The Guide to Axe Sharpening

The axe is an important tool to have while camping or backpacking, as it serves multiple beneficial purposes like cutting wood for bonfires, cutting raw meat, and even as a weapon against intruders.  If you still don’t have an axe then it might be a good idea to start looking for one now. Bob Robinson, a veteran gardener and part-time writer for the machine-review website Best of Machinery made a list of the best axes currently on the market. Yes, axes can be fancy too.  However, when the blade of the axe gets dull, its efficiency and usefulness in the outdoors will be affected, as it can no longer chop or cut objects with ease. With that in mind, axe owners should know when and how to sharpen axes in order for the tool to remain useful outside, and sharpening an ax is actually quite easy, as long as you are knowledgeable in the tools, items, and steps needed to sharpen its blade. To help you get your axe in perfect shape at any given time, here is a guide to axe sharpening.

Where to Buy
Homax 10120000 Steel Wool, 12 pad, Super Fine Grade #0000, Rhodes American, Final Finish
Scotch-Brite Stainless Steel Scrubbers, 3 Count
Corona FE405512BC0CD Mill Bastard Cut File Carded, 12-Inch
63211 Files & Chisels 12" Mill Bastard File
Sharp Pebble Premium Whetstone Knife Sharpening Stone 2 Side Grit 1000/6000 Waterstone- Whetstone Knife Sharpener- NonSlip Bamboo Base & Angle Guide
Knife Sharpening Stone Kit, Finew Professional Whetstone Sharpener Stone Set, Premium 4 Side Grit 400/1000 3000/8000 Water Stone, Non-slip Bamboo Base, Flatting Stone, Angle Guide and Leather Strop
Dremel 100-LG Lawn and Garden Rotary Tool Kit
Dremel 952 Aluminum Oxide Grinding Stone, 3/8" (9.5mm), Sharpening & Grinding Rotary Tool Accessory (1 Piece)


Before Sharpening Your Axe

Before you start the process of sharpening your axe, there are several key pointers that you should be able to remember in regards to safety. First, since you will be dealing with sharp objects, it is important that you wear safety gloves first before sharpening this axe, as this will help your hands stay protected against cuts. Secondly, since there will be pieces of the axe’s blade that will fly whenever it gets sharpened, you should also wear some protective goggles or glasses so that tiny metal pieces won’t get into your eye. Thirdly, if you are going to use some power tools to sharpen the axe, you can also wear some earplugs since these tools can get a bit noisy and may damage your eardrums.

Cleaning the Axe

In order for the axe to get properly sharpened, you must first be able to clean the surface of your axe’s blade and remove the grime, dirt, dust, rust, or any other particles that can stick there. You can easily remove these particles by buffing it using steel wool, like the Homax Super Fine Grade Steel Wool or the Scotch Brite Stainless Steel Scrubbers, and scrub away any dirt or rust in the surface of the blade. However, don’t scrub the surface too much as excessive scrubbing can lead to an uneven surface for the blade, thus making it even duller.

Methods of Sharpening the Axe


There are different methods that you can apply for sharpening your axe, and the efficiency of using these methods depends on how much you know how to use the items or tools needed for sharpening. Here are some of the easiest and most popular methods of sharpening the axe.

Using a File

The edge of the axe’s blade is arguably the most important part of the axe, as it allows the tool to have a cleaner cut against various objects. If the edge is quite dull, then you might need to file it down to a thinner width to make it a bit sharper. The best files to use for sharpening the blade edge of the axe are the bastard mill files that have 8 to 12 inches in size, such as the Corona Mill Bastard Cut File and the Allied Tools 63211 12” Mill Bastard File. Much like the steel wool, you can move the file left and right on the blade edge, although you would still need to follow the curve of the blade while filing.

Whenever you are filing the edge of the axe, you must also remember that the edge will have a slight overhang at the end called a “burr,” which appears as a tiny upward hook at the end of the blade. You can create the burr by filing near the end downwards first, then upwards once you get at the end. However, you need to also make sure that you don’t file the edge too much, as it may actually become smaller, and the burr will get bigger after constant filing.

You can check the sharpness of the blade by using your hands to feel the edge on one side, although you should apply minimal pressure, and if you feel a burr at the end, that’s when you know that the other side of the blade should be sharpened too. To have a properly sharpened edge, the burr on the axe should be as small or non-existent, and this can be achieved when the level of sharpness on both sides of the edge is equal.

Using a Whetstone

Utilizing a whetstone is similar to using a file, although the whetstone requires more precision in filing the axe’s blade. There are two types of whetstone that you will need to sharpen the blade and its edge, and these types are the 1000 to 3000 grit to sharpen dull edges and the 4000 to 8000 grit to refine the shape and sharpness of the blade. The whetstone products to buy are usually the ones with dual grits, like the Sharp Pebble Premium Whetstone 1000/6000 Grit, or even the products that have multiple grits, such as Finew Sharpening Stone Kit that has 400, 1000, 3000, and 8000 grits.

Since you will be using a whetstone, it is important to apply water to the axe’s blade first to have a better time sharpening it. The best way to sharpen the axe using whetstone is by soaking the axe in water first for ten minutes, and then you must place the 1000 to 3000 grit whetstone on the surface of the blade after taking the axe on top of a table. Afterward, you must move the whetstone on the surface in a circular motion and applying equal pressure on each side of the blade. Once you feel like each side is polished or sharp enough, move to the finer grit whetstone and start filing on the end of the blade, similar to you use the file.

After you have sharpened the axe, you must apply some beeswax or oil on the surface of the blade so that the moisture produced by the water and the whetstone would remain on the blade.

Using a Dremel Tool

The most efficient but the hardest method to sharpen an axe is by using power tools that you can purchase in grocery stores or the ones that you already have in your garage. The easiest tool to utilize for axe sharpening is arguably the Dremel Tool, which is a lawn and garden rotary tool kit. However, the appropriate head that should be installed on the tool is the Dremel 952 Aluminum Oxide Grinding Stone, which is specially made for sharpening blades in gardening tools and for removing rust in metal parts.

Using a Dremel tool with an Aluminum Oxide head is like a faster way of using whetstone on the surface of the blade, although because of its speed, it may be harder to control how sharp you want to axe’s blade to be. In addition, as previously stated, you must wear protective gear like gloves and goggles before using the Dremel tool so that the chunks or bits that fly off the blade won’t hurt your hands or eyes.

Filing the axe’s blade using a Dremel tool is similar to how you file the blade by utilizing a whetstone, as you would still need to apply pressure on the blade in a circular motion. However, the circular motion should be relatively faster so that you won’t file one part of the blade too much.

Using a Rock

If you are camping or backpacking and you didn’t bring any sharpening tools with you, you can still be able to sharpen your axe by using rocks that you can usually find on the ground outdoors. Using a rock for sharpening may not be as efficient as using a file or whetstone, but it still does the job, although the results aren’t really perfect. You can utilize coarser stone like granite to smoothen and polish the axe’s blade, and then you can use a smoother stone like quarts to applying finishing touches to the blade’s edge.

Sharpening the axe using rocks is just the same as sharpening it using a whetstone, as you would still have to apply circular motions of the surface of the blade while moving the rocks. Use the coarser stone first to produce better effects before utilizing the smoother stone. However, if there aren’t any smooth rocks in your vicinity, you can just use the more common coarser stone.

Those are just some of the most effective and most popular methods of sharpening your axe, but it is still up to your sharpening skills to create better results. You can practice your skills in sharpening using axes that you don’t use anymore, and then you can move on to actually utilizing your skills on the axe that you use outdoors or in the garden.