How to Sharpen an Ax

An ax is just as useful for today’s woodsman as it was for pioneers centuries ago. A good man with an ax can still build a cabin, fence, or bobsled, and can keep himself warm with the firewood that he chops - no other tools necessary. There are many different ways to sharpen an ax, depending on whether you wish to fell a tree, smooth planks for a table, or shave hair off a rawhide lashing strip.

To put an edge on an ax that is suitable for felling trees, chopping wood, or even grubbing stumps out of the ground follow the directions below. This edge is not designed to be razor sharp and will not be suited to carving or shaving. But it is great for all around use and will take a fair amount of abuse and still keep cutting.

1) Clamp your ax in a solidly mounted vise, edge up. Take an aggressive file and remove any nicks or burrs that exist. The photo above shows the approximate angle that you should hold your file to reset the angle of your edge.

2) Make several passes with your file on each side of the edge -– stroking in a downward motion as shown in the video below. Alternate from side to side, removing metal evenly until all chips and dings are filed away and the edge becomes a smooth arc of gleaming steel on either side. Exercise great caution when filing toward the edge of the ax, as a slight lapse of attention can result in a terrible cut. If your nickname is “Thumbs” you might want to wear a pair of cut resistant carving gloves.

3) At this point you should find that a slight burr forms opposite whatever side you are filing on. This indicates that your angle is complete and your edge ready to finish. Switch to a fine file or coarse stone. Still using a downward stroke clean up both sides of your edge, removing any marks left from your coarse file. Maintain the angle.

4) Finish by using a medium stone. Use a different stroke, beginning at the top corner of the blade and stroking to the bottom corner as shown in the video below. Continue until both sides of your edge are polished to perfection, and you feel ready to tackle a grizzly with your ax.

Sharpening your ax this way will create a durable edge that should last through a day's worth of hard work, assuming of course, that you are chopping wood instead of dirt and rocks.