How To Sharpen An Axe – A Step By Step Guide

Post Updated: 26 Feb 2023

Every method for getting a razor sharp edge to your axe is right here – from simple mill file to angle grinder – and everything in between!

Keeping your axes, hatchets and mauls sharp is a pretty basic requirement for the user and should be done regularly to maintain the edges of your cutting or splitting tools.

A good quality axe can last a lifetime if properly cared for, and there’s no better way to ensure it stays with you to a ripe old age than by sharpening it yourself regularly to keep it in the optimum condition.

Besides the obvious dings and chips, an axe’s edge will dull slowly over time. This is imperceptible in the beginning but the more it dulls the more force you will need to exert in order to achieve the same result as a sharp axe.

This can be dangerous – a blunt blade causes you to over-compensate with your swing and your once impeccable form goes out the window as you bludgeon the wood to death with your axe-shaped sledgehammer!

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

How to sharpen an axe

There are many ways to sharpen an axe and I’ll cover each of these in this article, but the one I like best requires just a simple mill file and something to secure your axe while you work.

It’s a really useful skill to be able to sharpen your axe anywhere, not just at home or in the workshop. This technique will work for all types of axes, but feel free to adopt any of these methods – whatever works best for you.

The ability to keep your axe sharp while outdoors, on the trail or deep in the wilderness is invaluable and should be the first thing to learn after buying an axe or hatchet…

Straight to the point – How to sharpen an axe with a file

To sharpen an axe with a file, first secure the axe in vise or clamp. Step 2: Remove surface debris with steel wool. Step 3: Draw sharpie guide line along bevel. Step 4: Apply full-length strokes across bevelled edge with mill file. Step 5: To finish, finely hone the edge with puck for a razor sharp edge.

How to sharpen an axe [Infographic]

How to sharpen an axe infographic

There really is no better way to sharpen an axe than by hand with a simple mill or bastard file. There’s no fancy gadgets or heavy machinery required it’s just you and your axe… and a file… and maybe a bench vise, but the important thing is it’s simple, inexpensive and it’ll get your axe sharp!

Stuff you’ll need:

  • Bench vise or clamp
  • 10 inch mill file or bastard file

Method:

  1. First you’ll want to secure your axe in place using either a bench vise or by clamping the axe to the workbench making sure to place a small block of wood underneath the axe head. The head should be parallel to the ground with the cutting edge sticking out over the edge of the bench.
  2. Now your axe is secured in place, give the axe head a good clean to remove any debris or surface rust. Some steel wool and a touch of WD-40 will do the trick nicely. Dry it off with a rag to remove excess moisture.
  3. Next, take a sharpie and draw an even line along the bevel (This is the area where the cheeks of the axe head turn in to form the sharp edge). You’ll end up with a 4mm(ish) thick line you’ll use as a guide while you shape the blade.
    The sharpie line is a great tip to ensure you don’t get too extreme on a particular section of the blade or remove any metal past the bevel.
  4. Take a 10 inch mill file or bastard file and begin with full-length strokes paying particular attention to any nicks or dings along the length of the blade. It’s important to only apply push strokes – don’t file in a back and forth motion.
    The goal here is to take off as little metal as possible while creating a shiny, bright line across the length of the bevel as the fresh metal is exposed.
  5. Release the axe from the vise or clamp and repeat the steps on the other side.
  6. To finish up, grab a sharpening puck and begin honing the bevel with small circular movements across the whole width of the blade on both sides. This will hone your new blade to a razor sharp edge.

The angle you hold your sharpening tool should always match the angle of the bevel.

Video Tutorial – Axe sharpening with a file

How to sharpen an axe with a puck

These pocket-sized multi purpose sharpeners are ideal for use in the field. One side is coarse for shaping and the other is medium grit for sharpening and finishing.

You won’t get as fine an edge compared to a file but for a portable option it does a surprisingly good job. I keep one of these in my pack to touch up any nicks while out on the trail.

Stuff you’ll need:

Method:

  1. Find somewhere comfortable to sit and position the axe upside down in your lap with the blade facing away from you.
  2. Grip the axe head from underneath, with the handle of the axe resting nicely on your shoulder.
  3. Add a little honing oil to the rough side of the sharpening puck and begin honing the bevel with small circular movements across the whole width of the blade.
  4. Do your best to maintain the bevel angle as you continue honing until you’ve removed all the scratches and signs of wear. It’s a good idea to keep a count of the number of circles you make on one side so you can repeat it on the opposite side. This ensures there is no imbalance.
  5. Keep the blade facing away from you as you flip the axe so the handle is now pointing to the ground.
  6. Grip the axe head under the heel this time and repeat steps 3 & 4 until equal attention has been given to both sides of the blade.
  7. There should be a sharp edge to your axe now. If not, just spend a little more time following the same method until it’s sharp.
  8. To fine-tune your new edge, add a little honing oil to the smoother side of your sharpening puck and work each side of the blade the same as before. This is where you’ll create a really sharp edge so take your time and be consistent.
  9. Now go chop something and marvel at the beast you have created!

