Obviously, you have no intention of chopping wood with a dull axe. However, if you don’t keep your axe honed, this is exactly what could happen, and you won’t be able to get very far. The sharper your axe is, the better it will work and the easier it will be to complete your task.
How Sharp Should An Axe Be
Because a splitting axe isn’t intended for cutting, it doesn’t need to be razor-sharp. If you’re going to use an axe or a hatchet to hack something, you’ll need to understand how to keep it sharp. The use of a file and a whetstone to sharpen an axe is discussed in this article.
Before You Sharpen your Axe
There are a few things you should do to prepare before you start sharpening your axe. To begin, you should put on gloves. You don’t need to wear thick gloves that restrict your dexterity; a pair of light cotton gloves will suffice. You simply want something to protect your hands from nicks and cuts. Another approach is to wear a pair of light chainmail gloves while sharpening the blade to avoid any cuts.
If the axe has rust on it, you’ll need to clean it off before you can start sharpening it. Using steel wool, coarse-grit sandpaper, or a rust eraser, this is simple to accomplish. If you’re using sandpaper, simply drape it over both sides of the blade and rub it back and forth with even pressure. This will sharpen the blade, but if you want it to be shining, keep going over it with finer sandpapers until you achieve the desired sheen.
Maintain a solid grip on the axe. Placing it in a vice or placing it flat on a flat table is the easiest way to accomplish this (the vice will help keep both hands free, which will make the job easier). You’re now ready to start honing.
Choosing a Whetstone
Anyone who wishes to keep their blades sharp needs a whetstone, often known as a sharpening stone. Your axe can be sharpened using a whetstone to the point that you can shave with it (though this is not recommended). The many grades of whetstones available are listed below.
- Use coarse-grit whetstones up to and including 1000 grit for chips. These are used to keep the edges sharp and remove chipping.
- Whetstones with grits ranging from 1000 to 3000-grit can be used to sharpen dull edges.
- Whetstones with grits ranging from 4000 to 8000 can be used to complete the blade and refine the edge.
If you’re looking for a whetstone, go for one that’s double-sided, with 1000-grit on one side and 3000-grit or higher on the other, or 3000/8000 if you’re going to use it as a finishing stone.
Sharpening an Axe with a File and a Whetstone
The first step in sharpening an axe is to form the profile and edge of the blade with a file. Because shorter files don’t have as many teeth and don’t work as effectively, the file should be 10 to 12 inches long. The greatest type of file for this, according to some, is a bastard mill file, which has an easy-to-hold handle.
Follow the curve of the blade while shaping it, applying uniform pressure with each file stroke. The file can be held in two different ways. It’s small enough to be held in one hand and moved back and forth. You might alternatively draw the filehandle towards yourself with your non-dominant hand while holding the tip in your dominant hand. The draw method is what it’s called.
You may need to spend a lot of time shaping your axe, depending on how dull it is. Continue to work until you have a straight edge free of chips, dents, and other markings. To remove the burr, you’ll need to make a lot of passes on both sides of the blade edge. Don’t worry if you don’t get all of the burrs out; the next step, honing the blade with the whetstone, will take care of that.
Sharpening with a Whetstone
It’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty now that you’ve prepared the blade for sharpening. In one hand, hold the whetstone, and in the other, the axe. Depending on the sort of whetstone you’re using, you should coat the axe edge with water or honing oil.
Place the whetstone on the blade’s edge and rub it in circular motions against the edge, making careful to use even pressure and move from edge to edge. Turn the axe around and repeat the process on the other side of the blade once you’ve completed it on one side.
When the blade has reached the desired sharpness, use a finer whetstone (or, if yours has two sides, use the finer one) to remove the residual burr. You’re done when it’s converted into a “feather edge,” and your axe is ready to use.
Finishing It Off
There’s one more step, but it’s not required. Apply a protective coating to the blade to ensure that no moisture gets into it. You can use beeswax or oil for this. This step can even be done using Vaseline.
Video Tutorial On sharpening An Axe
How to Sharpen an Axe with a Rock or River Stone
It’s unlikely that you’ll have to sharpen an axe using a rock or river stone you find while out in the woods if you’re prepared. However, life has a way of surprising us, and even the most experienced woodsmen can find themselves in difficult circumstances. Your axe, or even your entire pack, could be lost in a roaring river, or it could fall down a steep ridge or down a cliff. After that, an abandoned hut or cabin in the woods with a rusted axe may be your only shelter and source of survival equipment. Who knows what will happen. In any case, a simple pebble or river stone can be used to sharpen an axe.
