How to Sharpen and Repair Axes and Hatchets

A good axe or hatchet is a major part of camp life. This tool provides us with split firewood and can help with specialized tasks like bow making, bowl carving and making camp furniture. However, a dull axe edge or a wobbly hatchet handle can be a dangerous liability.

Axe sharpening is not much different than knife sharpening; in fact it's much easier. Axe and hatchet blades don't require such a delicate touch as knife blades do. You can use a variety of sharpening tools as well. I have sharpened hatchets with files, whet stones, and even rounded stones from the creek.

You can start sharpening nicked or seriously dull axes with a bastard file (no, I don't know why they call it that). You don't want to sharpen "into" the blade (from sharp edge toward the handle), as this causes you to risk pushing the file too far and cutting yourself. File from the back of the axe head, toward the edge and out. This does create more of a bur than filing the other way, but it's faster to remove a bur than regrow a fingertip. Work both sides of the axe equally, counting strokes if you want to get it perfect. File until the blade edge is beginning to feel sharp again, and any chips or nicks in the edge have been eliminated.

When you're done filing, move your axe to the whet stone. Some folks like to scrape the stone on the blade. I prefer to move the blade against a stationary stone. Lube with oil or water as you normally would with that stone. Go with water if you're not sure what your stone likes to drink. I grind axes with little circles, going from one side of the edge to the other, counting strokes and matching that on the other side. If the blade has a bur, whet stone the side with the bur until it is gone, then sharpen each side with equal strokes.

There are a few problems that can happen with axes which are repairable in the field. To repair axes with slightly loose wooden handles, soak the axe head in antifreeze overnight. Just use enough to cover the axe head and an inch up the wood handle. This will cause the wood to swell, fitting the handle to head better. The antifreeze will keep it swollen for a few weeks or longer. If the head is seriously loose, you'll need to drive a wedge or two into the wooden handle end which is visible from the top of the axe head. These wedges can be field cut from hardwood, but are much better if they are store bought metal wedges. You may need to remove existing wedges and replace them with bigger ones.

For rust removal, try a wire brush or steel wool. For major rust removing chores, use a cup brush on a grinder. For rust proofing, consider oiling the axe head periodically. Any oil will work.

Good luck sharpening and fixing, and let us know if you have a trick or two by leaving a comment.