How to Sharpen an Axe

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Using a blunt axe can be frustrating. More so, it can cause a job that should take you just a few minutes, to take hours — this is obviously not ideal.

Not many people know how to sharpen an axe properly. It can feel tedious, but you’ll make up any lost time in just a day of chopping with your new, razor-sharp axe.

Part One — File the Dull Axe

Protect Yourself

It is vital that you take the necessary steps to protect yourself from injury. You can do this by wearing gloves, safety goggles and a dust mask.

If you are planning on using power tools, a respirator is a good option.

Cleaning and Polishing the Head of the Axe

Clean off the rust on the axe using steel wool or a rust eraser. Then, sand it with silicon carbide sandpaper or coarse grit aluminum oxide.

Repeat this action with sandpaper that has a finer grit. Last, apply metal polish onto the axe using an old rag.

Clamp Your Axe Horizontally in a Vise

You should tilt your axe at a twenty or 30-degree angle — this is the angle of the bevel.

Use a Bastard File

The best option for most axes is a bastard mill file of 25-30cm. The length of the file is important as the shorter files don’t have the same teeth density as the longer ones. Shorter files are best used for hatchets rather than for axes.

Inspect the Axe Bevel

Convex edges are much better suited for frozen or hardwood. Axes made for carving have a triangular, straight point.

Decide on the shape of your axe before you start sharpening. It is also important that you watch the edge of your axe while you are sharpening, making sure that it is developing the way that you want it to.

In the majority of cases, you will want to keep the shape of the bevel the same.

File into the Blade

You should file using a smooth, steady motion and be sure to keep your feet firmly planted on the floor.

Turn the Axe Over and Repeat

The burr is the very thin, bent end that you will find on the tip of the axe’s edge.

When you feel the burr on the side that you aren’t sharpening, flip the axe over and file the second side of the tool. Be sure to continue honing until the burr goes back to the other side.

You could also try turning the axe over multiple times while you are filing, as this may lead to your tool having a smoother, even edge.

Measuring the Edge of Your Axe Using a Bevel Gauge

A bevel gauge is just two hinged arms that can be tightened with a nut. The important thing is that you can create an angle using the two arms, which can be used to measure the edge of an axe.

Set the bevel gauge to the angle that you want for your axe and put it over the axe edge. If the angle to which you have sharpened the edge is not correct, continue filing until you are satisfied.

How to Sharpen an Axe

Part Two — Sharpen the Axe

Sharpen the Axe’s Edge Using a Coarse Whetstone or Water Stone

Apply sewing machine or honing oil to the edge before rubbing the tip of a coarse whetstone on it. Be sure to rub the whetstone in small circular movements and flip the axe every time the burr changes sides.

If you continue doing this for a while, the burr will eventually disappear. You can monitor the burr’s movement by running your fingers over the edge of the axe.

An alternative to a whetstone is a water stone, which is made out of sandstone or clay. They hone the edge much faster, but they wear down a lot faster than the whetstones do.

Water stones need water to remove any metal particles, just as the whetstone requires oil.

Sharpen Using a Leather Strop or a Fine Whetstone

This step is not compulsory, but it can be done to remove the burr completely.

Repeat the same process for honing used in the previous step. You can also use a leather strap to strop away the burr.

Protecting the Blade from Rust

Start by wiping the blade of the axe using a machine oil, the lighter the better. You should then coat the metal in a combination of oil and beeswax. It is recommended that you perform this step when the blade of the axe is warm.

If you wish to protect your axe from permanently corroding, you can have it galvanized. When metal is galvanized, it is coated in a layer of liquid zinc. The zinc protects the metal and can prevent it from rusting for many years.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it — quick and simple ways to sharpen your axe with very little effort, energy, or money.