Video Tutorial – Axe sharpening with a puck

How to sharpen an axe with a whetstone

A whetstone is great for sharpening axes, you can get a really sharp edge on there if you prefer this option to a file or a puck. The main difference of course is that instead of bringing the sharpening tool to the axe, we’re bringing the axe to the sharpening tool. Set this baby down, add some water and get busy.

Stuff you’ll need:

Method:

  1. Place your whetstone rough side up on a solid surface and moisten the top with a splash of water. Alternatively, immerse the stone in water for 10 – 15 minutes. Always keep the stone wet during sharpening.
  2. Bring your axe blade flat to the stone with one hand choked up on the handle and the other on top of the steel.
  3. Tilt the axe so you match the angle of the bevel, add a little pressure and move the axe in a circular motion across the stone, making sure you make even contact. This is the action you need to repeat again and again.
  4. Keep this up while counting how many circles you make. Every 20 circles check the edge for progress – Once you have a shiny new bevel on this side we’ll do the other.
  5. Flip the axe over, add some more water to the stone and repeat the same process as before. Your blade should be pretty sharp by now. If it’s not, go over each side again.
  6. Now lets get it razor sharp. Flip the whetstone over to the fine grit side and add some water.
  7. This time we’re going to be pushing the blade along the whole length of the stone as you would if you were sharpening a knife. This gives more control as you hone the blade to a fine finish.
    You’ll find this much easier to do because of the finer grit.

    Perform 10 strokes on one side then the same on the other. Repeat a few times. It feels like there’s nothing happening but trust me there is.
    This hones the blade to a razor sharp edge by removing all the tiny scratches caused by the sharpening we’ve done so far.

Video Tutorial – Axe sharpening with a whetstone

How to sharpen an axe with a hand grinder/angle grinder

Can you sharpen an axe with a hand grinder? Of course… If you know what you’re doing. A hand grinder will naturally produce a LOT of heat due to friction. That thing is spinning round at something like 10,000 rpm so it’s gonna transfer all that heat to your axe.

This is known in certain circles as something called ‘Physics’ but we won’t get into that here. The other problem with a hand grinder is how to to achieve a uniform edge. Because it’s a hand held power tool, it’s very difficult to maintain an equal grind across the whole width of the blade.

My advice would be to save this option for a rusty old axe that has been left to die outside in the cold because it couldn’t cut butter! But if you’re careful you can shape up that dull blade quite nicely.

Stuff you’ll need:

  • Hand grinder
  • Bench vise
  • Gloves
  • Goggles
  • Face mask
  • Coolant (spray bottle filled with cold water)

Method:

  1. Secure the axe in the vise so the edge is horizontal, facing towards you.
  2. Safety-up with gloves and goggles, and grab your grinder.
  3. What you’re aiming for here is the lightest of touches across the bevel of the blade. Go from one end of the blade to the other in a smooth, light stroke – do not add any more pressure that the weight of the grinder.
  4. After 5 strokes, keep spraying water on there until it stops hissing. You have to keep the axe head cool to prevent it from ruining the temper of the blade. It should be ok if you do this after every 5 strokes.
  5. Flip the axe over to work on the other side.
  6. Repeat the process until you have a nice even exposure of new steel. The blade should have an edge to it now.
  7. To finish up, grab a mill file or puck and follow the steps in the relevant section in this article to hone the new blade to a razor sharp edge.

Video Tutorial – Axe sharpening with a grinder

How to sharpen an axe with a belt sander

The belt sander will make short work of axe steel due to the speed of the belt. Much like a hand grinder, you need to make sure the axe blade is kept cool throughout the sharpening process.

You can easily burn the edge and ruin the temper of the steel with power tools so be aware of this. Use a belt sander for the initial burring then switch to a mill file or stone to finely hone the edge.

The method below assumes we’re talking about a bench-mounted belt sander, but a hand held one follows much the same process with obvious differences.

