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How to Sharpen an Axe: Bushcraft Axes Sharpening Guide

by Jack Green 09 Apr 2024

how to sharpen an axe

Welcome to the ultimate guide on how to sharpen an axe, tailored explicitly for bushcraft enthusiasts. Whether you're a seasoned woodsman or a beginner in the art of bushcraft, knowing how to sharpen a hatchet or an axe is a fundamental skill. This guide will walk you through various methods to sharpen an axe, ensuring your bushcraft axes, like the esteemed BeaverCraft AX1 and AX3, maintain their edge and functionality.

bushcraft axes

What Materials Do You Need To Sharpen an Axe

Before starting the sharpening process, gather the necessary tools. You'll need a sharpening stone or file and, if you’re up for it, a grinder for a more mechanized approach. Safety is paramount, so don’t forget the protective gloves and glasses. Having suitable materials at hand is the first step to effective axe sharpening. But before you start sharpening your axe, we advise you to read our article «Best Bushcraft Axes: How To Choose a Camping Axe».

bushcrafter with an axe

How Sharp Should Your Axe Blade Be?

Now, let's ponder for a moment—how sharp does your axe really need to be? Unlike a knife that slices through tomatoes, your axe is designed to split wood, demanding a sturdier edge. It's about finding that sweet spot where the blade bites into the wood without getting stuck or demanding too much muscle.

beavercarft axe for bushcraft

How to Sharpen an Axe with a Grinder

A grinder is a power tool equipped with a rotating abrasive wheel used for grinding, sharpening, and shaping materials like metal. In the context of sharpening an axe, the grinder offers a rapid and efficient means to hone the axe's edge to a sharp finish. Here's how to sharpen an axe with a grinder in 4 simple steps:

Step 1: Ensure the Axe and Grinding Wheel are Clean

Visualize your axe and grinder, ready for action. But before we start, cleanliness is key. A clean axe and wheel mean no unexpected nicks or uneven sharpening. It's like prepping your ingredients before cooking a meal—the better the prep, the better the outcome.

Step 2: Determine the Proper Angle for Sharpening

Angle is everything here. Too steep or too shallow, and you won't get that perfect edge. Identify the correct angle for sharpening, usually between 30° and 40°, to ensure the edge is sharp and durable.

Step 3: Begin Grinding One Side of the Axe

Gently press the axe against the wheel, maintaining that perfect angle, and watch as the dullness fades away, replaced by a growing sharpness.

Step 4: Proceed to Grind the Opposite Side of the Axe

Switch sides, treating the other face of the axe with the same care and precision. It's about symmetry and balance, ensuring each side is equally prepared to face the challenges of the wild.

How to Sharpen an Axe with a File

If you prefer a more hands-on approach, clamping your axe and using a file might be more your speed. If you’re wondering how to sharpen an axe with a file – it's a bit like whittling wood, where every stroke is deliberate, aimed at gradually unveiling the sharpness hidden within the metal.

Step 1: Securely Clamp the Axe onto a Table

Clamp the axe head securely in a vice or any sturdy clamping device. The axe should be stable and at a comfortable height for working. Ensure the edge is accessible and positioned to maintain the correct angle throughout the sharpening process.

Step 2: Thoroughly Clean the Axe Head and File

Before you start, clean the axe head and file to remove any rust, dirt, or debris. This ensures a smoother sharpening process and prevents any particles from dulling the file.

Step 3: File One Side of the Axe with Precision

Hold the file at the bevel angle (30-40°) and push it across the edge in smooth, consistent strokes. Always move the file away from the body, and only apply pressure in one direction—when you're pushing the file, not pulling it back. Start from the top of the axe head and move towards the edge, following the blade's curve.

Step 4: Proceed to File the Opposite Side of the Axe Equally

Turn the axe over and repeat the process, ensuring both sides are equally sharp. It's about balance, about making sure your tool is as reliable and effective as possible.

How to Sharpen an Axe with a Stone

There's something almost meditative about an axe sharpening with a stone. It's you, the tool, and the stone in a quiet symphony. It’s a traditional method that allows for a high degree of control and finesse. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to sharpen an axe with a stone:

Step 1: Clean the Axe Head

A clean axe head is essential for effective sharpening. Make sure the axe head is clean and free of rust or debris. This will make the sharpening process more effective and prevent the stone from clogging.

axe head

Step 2: Apply Oil to the Stone

Depending on the type of stone, you may need to lubricate it with oil. This helps carry away the metal filings and reduces heat from friction, facilitating a smoother sharpening process.

Step 3: Sharpen one side of the axe

Place the stone against the edge at the correct angle. Using moderate pressure, slide the stone along the edge in a circular or sweeping motion. Work consistently across the length of the edge, maintaining the angle and ensuring even sharpening.

Step 4: Sharpen the other side of the axe

Switch to the other side, repeating the process to ensure an even and sharp edge across the blade.

Step 5: Finish by Using the Fine Side

If you have a fine stone, switch to it after the initial sharpening to refine and hone the edge. Repeat the same process but with gentler pressure and more focus on achieving a sharp finish.

How To Sharpen An Axe Without Tools?

Imagine you're deep in the forest, surrounded by the raw beauty of nature, and you realize your axe isn't as sharp as it needs to be. No tools? No problem. Nature is your workshop, and it's equipped with everything you need.

cutting with an axe

First, scout for a suitable sharpening stone. Rivers and streams are treasure troves for smooth, flat stones that can serve as natural sharpening tools. Look for a stone with a bit of grit to it—too smooth, and it won't do much; too coarse, and it might damage the edge.

Once you've found your stone, it's time to get down to business. If the stone is dry, moisten it with some water; this helps remove the metal filings as you sharpen. Now, hold the axe firmly—safety first, even in the wild—and start the sharpening process. Use long, consistent strokes, maintaining the angle you'd use with a conventional sharpener. Flip the axe periodically, ensuring you're working both sides evenly.

But what if you can't find a stone? In a pinch, the rough edge of a broken ceramic (like a piece of a ceramic mug) can serve as an impromptu sharpener. Again, it's all about using what nature provides to keep your axe ready for action.

Remember, this method might not give you the razor-sharp edge you'd get from your workshop tools, but it's about survival and adaptability.

carving with an axe

Throughout this guide, we've explored various methods to sharpen an axe, ensuring that whether you're using a grinder, a file, or a stone, or even if you're figuring out how to sharpen an axe without tools, you're equipped with the knowledge to keep your axe sharpening skills sharp as the blade itself. The best way to sharpen an axe is the one that keeps you safe and effective in your bushcraft endeavors. A well-maintained axe not only enhances your experience but also ensures your safety and efficiency in the wilderness. If you are interested in the topic of outdoor survival and bushcraft, we recommend reading our article «What is Bushcraft: Complete Guide for Survivalists».



Jack Green

Bushcraft expert

Hello, I'm Jack Green, an enthusiastic explorer with an insatiable curiosity for the natural world. Since my earliest memories, I've been drawn to the outdoors, finding solace and inspiration in the beauty of nature's landscapes.
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