel wool to clean off any rust and a clean, dry cloth to remove any dust or dirt that might’ve accumulated on the blade.

Polishing is purely an aesthetic matter, but if you wish to do it, you should do it before sharpening since the process is quite simple:

  1. Sand the axe head with coarse-grit aluminum oxide or silicon carbide sandpaper. Remember to apply even pressure while moving from the poll to the blade.
  2. Repeat step 1 with a fine-grit sandpaper.
  3. If you’d like to achieve a perfect polish, you can sand again with extra-fine sandpaper. Another option is to apply metal polish, but we recommend that you wait until after sharpening to do this.
  4. When you’re finished, clean the blade with a felt pad or rag.

How to Sharpen your Axe by Hand

Axe

Sharpening by hand is a quick and easy method when your axe requires fine sharpening, that is, when the blade is undamaged. If the blade is chipped, however, it needs coarse sharpening to repair the damage. This is best done with power tools, and we’ll discuss it later on.

Before you start the sharpening process, it’s important that you place your axe on a flat surface and clamp it in a vice. If you’re out in the woods or if you simply don’t have a flat surface to work on, don’t worry, you can hold the axe upright as well and place it on the ground or on a tree stump. You can even hold it in your lap if that’s more comfortable for you. What matters is that you can keep it steady while working on it.

Keep in mind that clamping the axe horizontally makes for easier filing while holding it vertically can give it a more even edge.

Are you ready to start sharpening your axe now? Let’s get started!

How to sharpen an Axe with a File

When selecting a file for this job, try to go for a bastard mill file that’s between 10” and 12″ (25–30 cm). They are the best choice as they’re made for sharpening blades and have the right density of teeth.

Now, there are two ways of sharpening with a file: the push file and the draw file methods. The former is the most commonly used for sharpening axes, whereas the latter allows you to remove more metal on each stroke, and it’s better for axes that are really dull.

The process for the push file method is the following:

  1. Hold the handle of the file in the palm of your dominant hand and rest your thumb on top.
  2. Match the angle of the existing bevel and the angle of the file and with a firm grip, file steady strokes along the blade.
  3. You can switch to the other side once you feel what’s known as a “burr”—a slight overhang on the edge of the blade—on the side you are not sharpening. Make sure you make the same amount of strokes on both sides of the blade.
  4. If the blade is still not sharp enough, you can repeat the steps or move on to the next option.

The draw method of filing involves pulling towards yourself in a downward sweeping motion rather than pushing it away like in the push file method. Here’s what you should do to use the draw file method:

  1. Hold the handle of the file with your non-dominant hand and the tip of the file with your dominant one.
  2. Place the file on the poll of the axe and pull the end of the file down and towards yourself.
  3. Again, file steady strokes along the blade and switch to the other side when you feel the burr.
  4. If the blade is still not sharp enough, you can repeat the steps or move on to the next option.

Sharpening an Axe with a Whetstone

Whetstone

You’ve probably used a whetstone to sharpen a knife before. Well, the process to use one to sharpen a knife is not too different.

  1. Coat the edge of your axe with water.
  2. Position the stone against the edge and match the angle of the bevel.
  3. Rub the tip of the coarse side of the whetstone along the edge of the blade in a circular motion.
  4. Switch to the other side of the blade.
  5. Once you feel that the burr has become a feather edge, you can repeat the same process with the finer side of the whetstone to get rid of it.

How to sharpen an Axe with a Puck (or a Rock or River Stone)

If you’re out in the woods, you probably won’t have a file or a whetstone, but maybe you will have a sharpening puck since they’re quite portable and have two grits, fine and coarse. If that’s your case, great! You can follow a similar process to sharpening with a whetstone.

  1. If you happened to have brought honing oil with you, then apply some to the coarse side of the puck. If you don’t, it’s alright, you can skip this step. Your finish will just be a little rougher.
  2. Match the angle of the bevel angle and the angle of the puck and start sharpening. Use small circular motions along the whole edge and back.
  3. Switch to the other side and mirror the technique.
  4. You’ll need to repeat the process 3 to 5 times on each side.
  5. Switch to the fine-grit side of the puck and start again.

