How To: Sharpen an Axe

Axe sharpening tools on a table

Springtime is an ideal occasion for preparing your outdoor tools of trade. Get ready to clear out your garden or chop wood for summer campfires with a well-sharpened axe.

Axe and sharpening equipment
Cutting paper with axe
Man sharpening axe
Axe being sharpened

Sharpening Your Axe

1. Protect your hands and face. Wear thick leather gloves and safety goggles to protect against metal dust.

2. Clean and polish the head of the axe to remove any dirt, rust or debris. This is most easily accomplished with steel wool, a coarse-grit sandpaper, or rag.

3. Clamp the axe in a vice so that it is secure. If you like to alternate sides while filing, you may wish to clamp the axe vertically so that the point is facing the ceiling. Clamping the axe horizontally is often more secure, although this requires you to adjust the clamp for each side.

4. Take an aggressive bastard file and remove any nicks or burrs that exist while stroking in a downward motion into the blade at an approximately 20-degree angle to the point. Do not make contact with the blade on the return stroke as this will not sharpen the blade and may ruin the file.

5. Make several passes on each side of the edge. Alternate from side to side, removing metal evenly from the blade until all chips and dings are filed away. Alternating sides more frequently, may result in a sharper edge. Continue this motion until a slight burr forms opposite whatever side you are filing on.

6. Apply honing oil to the edge of the axe and then rub a coarse whetstone against the blade in a circular motion. Hone both sides alternately to move the burr from one side to the other until it is nearly gone. This burr is known as a “feather edge.”

7. To remove the feathered edge completely, repeat the honing process with a finer whetstone or leather strop. A perfectly honed edge will not reflect any light.

8. Finally, protect the blade from rust by wiping it with a light machine oil and then rub it with a mixture of wax and more oil. This will keep your axe performing flawlessly.

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