How to Sharpen an Axe – 5 Easy Step by Step Method

Did you know that there are a variety of axe sharpening methods that you could use? You aren’t limited to the good old whetstone! And while it’s an excellent tool for most people, there are other options that you could choose.

Below, let’s overview how to sharpen an axe with traditional and not so traditional methods!

Sharpen an axe with a rock

Let’s start with sharpening an axe with a rock.

Now, you typically won’t find yourself in a situation where you need to sharpen an axe with a rock found lying on the ground. If your activity needs an axe, then you should also have sharpening tools with you just for cases where your axe decides to go blunt.

Accidents happen, and you may lose your axe sharpener to a river, or you might just forget it at home. If such a thing occurs, don’t despair since mere rocks can work remarkably well. After all, originally, sharpening stones have been made exclusively from stones.

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What kind of rocks to look for will depend on the condition of your axe. At home, you would choose a bastard file for severe damage and smoother sharpeners for lighter damage and polishing, right? The same logic applies here.

Here are the kinds of rocks you may go for axe sharpening:

  • Large & smooth stones which you can grind the edge of the axe against. This option is relatively inconvenient.
  • Smaller stones which you can hold by hand. Look for coarser stones to treat severe damage and smoother stones if you want to do polishing. To sharpen an axe with a small rock, you need to move it against the surface of the axe, not the axe against the surface as it is with large stones.
  • Moderately hard sandstones which are not too crumbly. These work in the same way as small stones do.

Each of these options can work quite well at sharpening, though you will need to take into account the condition of your axe.

You need to do the sharpening just like at home – start with the coarsest stone you need and go smoother as the axe becomes sharper. You typically switch sides when you start to feel a burr on the other side of the axe. A burr is a slight overhang that curves away from the stone and the side of the bit that you are sharpening, which is why you can feel it on the other side. Keep the stone and the axe edge wet while sharpening.

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Sharpen an axe with a grinder

Using a grinder to sharpen your axe is perhaps the quickest way of restoring its sharpness. With that being said, this is not an ideal method, and it should be used carefully.

A grinder can quickly take away lots of material, and while this can be good when you need to remove a lot of damage, it can also mean a severely damaged axe. You need to take away as little material as necessary to make the axe sharp.

With that being said, here’s the process of sharpening an axe with a grinder:

  • Match the angles of the axe’s bevel and the grinding wheel.
  • Position the axe so that the wheel rotates away from the blade. In other words, the bit needs to face the direction of the wheel’s rotation. Otherwise, you will likely damage the wheel, the bit, or both.
  • Follow the angle of the edge as closely as you can to minimize the amount of material taken away.
  • Sharpen one edge of the bit until a burr occurs, switch the side, and do the same amount of passes. It’s usually recommended not to make several passes on one side since it’s easy to overdo the sharpening.
  • Clean up the axe edge with a wire brush.

Make sure to wear protective gear for your eyes and ears, as well as wear a long-sleeve shirt and pants to protect your skin.

An important thing to remember when sharpening an axe with a grinder is to frequently dunk the axe head into the water to cool it down. Keep a bucket of water nearby for this. Overheating could result in the axe’s bit losing its temper.

Not only that, it’s important to choose the right wheel grit for your axe condition. If you choose an overly fine grit, the axe will overheat quicker. But most importantly, it simply won’t do its job.

With that being said, we’d recommend that you use a grinder only for axe damage that requires a coarser wheel – for lighter work and polishing, a grinder may be overkill, though you could do the entire sharpening process on a grinder with different grit sizes.

Finally, be very careful with such a powerful tool as a grinder. It’s really easy to get a hollow grind, which will significantly weaken your axe’s blade.

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Sharpen an axe with a stone

Sharpening stones or whetstones are used on not too severely damaged axe heads. Usually, whetstones are used after an initial pass with a bastard file. However, if the bit isn’t chipped too much, you could begin with a whetstone.

Whetstones come in a variety of grits, among which notable are:

  • Up to 1,000-grit whetstones. These are coarse sharpening stones that can be used for sharpening moderately chipped edges.
  • 1,000-3,000-grit whetstones. These are used to sharpen dull edges after removing severe bit damage.
  • 4,000-8,000-grit whetstones. These stones are used to polish the blade to perfection.

A whetstone is perhaps the best tool for axe sharpening – you may not be able to find fine enough rocks, dremel heads, or grinder wheels to reach the same polish quality as with a sharpening stone.

The sharpening process with a whetstone is as follows:

  • You start with a coarser whetstone.
  • Coat the axe edge and the stone with honing oil or water, depending on the type of your whetstone. Reapply oil/water when necessary.
  • Applying even pressure on the axe, sharpen each side with circular motions. Switch sides when burr forms.
  • Once the burr turns into a less noticeable “feather edge burr”, switch to a finer-grit whetstone and repeat the process.

A rule of thumb is that a sharpened axe should be able to effortlessly cut paper.

When choosing a whetstone, you may opt for two-grit stones which have one coarser and another finer face. This allows keeping things more convenient by having two grits in one tool.

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Sharpen an axe with a dremel

A dremel is a more delicate alternative to a grinder. While it also can speed up the sharpening process, it’s a bit safer than a grinder.

With that being said, typical dremel heads are too weak for axe sharpening. People are usually using aluminum oxide grinding stones for this. Again, you need to pick an appropriate head grit for your axe condition.

The sharpening process with a dremel is nearly identical to that of a grinder with some minor differences:

  • Clamp your axe down if you can. This will help you keep the axe in a fixed position and allow you to worry only about the position of the dremel head.
  • Turn the dremel on and place the head flat against the axe bit’s edge.
  • Make circular motions to sharpen the bit. Once the current side seems sharpened enough, switch sides and do the same number of passes on the other edge.
  • Switch to a finer head grit if necessary.
  • Use a wire brush to clean the axe.

The safety precautions of grinder sharpening apply to a dremel as well – cool the axe down with water, do not use too fine grits, and wear protective equipment. A dremel won’t remove material as quickly, but it still requires carefulness.

Sharpen an axe with a file

Finally, we have axe sharpening with a file.

File sharpening is used for shaping the edge & profile of the axe blade. Usually, files are used when the blade is chipped and a considerable amount of material needs to be removed to bring the axe back to shape.

And while the overall sharpening process doesn’t differ two much from that in other methods, file sharpening requires more care than sharpening with lighter and finer tools. It’s very easy to remove too much material with a file.

The best choice of a file is the bastard file which is specifically made for sharpening blades.

Here’s the process of axe sharpening with a file:

  • Clamp the axe to make it more stable.
  • Match the bevel angle and draw the file across the axe edge. Make sure to keep the edge shape and follow the curve of the blade of the axe, unless it is severely deformed. Apply even pressure across the surface of the axe.
  • Again, once you create a burr, switch the axe sides.
  • Keep working on the edge until it is straight and free of chips, dents, or other signs of severe damage.
  • It’s okay if a small burr remains after file work. Finer whetstones will be able to remove it.
  • Note that you don’t need to use water at this step, unlike all previous methods.

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