Stuff you’ll need:

  • Belt Sander
  • Gloves
  • Goggles
  • Face mask
  • Coolant (spray bottle filled with cold water)

Method:

  1. Put on gloves and goggles, and grab your axe.
  2. Bring your axe blade flat to the belt with one hand choked up on the handle and the other on top of the steel.
  3. Matching the bevel angle, make one pass of the belt across the whole width of the blade. Go from one end of the edge to the other in an even stroke.
  4. Repeat this action 5 to 6 times and inspect the edge. You should see a shiny line of newly exposed steel. Spray some water on there to keep the blade cool.
  5. Flip the axe over and do the same on the other side.
  6. There should be a sharp edge to your axe now. If not, just spend a little more time following the same method until it’s sharp.
  7. To finish up, grab a mill file or puck and follow the steps in the relevant section in this article to hone the new blade to a razor sharp edge.

Video Tutorial – Axe sharpening with a belt sander

How to sharpen an axe with a Dremel

Dremel’s are like belly buttons… everybody’s got one. So why not put that thing to work by getting hold of their axe sharpening kit and putting a nice sharp edge on your axe.

The Dremel is a much less aggressive tool than a hand grinder so you don’t have to worry about ruining the temper of your axe head – but you can still make a mess of the blade if you’re not careful.

Follow the instructions below to get a pretty nice edge to your axe blade.


Stuff you’ll need:

Method:

  1. Safety first – Goggles on.
  2. Secure the axe in the vise so the edge is horizontal, facing towards you. You could also do this by simply holding the axe as the Dremel is easy enough to handle.
  3. With your axe sharpening bit fitted to the Dremel, set the speed between medium to high and follow the bevel angle from one end of the blade to the other in one smooth stroke.
  4. Continue this repeatedly, making sure you don’t use too much pressure. Light, gentle strokes is the way to go. You can make a mess of the blade if you are too vigorous so take your time.
  5. Once you expose the clean steel underneath you should start to get a good shaping on that side. If you’re just fine tuning your axe this may only take 20 repetitions but if your axe is shot to hell you may need a lot more.
    Use your best judgement at this stage but as they say – less is more. You can always go back and repeat.
  6. Flip the axe over to do the same on the other side.
  7. Inspect your handiwork and check that all the scratches, dings and signs of wear have been corrected. If not, simply repeat the process.
  8. To finish up, grab a mill file or puck and follow the steps in the relevant section in this article to hone the new blade to a razor sharp edge.

Video Tutorial – Axe sharpening with a Dremel

Should an axe be razor sharp?

There are many different types of axes, and generally they should be as sharp as possible. A chopping axe for example is meant for chopping into the fibres of a tree or log for felling or chopping up wood – so the sharper the better.

An axe used for splitting logs for the fire still needs to be sharp but these are meant for splitting along the grain of the wood so it’s a different tool for a different job.

Axes and hatchets should be razor sharp. Splitting axes and mauls – not so much.

Can you sharpen an axe with a knife sharpener?

A knife sharpener is far too delicate a tool for sharpening an axe. Most knives are thin stainless steel that only need a quick run through a sharpener to bring the edge back to a keen edge.

That said, a whetstone designed for sharpening knives is actually very effective in honing a dull axe blade but I would always begin with a mill file or bastard file to shape the blade first.

Fiskars actually manufacture an axe sharpener for their X Series axes that is basically the same design as a knife sharpener. You just run the axe through a few times to keep it sweet after each use.

Generally, to sharpen an axe a mill file is the easiest way to get a really good edge to your axe. Just follow my method in this article.

How to sharpen an axe without tools

If you find yourself out on the trail without your axe file or puck, how do you sharpen your axe? The obvious thing is to find a nice smooth abrasive rock, but perhaps these aren’t readily available where you are.

A quick tip: A ceramic surface is known to be effective for sharpening. Do you have a coffee cup in your pack? Turn it over and usually you’ll find a rough ceramic ring underneath. This is excellent for sharpening blades!

If you’re at home and find yourself without any tools, find a concrete surface and use that. Just follow the same method as you would with a whetstone.

How to sharpen a brand new axe

A brand new axe can be quite dull out of the box. The blade often requires some attention before we can put that new axe to work. I’d recommend you give the edge a going over with a mill file by following my axe sharpening method above.

Secure your new axe in a vise and use your file to hone the bevel angle with long steady forward strokes. It shouldn’t take much to expose some shiny new steel as you work the file against the edge.

Do this on both sides and finish off with small circular movements with a sharpening puck to get a razor sharp edge on your new axe.

How can I sharpen my axe at home?