In the unfortunate case that you don’t have any sharpening supplies, and you have to make do with what nature offers, you can use a rock or river stone like you would a whetstone.

  1. Find a coarse stone that’s large and at least moderately hard.
  2. Wet the stone and edge of the blade.
  3. Move it alongside the blade and back using small circular motions.
  4. Find a smoother stone that doesn’t crumble too much and repeat the process.

As you can see, sharpening your axe by hand is really easy. So much so, in fact, that you can even use a rock to do it! However, if your axe is too dull or damaged, you might want to consider using a power tool to sharpen it.

How to Sharpen an Axe with Power Tools

We’ve mentioned before that chipped blades need coarse sharpening to repair the damage. Since you’ll have to remove a lot of material to repair the axe, it might be a good idea to consider using a power tool to work better and faster.

If wearing safety gear and clamping the axe in a vice are important when sharpening by hand, then they’re essential when working with power tools. If you’ve skipped it, please go back to the Axe Sharpening Preparation section and find out what equipment you’re going to need.

No matter which tool you decide to use, we recommend that you use a waterproof marker to create a guide on the edge of the bevel for the sharpening tool. As you remove material from the blade, the markings will disappear, and those that are still visible will show you the places with which the tool has not come in contact.

How to sharpen an Axe with a Dremel Tool

If you happen to have a dremel tool lying around in your workshops, you can use it to sharpen your axe very quickly. However, there are two important things to keep in mind:

  • Stop immediately if the metal becomes hot to the touch and either let it cool or dunk it in water before starting again. Overheating can make the edge of your axe edge more vulnerable to chipping and denting.

To prevent overheating the blade, start with a coarser-grit head and only use a finer grit for finishing. Keep a bucket with water nearby to dunk the head of the axe frequently to cool it off before it overheats.

  • You have to follow the proper procedure to avoid damaging your blade in the process:
  1. Select the right head for your dremel tool. You’ll typically need an aluminum oxide grinding stone head.
  2. Match the angle of the bevel with your dremel tool and place the head flat against the edge.
  3. Using light pressure and circular motions, guide the dremel along the edge and back to the other end.
  4. Using the same amount of strokes, repeat the steps on the other side of the blade.
  5. Take a wire brush and remove the burr.

Take your time and be careful, grinding too quickly will lead to overheating and the head will lose its temper.

How to sharpen an Axe with an Angle Grinder

Angle grinder sanding metal

An angle grinder can be similarly used to sharpen an axe:

  1. Place a wedge of wood under the blade to make following the bevel and grinding the correct angle easier. This is optional but very useful.
  2. Use long slow, long, and continuous strokes along the edge and back, being careful not to chip it.

Don’t make several passes on the same side before switching to the other side, as you can ruin the bevel due to the strength of the angle grinder.

  1. Dunk the head of the ax in water frequently to prevent overheating. If you don’t want to be removing the axe from the vise that often, soak a sponge in water and run it across the blade.
  2. Once the blade is cool to the touch, switch to the other side of the blade and repeat the process.

And that’s it. While it’s not really difficult to sharpen an axe with an angle grinder, you have to be very careful to avoid damaging the blade. On that matter, please note that you should wait at least 10 minutes before using the axe to give the blade enough time to fully cool off.

How to Protect your Axe After Sharpening It

Protecting your axe from rust after sharpening is an extra step to keep your tool in good shape. It doesn’t take much, simply coat the blade with light machine oil and then wipe a combination of beeswax and a bit more oil.

Conclusion

If you have a good quality axe, and you want it to last, you should keep it sharp. As you have seen, there are many ways in which you can sharpen it, and some of them don’t require any fancy or expensive equipment at all (I mean, you can even use a rock!).

Learning how to do it properly can be a fun DIY project, but if you’re a first-timer, then you should consider starting with methods that don’t require power tools as they require a bit more skill and there’s a greater risk of accidentally damaging your blade.

Whichever technique you choose, be mindful of the safety tips and the recommendations we’ve provided to achieve the best results!

Liam Weissman

Hello and welcome to PowerToolGenius! My name is Liam and for the last 9 years, I have worked extensively with various power tools and accessories. I have tested hundreds of different brands and models and understand the industry extensively and have been working with tools my entire life!

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