Sharpening an axe or hatchet is a task that every outdoorsman should know how to do. The process is not fundamentally different from sharpening a knife, but the tools used to get there are a bit different. Due to the axes larger size, it is typically difficult to utilize guided sharpeners with it. Also, you will be bringing the sharpener to the axe rather than the tool to the sharpener like you would with a knife. There are several basic and inexpensive tools you will need to put a good edge on your axe.
Tools You Need
- Puck Style Sharpener. The Lansky Dual Grit Puck works great and can be purchased for about $8.
- Bastard File. The bastard file is named for the fact that it is neither coarse nor fine, but somewhere in between. You want a flat-file and I recommend 10″ or 12″ which will give you some clearance from the blade while filing. The Nicholson Flat Bastard File is a good American made choice at $20.
- Plastic Handle For File. The Nicholson Universal Handle works well on many different types of files and tools. For $10 it is a solid buy.
Sharpening The Axe
- Step one is ensuring that the axe head and bit (the sharp edge) are clean and free of any dirt, debris, sand, etc. A quick wipe with a wet paper towel and another to dry it off will work fine. Place the axe handle in a vise with the blade facing up.
- Inspect the bit, or edge of the blade, for any nicks or missing material. If nicks are present (or if the bit is especially dull), you will begin with your bastard file. You want to follow along the bevel and angle that already exists on your axe. Begin moving the file across the bit on one side. Use a swiping motion from left to right. Don’t move the file up and down. Keep track of the number of swipes across the blade on one side as you will want to perform the same number of swipes on the other side. When the bit is free of nicks and starting to show a decent edge, move on to the next step.
- If the bit was already in good shape, or if you have finished filing it (if it was not), you will now use your puck style sharpening stone to finish honing the bit. Start with the coarse side and use a circular motion moving the puck from left to right on one side of the blade. Keep track of the number of times you come across the blade. Repeat the process on the other side of the bit.
- Repeat step 3 using the fine grit side of the sharpening puck. Your axe should be razor-sharp now and able to pass the paper cutting or arm shaving test. You can strop the blade once or twice on each side with a piece of stropping leather if you have one.
That’s it. Sharpening an axe is a bit easier than a knife because the blade is wider and it can be easier to follow the existing bevel. Cleaning your axe head regularly, never putting it in the dirt, and using it properly will help keep it sharp. Periodically touch it up when needed with the fine side of the puck and you will keep it razor sharp and safe to use. A sharp axe is a safe axe.