How To Sharpen Your Axe


Before using your axe there are two measures one should always take: Ensuring the head is tightly secured to the handle and your bit is sharp.

1. If the head is loose you can make a quick fix by heaving the butt of the handle into a block so the head is driven onto the shoulder of the handle. Further, by soaking the head and eye of the handle in a bucket (of linseed oil or water) the wood becomes fully saturated and swells. Driving an additional wedge in securely can provide the most reliable long lasting fix. If the head is still coming lose then it is time to re-haft.

2. Depending on how dull the bit has become sharpening is achieved in a sequence of steps:

Before you begin sharpening anything make sure you understand your axes bit profile and the type of grind it has. Every design has a specific purpose and using the right design for the task intended will make execution more efficient.

Bit Profile.jpg

1. For cutting hardwood or frozen wood

2. For cutting softwood

3. For carving. Angled at 25˚ - 30˚

4. Incorrect Grind. Will chip

Axe Profile.jpg

1. Curved edge : Stronger than straight edge. E.g. Felling Axe and Hatchet.

2. Straight edge : For carving. E.g. Carpenter’s Axe

3. Wrong grind and dangerous.

i. If there is significant damage on the bit then a strong abrasive surface such as an emery wheel or fine-toothed flat file. When using an emery wheel be sure not to overheat the steel otherwise you run the risk of losing the temper and the axe will no longer be able to hold it's edge. It's also important to maintain the original profile of the bit, and make the same amount of passes along the whole edge on both sides. If you don't regularly work with an emery wheel then a file will be a better choice. 

ii. After the first stage or if there was no major damage to begin with, normal wear and minor nicks can be remedied with a wet bench grinder of coarse handheld whetstone. In this stage minor nicks are taken out and the edge sharpness is redeveloped. When using a handheld whetstone pass it along the full length of the bit in circular motions making the same amount of passes on each side. Again alway following the original profile of the bit.

iii. To achieve a honed edge one needs to remove the burr that has built up on the tip. This is caused from the blade becoming so thin that the steel bends up to itself. Use the corse side of the whetstone with water (for clay and sandstone) or honing oil of (borundum of arkansas whetstones). Again using circular motions this time just along the edge to remove the burr; switching back and forth to both sides frequently. Wipe the whetstone of build up to achieve a better finish and avoid damage. Repeat with the finer side.

iv. By using a leather strop or even a belt any burr that remains with be honed down. Just run the cutting edge away from each pass.

Keep the blade profile in mind; remember the specific purpose of the design and how to go through all the steps with out altering anything.


Gransfors Bruk;Thomas Allen GrayUSDA Forestry Service