There are SO many options for sharpening an axe at home. File, stone, grinder, sander, Dremel… You’ll have something around the house to sharpen an axe I guarantee it.

  • An 10 inch file is a pretty rudimentary piece of kit and will no doubt be somewhere in that toolbox. Dig it out and dust it off.
  • A whetstone or oil stone is perfect for honing your axe blade.
  • If you have a bench grinder or angle grinder, take a look at my method for sharpening an axe with a grinder in this article. Just take care – power tools produce a LOT of heat that can ruin the temper of your axe blade.
  • Got a belt sander? This is great for sharpening axes. Though it’ll need some finishing with a file or stone to get a really nice sharp edge.
  • Everyone’s got a Dremel! With the right axe sharpening kit your blade will be ready to go in no time.
  • Ok, so you don’t have any tools? Find a concrete surface and use this as you would use a whetstone. Pour some water on the concrete and follow my whetstone axe sharpening method above. You’ll be surprised how good an edge you can get with a concrete surface.

How much does it cost to sharpen an axe?

In the US, it’s costs around $7 – $9 to sharpen an axe blade. Depending on who you use for this service, they will most likely be running your precious axe blade over a high speed grinding wheel for a few minutes. This is ok, but not the best way to maintain the blade.

If I was handing my axe over to someone else to sharpen, I would want some grizzled old-timer with a penchant for profanity and a deep hatred of machines! There is no substitute for a good old mill file to get a razor sharp edge on your axe.

Can you sharpen an axe with sandpaper?

Sandpaper alone will not produce a sharp edge to your axe. As part of the preparation for shaping your blade, sandpaper is great to remove all the scuzz and corrosion that has built up over time.

But to achieve a nicely-honed edge to your axe you need a bastard file or Lansky Puck to really bring your axe back to its full potential.

What is the best axe sharpener?

There is nothing better than a good old mill or bastard file to get a razor sharp edge to your axe. There are many other options for sharpening an axe such as grinders, belt sanders, whetstones, pucks, but the simple tried and tested file method is by far the most important.

It not only teaches you the basic premise of axe maintenance but it enables you to keep your axe sharp in any setting – at home, outdoors, in the forest, on the trail, at the campsite… You can’t pack a belt sander in your backpack!

How do you get an axe razor sharp?

To get a razor sharp edge on your axe you need 2 things:

  1. A shaping tool to burr the edge of the axe in preparation for honing. This will typically be a course file or sharpening stone. The goal here is to expose some new steel along the existing bevel angle of the axe blade.
  2. A honing device such as a fine grit file or puck. These are used to smooth out all the burring that was done previously with the shaping tool. Small circular movements across the newly exposed bevel edge will hone the blade to create a razor sharp edge.

How to sharpen a damaged axe

Axes will get chipped, nicked, battered and bruised. The life of an axe is a hard one – chopping and felling trees, splitting logs, carving wood, hunting, butchery – you name it. That’s what makes an axe such a versatile and essential tool.

Regular maintenance of your axe is necessary, but sometimes you’re gonna really mess the blade up. I spent one afternoon splitting logs for my fire at my usual spot at the back of the house.

The wood I was splitting was reclaimed from a neighbor and had screws and nails all over the place. My axe met with one of these nails and left a massive ding right in the middle of the blade.

It was so bad I had to completely re-edge the thing. I always advocate hand tools over power tools but in this situation I needed electricity.

I re-shaped the edge with my bench-mounted belt sander to burr off the excess steel and re-built the blade maintaining the same bevel angle as before. With a bit of filing and some fine grit puck action I was good to go.

The sharpening method for a damaged axe is the same as your regular maintenance, just assess the damage and address accordingly.

Conclusion

I always advocate the simple mill file for keeping an axe blade sharp. But choose your own preferred method of sharpening your axe – there is no RIGHT way.

All of the methods mentioned in this article are perfectly fine. It depends what tools you have at your disposal at the time.



Comments

2 responses to “How To Sharpen An Axe – A Step By Step Guide”

  1. Alice Carroll Avatar

    It’s nice to know how affordable it is to get my tools sharpened. I recently had a new shed built so it might be best to start getting maintenance for the tools I will be storing in there. Hopefully, it will be easy enough to find hatchet sharpening services in my local area.

  2. Kristofer Van Wagner Avatar

    I like that this post emphasized that when looking to have our axe sharpened, it is important that we ensure it is sharpened properly. It makes sense as it will impact the quality of the sharp. I will definitely look at the various methods available and choose the one most suitable for my hatchet.

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