The Best Way To Sharpen An Axe

Hi guys, it’s your favorite blade specialist John, back with another very important “how to” to keep you on point.  Today we are going to cover the best way to sharpen your axe.  Keeping your axe sharp is important and it was King Solomon who once said.  “If your axe is dull and it’s edge is unsharpened,  it’s going to require more strength to use.”  There was a reason he was considered the wisest king that ever lived.  A dull axe isn’t going to just require more strength to use, it is also going to be less effective and more dangerous.

Having a proper edge on your hatchet, axe, or maul is critical to lowering your workload.  I use my axes for chopping down trees, splitting firewood, building, camping, and hewing.  All of these activities require me to keep my axe blade sharp and ready to use.  A well-maintained axe will last for many years to come.

The Best Way to Sharpen an Axe – How to Keep Your Axe Sharp

People often ask me why I don’t use a power grinder.  The answer is simple power grinders can permanently damage your blade, causing chipping to occur.  I prefer to be able to feel the stress on the blade because this helps me to regulate the amount of pressure I am using.

There are faster methods such as using a compound miter saw or cordless drill attachments.  Both are very effective and we will discuss the proper usage in later blogs.  I think it is important everyone knows how to sharpen their axe the traditional way prior to using power tools.  Hand tools are a great value and they work whether you are on or off grid.

The majority of axe manufacturers do not ship their blades sharp.  This means you are going to be required to sharpen your axe prior to use.  To sharpen your axe properly you will need a few key tools.  These same tools can be used to sharpen a lawn mower blade, shovel, or hatchet.

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The Best Way to Sharpen an Axe – Tools You Need

12″ Medium-Grade Mill File – I use a Nicolson file, they are made in America and they are readily available at home depot and your local hardware stores.  They cost around $12 and they can take a beating

File Card – This is used when cleaning the material out of the maul of your file.  This helps to keep your file effective.  They are inexpensive costing only around $5.

Sharpening Stone – Lansky makes a very nice compact round stone.  I like round stones as I feel they give me better ergonomics.  These smaller type stones allow you to bring the stone to the tool, whereas traditionally larger sharpening stones required you to bring the tool to the stone.

Especially when sharpening smaller tools like hand axes and hatchets.

Bench Vise – This is one of the most important things you can own.  I use a smaller 6″ vise I purchased from Sears.  The quality is great and it 100% American made.  Originally, I had a harbor freight vise but I found the quality to be sub-par.  I also purchased soft jaws for my vise.  Soft jaws are padded cushions you can apply to the vise to prevent marring of soft finishes.

Place your axe into your vise and fasten it securely.  Next, remove your blade cover from your axe.  There are different edges for different types of axes and depending on your edge you may need to use a slightly different angle.  Splitting axes have a broader point and a thicker edge.  This is because they need to be able to tear logs apart as the cut deep into it.

Felling axes are much thinner because they are designed to penetrate deep into the wood against the grain.  These different edge types require a slightly different sharpening angle.  You are going to want to follow the contours of the tool.  You don’t want to make your edge to thin because it will become brittle and break.

Start by slowly running your finger along your blade.  You want to pay close attention to any dents or nicks you encounter.  When you feel an imperfection, you want to get your file and sand it out.  You may notice a lot of imperfections on your blade if you are the type of person who puts their axe in the dirt.   Removing these imperfections can be time-consuming.

The first time I sharpened my axe this part took me 2 hours.  After that experience, I made sure I never put my axe in the ground and I always use the protective sheath when my axe is not in use.

When you are filing your axe, you are always filing forward.  You never want to go back and forth because your file only cuts forward.  I will place my file against my blade and while taking my other hand; I apply pressure with my palm to the back of the file.  Make sure to keep track of how many strokes you do and the angle you used.  You don’t want to sharpen your blade unevenly or your edge will be asymmetrical.

As you are filing make sure your file is the proper position to sharpen the entire blade.  You want to avoid sharpening to little of the edge, as this will weaken your blade.  Sharpening to much will leave marking and cutting on the face of your axe.  The filing part of this procedure is by far the most time consuming.  I usually pull up a chair and make myself comfortable.

Once you have removed all the nicks from your axe blade, you are ready to use your stone.  Start with the coarse side of your sharpening stone, if your stone is not dual sided, start with your coarse stone.

Find your angle and begin working.  Again, make sure you keep count how many times you pass the edge.  I usually do three passes per side and then switch.  Repeat this step four times and then switch to your fine stone.

When using the fine stone be sure to check your edge.  You are looking for tiny dust particle created by your fine stone just barely rubbing your axe blade.  Again, keep track of your progress on either side of your axe to ensure a uniform blade.  It is important to note the importance of a handheld stone in this scenario.  It is so much easier to bring the stone to your axe when it ‘s in the vice versus removing it and bringing your axe to your stone.  This sharpening technique can bring your axe to a razor sharp edge without causing any damage to it.

The Best Axe Sharpeners – My Favorite Tools

Recently manufacturers have begun developing axe sharpeners that can be used in the field for minor blade touch ups.  I really like this idea as it reduces your workload when doing a full sharpen.  These are my picks for the best axe sharpening tools for your money.

SELECTOOL – Master Sharpener – Sharpens Knives, Scissors, Tools, Axes, Hatchets – Cuts Glass & Tile


SELECTOOL – Master Sharpener – Sharpens Knives, Scissors, Tools, Axes, Hatchets – Cuts Glass & Tile


The SELECTOOL – Master Sharpener utilizes a proven design that allows you sharpen all types of blades on the go, including serrated edges.  I like the lightweight design and the built in glass and tile cutter works great as well.  This is a great addition to an outdoorsman’s toolkit.


  • Universal Blade Sharpener
  • Ultra-Portable
  • Tile Cutter
  • Glass Cutter


  • No Ceramic or Titanium Blades

Marbles Back Pocket Tool Sharpener, 3in. Diameter


Marbles Back Pocket Tool Sharpener, 3in. Diameter


The Marbles Back Pocket Tool Sharpener is a great tool to add to your sharpening arsenal.  This handheld stone gives you more flexibility and better ergonomics.  I prefer this style of small round stone because I feel like it gives me better control and accuracy over my edge.  In addition, it allows me to sharpen while keeping my axe in the vise.


  • Portable
  • Dual Sided
  • Multi-use
  • Field Use


  • Does Not Last As Long As Larger Stones

Smith Axe Sharpener


Smith Axe Sharpener


The Smith Axe Sharpener comes with a weighted cast aluminum head that adds to the durability of this unit.  I am a fan of the oversized finger guard.  This easy to use sharpener can be a great asset in the field.  The preset carbide blades produce a smooth, sharp edge every time.


  • Weighted Cast Aluminum Head
  • Soft Grip Handle
  • Finger Guard
  • Preset Carbide Blades
  • Cleaning Brush


  • Angle Too Wide For Some Applications

The Best Axe Sharpeners – Final Thoughts

Learning how to maintain your axe is very important.  Although there are many different techniques, I would consider this the best way to sharpen your axe.  I use it all the time and my blades stay razor sharp and have maximum cutting power.

I hope this axe sharpening guide helps you to stay on point and chopping with confidence.  Make sure to check back soon to stay up to date on all your cutting needs.

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