You can utilise the following types of stones:
- Large, somewhat smooth stones that you can set on the ground and grind the edge of the axe against while holding the axe in both hands.
- Smaller, coarser (granite) or smoother stones (quartz).
- Sandstones that are moderately hard.
When it comes to sharpening an axe, river stones are the greatest option. After all, what do you suppose a natural sharpening stone is? Start with the coarser stone, dampen the stone and the blade, and work in circular motions up and down the blade’s length. After you’ve finished using the coarse stone, switch to the smoother stone. Sharpening an axe with a decently firm sandstone (nothing too crumbly) can be just as effective as commercial products.
In the end, if you find yourself in the woods with a dull axe, don’t give up! If you know how to sharpen a blade, sharpening your axe with a rock or river stone is simple.
How to Sharpen an Axe with Power Tools
One approach to swiftly sharpen an axe is to use power equipment to sharpen it. Careless sharpening, on the other hand, might cause your axe to distort and become practically worthless. Here’s how you sharpen an axe utilising power equipment like dremels, belt sanders, and angle grinders if that’s what you have and want to use.
Many folks have dremel tools laying around their homes or workspaces. These are excellent tiny tools for swiftly sharpening an axe. You can also harm your axe with them, so here’s how to sharpen your axe properly with a Dremel.
You’ll need a Dremel head that’s suitable for the job — most people use aluminium oxide grinding stones. This is a wonderful one from the original Dremel maker, so you can be certain of the quality for a reasonable price. It’s available on Amazon and possibly at a lot of local stores.
Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, eyeglasses, and, if working in a confined space, a dust mask. Keep a pail or basin of water nearby to dip the axehead in to prevent it from overheating and losing its cool, which is a major danger when using power tools.
Turn on the Dremel and, following the bevel of the axe, place the head flat against the edge of the axehead. As you would with a sharpening stone, move the Dremel around the edge in circular motions. Stop immediately if the metal becomes too hot to touch (too hot to hold your finger on). Allow it to cool before dipping it in water. Otherwise, the metal may lose its temper. Your axe’s edge will be more vulnerable to chi as a result of this.
Here’s a hint: trying to sharpen a coarser grit with a finer grit frequently results in overheating. If you have a rusted axe, don’t start with the dremel’s 6000-grit sharpening head. This will quickly heat the metal to unsafe levels. Instead, start with a coarser grit and work your way up to a finer grit for final sharpening and finishing, just like a whetstone. This also applies to belt sanders.
Rep on the other side of the edge, and if necessary, switch to a finer-grit Dremel head. The most crucial thing is to use your Dremel tool to follow the edge’s bevel or angle. If you don’t, you risk completely changing the angle of that piece of the edge, which is extremely difficult to correct. Still, ruining an axe edge with a Dremel tool would take a lot of effort, so don’t be worried — just be careful.
Sharpening an axe with a belt sander is a strong instrument. If you’re sharpening your axe with one, wear safety clothing like gloves, glasses, and preferably a dust mask if you’re doing it indoors.
Once your belt sander is set up and running, take both hands and drag your axe head across the sander in a slightly curving motion, carefully following the edge and curve of the bit. Don’t press down too hard, but don’t be afraid to apply pressure — the goal is to apply pressure evenly, without hurrying but also without keeping the blade against the sander for an extended period of time. Smooth passes, which keep the axehead moving, are essential for achieving a sharp, even edge. To keep your axehead from losing its cool, keep a pail or bowl of water (or a spray bottle) nearby.
Remember to adjust the sandpaper to your axe’s condition! Coarser sandpaper is required for a rusted, dull axe. In terms of the axehead overheating, finer-grit sandpaper is also riskier. If you have a dull and rusted axehead, be careful not to use too fine a grit. For belt sanders, up to 1000 is usually fine; if you want a finer edge, I recommend switching to a finer sharpening stone once you’ve acquired a great edge from the belt sander!
The Best Way to Sharpen an Axe
I’m still convinced that the best method to sharpen an axe is to do it by hand, with simple tools like a file and a sharpening stone. There’s no chance of destroying your axe like there is with a power tool, and it doesn’t take much longer – re-sharpening it shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes if the axe is even moderately well-maintained.
Some axe users swear by power tools for honing their edges, and power tools will get you there faster if you want to adjust the profile of your axe, making the cheeks thinner and the blade angle smaller. If you know how to handle power tools, they’re fine. If you’ve never done it before, it can take sacrificing an axe or two to get the feel of it, so don’t use a belt sander or angle grinder on your new Gransfors Bruks or grandfather’s American felling axe!