To cut the tree down with an axe, you need to be sure that it’s sharp. A dull axe will take forever to chop it down, and it can be dangerous to use. Plus, it can bounce back off the tree instead of lodge into it making a cut.
There are different items that you can use to sharpen your axe head. With any method you use, you need to protect yourself. It is recommended that you wear safety glasses, leather gloves, and a mask to keep from breathing in any of the particles that you remove from the axe head.
You can sharpen the axe with a file, wet stone, or even a bench grinder. In unplanned circumstances, you can even use a rock to do the job. It is a good idea to mark the bevel of your axe (the sharp tip) with a sharpie so you are sure to sharpen it at the right angle.
The very first thing you need to do before dong any sharpening is to clean it. This is actually pretty simple, as detailed in the video below:
To sharpen an axe with a file you will need to place the axe in a bench vice. If a vice isn’t available then you can hold it between your legs to help secure it. You will be applying a lot of pressure to the head of the axe, so you will need to be able to hold it securely.
When sharpening with a wet stone you don’t need to secure the axe because you need to be able to move its head over the stone. When sharpening the axe with a grinder it is important to keep the metal cool by dipping it into water. If it gets to hot, it can make the metal “soft” and ruin the axe.
Sharpening an Ax using the File Method
- Secure the axe head in a vice or between your legs.
- Mark the beveled edge of the axe.
- Match the angle of the bevel, and the angle of the file.
- Push long, continuous strokes along the bevel for 10 to 15 strokes.
- Turn the axe over and do the same amount of strokes on the other side.
- Check the axe head; if it is still dull or damaged repeat again on both sides.
Here’s a video that Sarah made detailing how to use a file to sharpen an axe:
How to Sharpen an Ax with a Wet Stone
- Obtain the stone and lubricant, either water or oil depending on the type of stone used.
- Apply lubricant to the coarse side of your stone.
- Place the axe head’s edge on the stone to match the angle of the bevel.
- Apply moderate pressure to the axe head, and work in a circular motion while counting the number of strokes used.
- Work one side of the edge to the other in the same small circles.
- A paste will start to accumulate on the stone; do not wipe it off.
- Turn the axe head over and repeat, exactly the same.
- After sharpening with the coarse side, turn the wet stone over and use the fine side.
- Apply lubricant to the fine side of the stone.
- Sharpen both sides in the same manner as you did with the coarse side.
- Repeat 2 to 3 times on each side for a nicely sharpened axe head.
This is a wet stone that can be used to sharpen your axe head with. Use the coarse side first, then use the fine side.
Sharpening an Ax with a Bench Grinder
- Have a bucket of water handy to cool the axe head in.
- Start the grinder.
- Match the angle of the beveled edge to the grinder wheel.
- Use light pressure pressing the axe head onto the wheel with the wheel moving away from the head.
- Be sure to count your strokes across the wheel, and watch as the grinder can remove a lot more material quickly.
- Be sure to frequently dip the axe head into the water to keep it cool.
- Turn the axe head over, and repeat with the same amount of strokes at light pressure.
- Clean the edge with a wire brush to remove any burrs in the metal, and to have a nice clean edge.
This is a bench grinder that you can use to sharpen your axe with. The wheel on the right is finer than the one on the left. The two wheels can be used to completely sharpen the axe. Have a bucket of water handy for dipping, and be careful to not remove to much from your axe head.
Test the sharpness of the axe by cutting your arm hair. If it removes hair then it is sharp. You can also test sharpness by pressing your fingernail into the edge, and if it leaves a notch in your nail then it is sharp.
After sharpening the axe you can polish the head and coat it in oil for further protection. It is also recommended to use the axe on a chopping block to prevent any dirt or rocks from causing damage to the head.
Sarah Rodriguez is a homesteading wife and mother of five living in Appalachia. She grew up in a homesteading and logging family.
She and her husband Arnie work their 10-acre homestead together alongside their growing family. Sarah honed her self-reliance skills through 4-H and FFA at an early age and is now teaching her children to live off the land, raise livestock, and the importance of both sustainability and frugality.