How to Sharpen an Axe

An axe is near the top of my list of favorite woodworking tools to use at home.

Although it’s not always the best choice for projects that require accuracy, it’s my go-to for chopping firewood, cutting down a tree, smoothing a rough plank, and so much more.

The catch is that you need to keep your axe sharp. A dull axe is difficult to work with and potentially dangerous.

Luckily, sharpening an axe, and maintaining the sharp edge, is so easy that anyone can learn how to do it.

Here’s how to sharpen an axe for your next project.

What You’ll Need

Though there are a number of different ways to sharpen an axe, I’m going to focus on the most basic today.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Don’t have an axe of your own yet?

Then our axe buying guide will help point you in the right direction, no matter your individual needs or preferences.

Step I: Prepare the Work Area

The hardest part about sharpening an axe is keeping it steady during the process.

That’s why I recommend using a pair of woodworking clamps. Clamp the axe to the workstation with these clamps with the blade facing up.

Make sure that the axe is clamped securely to the table before you begin sharpening.

Step II: Remove Nicks and Burrs

An aggressive sharpening file is your best friend when it comes to sharpening an axe.

Start by using the file to remove any major nicks or burrs. You want to remove these first before you move on to the actual sharpening of the tool.

Once the nicks and burrs are removed, it’s time to hone the edge of your axe.

Step III: File the Edges

Perhaps the most important aspect of sharpening the edge of your axe is to hold the file at the right angle.

The angle varies slightly from axe to axe, but it’s pretty easy to find with just a little experimentation. And once you do find it, the angle will feel intuitive.

Make several passes with the file on the blade of the axe. Do a few passes on one side of the blade and then a few passes on the other side of the blade.

Remember to make all passes in a downward motion from the edge of the blade towards the handle.

Some experts, including Outdoor Life, recommend making an occasional horizontal pass. You should still finish with a series of vertical passes.

Stay Safe While Sharpening

Sharpening an axe is a simple project that anyone can do, but it still demands respect and caution.

Most important is to stay alert. Even just one small mistake can cause serious injury, since the blade is so sharp.

That’s why I personally always wear sturdy work gloves. These gloves protect my hands from cuts, especially in the event of an accident.

Alternative Methods

The above sharpening method is my favorite.

It’s the easiest and most straightforward way to sharpen an axe. It requires inexpensive tools that you can even take with you into the field.

Another option is to use a whetstone in place of a file. Alternatively, you can use a whetstone as an additional step in the sharpening process to achieve an even sharper blade.

Highland Woodworking suggests using the whetstone by hand to achieve a razor-sharp edge on your axe. They go on to state that whetstone bench grinders are also available.

How to Use Your Sharp Axe

According to The Art of Manliness, a sharp axe is only one piece of the puzzle.

You also need to know how to use it effectively and efficiently no matter the scope of your project.

Among the most important axe-wielding tips are to use a sharp axe, clear your work area, and hold the tool appropriately.

When it comes to the actual cutting or chopping motion, accuracy is far more important than power, at least at first.

Start by swinging the axe slowly and at a good tempo. Attempt to hit the object you’re cutting exactly where you want to cut it.

As you grow more comfortable, you’ll begin to naturally add more power and force to the project.

Final Thoughts

There’s nothing difficult about sharpening an axe.

All that it takes is a simple file, a few clamps, and possibly a whetstone.

If it’s important for the edge to be as sharp as absolutely possible, you can even strop it against leather when you’re finished.

After reading this guide, you now know how to sharpen an axe with ease.

Now that you’ve learned about this helpful skill, here are some other woodworking projects to try out next!

About Gus Donaldson

I built houses for over 30 years and recently retired. I've made lots of mistakes and hopefully teach you not to make the same ones. I still love to build and have a garage workshop that I use for hobby projects like the walnut bookshelf I made for my wife. I like to write and let people know that working with your hands and tools does not need to be intimidating.

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