Last Updated on October 9, 2022 by Barry Gray
I’m pretty sure by now you are very familiar with this Abraham Lincoln statement, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.” With that said, learning how to sharpen an axe is indeed a worthwhile skill to have.
If you’ve ever used an axe before, chances are that you have sharpened one as well. A safe axe is a good axe. However, even the best axe will require a bit of maintenance to remain sharp throughout the years. Therefore, you should learn a few basic axe sharpening techniques to keep your axe sharp.
With that said, there are several ways to sharpen an axe. What works for me may not work for you. Nevertheless, you should be aware of all the ways to sharpen an axe. But before we can do that, let’s take a look at how you can prepare for axe sharpening.
How to Prepare for Axe Sharpening
Here are some simple ways that you can efficiently prepare for an axe sharpening session:
Protect your Hands and Face
- Wear Kevlar fitted gloves or thick leather gloves
- Use a finger guard when you are using a file. If you don’t have one, DIY a piece of leather onto the file.
- Put on safety glasses and a mask to protect yourself from metal dust. The mask is optional. However, I would recommend you to have one if you are using a power tool to sharpen your axe.
- Don’t wear any loose clothing, hair, or jewelry near any axe sharpening power tool.
Clean and Polish the Head of the Axe
- In case your axe head has rust, you need to clean it off with steel wool or a dust eraser. Polishing is optional but not too difficult to achieve.
- Sand the axe blade with coarse-grit aluminum oxide or silicon carbide sandpaper. Ensure that you move from the hammer end (poll) to the blade. Maintain and repeat the same motion.
- Move on to finer-grit sandpaper after you finish using the coarse-grit sandpaper.
- To achieve an excellent polish, apply metal polish on the blade using a rag. Make sure that you only do this at the end.
How to Sharpen an Axe?
Before you can start sharpening your axe, you will need to assess the condition of your blade. If you’ve taken good care of the tool, then you’ll only need to do a touch-up to get it razor sharp. However, if you’ve bought a dull, used axe with chips, it may take you longer to sharpen it.
With that said, I’ve covered six different ways that you can sharpen your axe. Here is a sneak peek of what to expect:
- With a Dremel
- With a belt sander
- With an angle grinder
- With a file
- With a whetstone
- With a rock
How to Sharpen an Axe with a Dremel
Sharpening your axe with a Dremel is one of the quickest ways to get it done. Unfortunately, it’s also one way to damage your axe completely. If you don’t do it properly, you risk deforming and damaging your axe to the point you can’t use it again.
Fortunately, sharpening with a Dremel is a straightforward process and it shouldn’t take a lot of time to master. I recommend that you have a source of water nearby to cool the edge in case it overheats.
Here’s how to do it:
- Step 1: Turn on the Dremel
- Step 2: Match the angle on the bevel with the Dremel tool
- Step 3: Grind the Dremel from one side to the other and make circular motions. Ensure that you apply light pressure as you do it.
- Step 4: If the metal happens to overheat, stop the Dremel.
- Step 5: Dunk the metal in water to let it cool down. Or if you don’t have any water source nearby, simply let it cool down. You don’t want the axe to lose its temper.
- Step 6: Once you’re done with one side, flip the axe and repeat steps 2 to 6 to get the same effect.
- Step 7: Use a wire brush to clean the edges and remove the burr.
Tip: Overheating is as a result of using finer grit to sharpen a coarse grit. You want to make sure that you always start with a coarser grit first before using a finer grit.
How to Sharpen an Axe with a Belt Sander
The belt sander is a powerful tool and will help you achieve perfect angles on your axe. The benefit of a sander is that it comes with multiple-grit belts that transform old, rusty axes back into their sharp edge.
With that said, here’s how you should use a belt sander to sharpen an axe:
- Step 1: Set up the belt sander
- Step 2: Grind the axe on the sander using both of your hands to maintain a firm grip. You want to move your hands in a slightly curved motion ensuring that you pay attention to the curve bit and the edge.
- Step 3: Apply gentle even pressure as you make smooth passes. This will ensure that you achieve a sharp, even edge without wearing down the metal.
- Step 4: If the axe gets too hot, dip it in water to cool it off.
Tip: If you are dealing with an old and rusty axe head, I recommend that you don’t use a fine grit.
How to Sharpen an Axe with an Angle Grinder
An angle grinder can grind, polish, and sharpen various metals, axes included. A good grinder needs to have a balanced power-to-weight ratio. It should also have a dust ejection system that ejects debris and dirt away from the machine.
Ensure that you wear work gloves and safety glasses. Also, avoid loose clothing and long hair to avoid any of it getting caught in the grinder.
