How to Sharpen an Axe Easily: Tips & Tricks
It is vital for your ax to be sharp to cut through your wood effectively. They do get dull with use, though, so how can you save the expense of having a professional to sharpen it for you? Do it yourself.
There are several different ways to sharpen an ax. We will guide you through some of them to get you started off on the right foot.
The very first thing that you will need to sharpen your ax is the correct safety gear. It is imperative that you always wear safety goggles and leather gloves when you are sharpening to protect yourself from metal shavings. If you are using a power grinder of some sort, you will want to use ear protection also.
Step 1: Clean the ax head
Clean as much rust and debris off of the head of your ax as possible with steel wool. This is always step number one no matter what method you use to sharpen your ax with. It will make the sharpening the blade much easier.
Using a File:
- Place your ax in a vise to secure it from moving.
- Mark the beveled part of the bit with a permanent marker so that you know how far back that you want to file.
- Get a 10-inch mill file.
- Place the file on the bit, making sure that you match the angle of the slope.
- Push the file off of the blade in one continuous motion until you have traveled the entire length of the file.
- Repeat this five to ten times on each side of the bit. Just make sure that you do the same number on each side.
Using a Whet Stone:
- Apply a lubricating oil onto the rough side of your whetstone.
- Place one edge (corner A) of the beveled edge of the ax bit against your stone, making sure that it matches the angle of the bevel.
- Press your blade onto the stone with moderate pressure.
- Keep count of the strokes that you make on each side so that you will sharpen both sides of the bit evenly.
- Make small circles while slowly moving your ax along until the far edge (corner B) of the bit reaches the far side of your stone.
- As you are making your circles a paste will form on your stone. Do not wipe this paste off.
- After you have made one complete pass on one side of the bit, flip the ax over and repeat the process on the other side. It is essential for you to use the same number of circles to ensure even thinning on each side.
- Flip your stone over and apply lubricating oil on the fine side.
- Repeat steps two through seven on this side of the stone.
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Using a Sharpening Puck:
- Secure the ax in between your legs with the head resting on your lap.
- Apply lubricating oil to the coarse side of the sharpening puck.
- Place the puck against one side of the bit, making sure to match the angle of the bevel.
- Count the number of strokes that you make on the first side, so you know how many to do on the other side.
- You will see a paste form as you are sharpening. Do not wipe this paste off.
- Starting at one edge of the ax, make small circles along the bit until you reach the other corner.
- Continue with your circles as you make your way back to where you started.
- Once you have finished that side of the bit, bring your puck to the other side and repeat steps three through seven.
- Again, make sure that you make the same number of circles on both sides of the bit for even wearing.
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Using a Bench Grinder:
- Turn your grinder on.
- Look at the angle of the beveled edge of the ax and position it to parallel to the grinder making sure to match the angle.
- Making sure that the grinder is spinning away from the blade, lightly press the bit against the grinding wheel.
- Metal gets brittle when it gets too hot, so dunk your ax head into water to cool it down frequently.
- Once you have finished with the first side of the bit, flip the ax over and repeat steps two through four.
- Use a wire brush to clean up the edge of your bit.
NOTE: Bench grinders remove a lot of material very quickly so make sure that you don’t hold your ax in one spot. Keeping constant motion is essential.
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Using a Dremel:
- Mark the beveled edge on your ax with a permanent marker to use as a guide.
- While holding the ax head securely with one hand, place the dremel parallel to the ax bit making sure that it matches the angle of the bevel.
- Slowly grind the edge of your blade by lightly pressing the dremel against the blade.
- Dunk the ax head into water to cool frequently so that your metal doesn’t become brittle.
- Flip the ax over and repeat steps two through four on the other side.
- Clean the edge of the bit off with a wire brush.
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Using a Rock:
- Find a rock with a flat surface.
- Pour some water onto a rock so that you can use it as a whetstone.
- You are going to make small circles while sharpening, keep count of how many circles that you make so that you can do an equal amount on the other side.
- Place the bottom corner of one side of the bit against the rock making sure to match the angle of the bevel.
- While slowly moving your ax, make small circular motions until the top corner of the bit is at the edge of your rock.
- Flip the ax over and repeat steps three through five, making sure that you perform an equal amount of circles.
So which method to choose?
Now that we have shown you how to perform each sharpening method, which is the best for you to use? That depends on your skill level and your location. If you are at home, the preferred method would probably be the file or whetstone. The bench grinder and dremel both do a good job, but they remove metal quickly. If you are not skilled at using these tools, go the safe route and choose the file or whetstone. You don’t want to ruin your ax. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you are going to be out in the woods, the puck is your probably your best bet. It is small and easy to take with you. Of course, if you forget and find yourself with a dull blade and nothing but wilderness around you to sharpen it with, go find yourself a rock.
Header image credit: Digital Photographic Files, U.S. National Archives