How do you sharpen an axe?
What is the best way to sharpen an axe? A good question we love to answer. After all, we know a thing or two about sharpening axes and can therefore help you out!
A blunt axe is dangerous. You will notice that you apply more force, make uncontrolled movements and we don’t have to explain what the consequences could be. With a razor-sharp axe you won’t slip and will be able to chop based on technique and not brute force. A lot safer and less exhausting!
Do not only sharpen the edge
Sharpening an axe occurs – like with knives – in multiple stages. You always start by restoring the fold. Especially with axes this is key. After all, if you only sharpen the edge the sharpening angle will increase because you don’t remove any material behind the edge. This makes the edge more vulnerable because it needs to ‘handle’ quite a lot while chopping or splitting. If the edge gradually runs via the curve in the axe blade, it will, as it were, be supported by this.
We also discourage sharpening while using a sharp angle. This could cause pieces to break off the edge if the axe is roughly used (something that should, of course, happen). Most axes have a 30 degree sharpening angle.
Sharpening an axe with sharpening stones
As said you start by restoring the fold. You can sharpen it with an electric sharpening machine, but more about that later. We prefer sharpening on sharpening stones. You start with a coarse sharpening stone, preferably a diamond-coated sharpening stone. The special Skerper Arkansas axe sharpening stone, for instance, is great. Or choose a file, which is also perfect for the coarse sharpening jobs.
Contrary to when you are sharpening a knife, the sharpening stone (or file) will be the one moving when you sharpen an axe. Secure the axe in a vice (or any other type of clamp). You can protect the axe blade, which you secure in the clamp, from scratches by covering it with tape, or put a piece of cloth or leather in between. Because the axe is secured you can use both hands while sharpening. This offers you the possibility to maintain the sharpening angle and to control the movements. There are a couple techniques to make sure you don’t cut yourself in the process, but we always strongly advise you to wear working gloves when you work with such coarse tools.
Determine the sharpening angle
You determine the 30 degree sharpening angle by placing your sharpening stone or file square on the edge of the axe. Take half of that and subsequently two-thirds of the angle you have left. Afterwards you make relatively short pushing movements with your sharpening stone/file. You sharpen against the edge because it will enable you to make short movements and because it will enable you to maintain the right angle. Use your free hand to hold the front of the stone/file, to generate more stability. If you use a diamond-coated sharpening stone it is not a problem if you only use a small part of the stone. After all, this type of stone won’t wear out. If you use a different type of sharpening stone you should try to vary the sharpening surface you use.
Small size sharpening stones
Afterwards you continue with a finer sharpening stone. You could, of course, use the ‘usual’ sharpening stones, but for the precision it is easier to choose a smaller stone. DMT, for instance, produces practical pocket stones, amongst which the Dia-Sharp sharpening stones. Or choose the Fallkniven DC3 or the slightly larger DC4. Or what about round sharpening stones. After all, when polishing it is best to make rotating movements and this is slightly easier with round stones. There is, for instance, the incredibly popular Lansky Puck and Hultafors recently introduced a special grinding stone for axes with both a coarse and fine sharpening side.
As said it is best to make rotating movements when you are polishing the edge. Try to keep your movements as small as possible to make sure you cover the entire edge. In addition, it also reduces the chances of losing the sharpening stone because it slips. Continue this process until you feel a burr and switch to the other side of the axe. You definitely benefit from looking at the axe and sharpening stone from above. After all, you can easily see if you are still using the right angle. Do you detect some room in between the end of the edge and the sharpening angle? If so, the angle is too small.
Stropping your axe
Finally you could use a leather stropping belt. Attach it to one side by securing it in the vice, for instance and hold tight to the other side, after which you move the axe over the belt ‘away from the edge’. If you would move the razor-sharp edge towards the belt you will immediately cut through it. As such you remove the last imperfections which you won’t be able to see but are still there.
Electric sharpening machines
There are, of course, multiple other ways to sharpen your axe. Several sharpening belt machines are perfect for sharpening axes. Take, for instance, the Work Sharp Multi sharpener Ken Onion Edition and the Work Sharp Knife & Tool Sharpener. The Ken Onion Edition comes with sharpening belts with grain sizes 120, 220, 1000, 3000 and 6000. As a result you can first remove any imperfections from the blade of the axe and restore the fold, after which you use the other belts to make the edge razor-sharp again. With it you can vary between a 15 degree and a 30 degree angle (and all sizes in between). Perfect, considering the fact you often use a 30 degree angle for axes.
The Knife & Tool Sharpener has three different sharpening belts: grain 80, 220 and 6000. Slightly fewer choices but perfect for extremely blunt edges, thanks to the grain 80 belt. The angle can be determined at 20, 25 and 65 degrees. As such it is a little less suited to sharpen axes than the Ken Onion version.
Want to learn more about sharpening in general? Or are you curious to find out how you sharpen chisels or scissors? Read all about it in our info-topics.