With that said, follow the following steps to sharpen your axe with an angle grinder:
- Step 1: Use a vice or clamps to hold the axe steadily in place.
- Step 2: You want to support that axe head with a block of wood. In this position, it’s pretty easy to follow the bevel
- Step 3: You want to move the angle grinder over the edge in smooth and steady strokes. By doing so, you can easily monitor the angle of the edge.
- Step 4: Make sure that you count the number of passes the grinder moves over the axe bit. Ensure that you do the same number of passes on the other side.
- Step 5: If the metal overheats, use water to cool it down.
- Step 6: Turn off the grinder after use.
How to Sharpen an Axe with a File
This is one of the most common ways to sharpen an axe to the extent that it can serve you well. I recommend using any file that’s between 8” and 12 “long.
- Step 1: Sharpening the axe with a file will require a lot of repetitive motions. Therefore, you want to place the axe on a flat surface or workbench.
- Step 2: For added stability, place a wooded edge underneath the axe head. What this does is that it lifts the head a little from the surface. Helping you access it properly.
- Step 3: As mentioned earlier, you will use a lot of repetitive motions to sharpen the axe. Therefore, you’ll need to clamp the axe to the flat surface to avoid slippage.
- Step 4: You will need to hold the file at an angle of 15 to 20 degrees. Use one hand to hold the file while the other to set the angle.
- Step 5: Once you have everything ready, start filing by applying gentle downward pressure as you go on.
- Step 6: Work into the primary and secondary bevel while assessing the cutting edge.
- Step 7: Flip the axe and repeat steps 1 to 6.
Tip: Remember to count the number of strokes you make to ensure that you do the same number on the other side. This will maintain a clean edge on both sides.
How to Sharpen an Axe with a Whetstone
Whetstones, also known as sharpening stones, are ideal for getting razor-sharp axe edges. However, know that there are several grades of whetstones. Any grit up to 1,000 is coarse and is ideal for sharpening chipped edges.
Any grit between 1,000 and 3,000 is ideal for sharpening dull edges. Any grit between 4,000 to 8,000 is ideal for refining the edges to perfection. I recommend that you buy a double-sided whetstone with different grits on each side.
With that said, here’s how to go about it:
- Step 1: Secure your axe
- Step 2: Coat the edge of the axe with a lubricant. You can either use water or oil.
- Step 3: Place the edge of the head on the whetstone. You want to ensure that it matches the angle of the bevel.
- Step 4: Use circular motions to rub the stone against the edge. Move the whetstone from one side to the other while applying gentle pressure.
- Step 5: Repeat steps 1 to 4 on the other edge of the axe.
- Step 6: Worth both sides of the blade equally until the burr is gone.
- Step 7: Use a finer whetstone for more refined, razor-sharp edges.
- Step 8: Wipe any accumulated paste.
- Step 9: Apply oil or beeswax on the axe head and edge to protect against moisture.
Tips: You can use a leather strop to get rid of burrs.
How to Sharpen an Axe with a Rock/River Stone
It’s highly unlikely that you will ever find yourself in a situation where you need to use a rock to sharpen your axe. However, in the wild, accidents do happen and you may end up losing all your sharpening gear.
If and when you find yourself in such a situation, you may want to take advantage of a rock or a river stone. You can utilize large, relatively smooth stones that you can place on the ground. Or, you can use moderately hard sandstones, or smaller coarser stones such as quartz or granite.
With that said, here’s how to do it:
- Step 1: Start with a coarse stone. Wet it and wet the blade as well.
- Step 2: Hold the rock in one hand and the axe in the other. You want to make sure that the top side of the blade is facing you.
- Step 3: Using the stone, make circular motions up & down the length of the blade. Move on to the smoother stone once you’ve used the coarser stone. Make sure that you don’t expose your fingers while doing this.
- Step 4: Turn the blade and repeat steps 1 to 3.
- Step 5: Once you are through, strop the sharpened axe against a piece of leather or a pant leg to get rid of the burr.
Tip: Even though stones are great alternatives to sharpening axes, only use them if you have no other choice.
It’s possible to sharpen an axe, whether you are using tools or not. However, each time you sharpen an axe, you save a lot of time and energy. Unknown to many, sharpening an axe preserves the quality of the axe head.
At the start of this guide, you were eager to learn how to sharpen an axe. I believe that now you are confident enough to try out any of the above-mentioned methods.
In case you are new to axes & are wondering what kind of axes are available, we’ve got you covered. Read our list of the 16 types of axes in existence.
As always, remember safety first. Wear protective gear to avoid hurting your eyes, ears, and fingers.