How to Sharpen a Hatchet: The Top 7 Methods

Sharpening an axe

A hatchet is an important wood-cutting tool, one that combines the power and heft of an ax, with the precision of a one-handed tool. This is what makes it so useful for people who want to harvest and split wood. But in order to get the most out of this tool, you need to keep it sharp. Learning how to sharpen a hatchet will ensure you’re working with a tool that’s up to any task, while also minimizing the chances of an injury, which can easily occur if you’re cutting wood using a dull hatchet. There are many sharpening methods to choose from, some of which are easier and faster than others, but all of these options can result in a nicely sharpened hatchet when done correctly, and a tool that’s ready to be put to work.

Filing

The easiest and simplest way you can go about sharpening your hatchet is to purchase a mill file. Using this type of file is also one of the most common methods used to get the job done. To use, all you have to do is clamp the hatchet’s head between your knees and have the blade placed in an outward facing position. You can also sharpen it with a file by placing it in a vise, if you’re sharpening it in your workshop or garage. Next, you’ll take a file and place the end of it against the blade at the right angle. The angle you use should match the bevel. Then, you’ll draw the file across the blade using steady pressure and long strokes. This task should only take about six to ten strokes, depending on how dull the hatchet was to begin with. Next, you’ll sharpen the blade’s other side using the same number of strokes. Once the job is complete, take a look at the edge of the blade to make sure that it’s centered and straight. If it isn’t, then you’ll need to continue using the file until it’s perfect.

Whetstone

While using a file will be enough to sharpen it for most jobs, there are some tasks that may need more of an edge. A whetstone is commonly used to sharpen a knife, but these stones are very coarse and can also be used on a hatchet to hone the blade further. If you’re sharpening the tool with a whetstone, then place the stone on a stable, flat surface, then place the blade on the stone at an angle that matches the bevel. The hatchet’s blade should be placed across the stone, for ten to twelve strokes on each side.

Grinding Wheel

These wheels can quickly grind out any deformities in the blade, including nicks, and also work well to put a nice edge on the blade. This sharpening method is significantly faster than using a whetstone and can easily handle grinding a very dull blade in just a matter of a few minutes.

To use, you’ll begin by holding the blade against the wheel at an angle that matches the bevel, drawing the blade back and forth on the wheel to completely sharpen it. The blade should then be flipped over to sharpen the other side. When using this sharpening method make sure that you always use protective eyewear since there will be plenty of sparks flying during the process.

Rotary

Not many people own a grinding wheel, since these tools are expensive and heavy. A more affordable option is to use a rotary tool, one that’s equipped with a grinding wheel attachment. You can also use a rotary tool that has an aluminum oxide grinding stone attachment. Both can work well to sharpen the blade but will be a little more time consuming compared to using a full-sized grinding wheel. Just like when using a grinding wheel, you’ll want to use some protective eyewear during this time.

Angle Grinder

This tool features a rotating disc or wheel that’s abrasive and powered by electricity. However, there are also battery-powered models available, which will allow you to sharpen your tools when you’re out in the woods or simply away from your garage or workshop. Before you sharpen the blade, make sure you inspect it and look for any signs of rust. If you find any rust, use some steel wool to remove it. Next, use a vise to clamp the hatchet’s blade and keep it securely in place. This will make sure that it remains stable as you sharpen the blade. Use safety eyewear to protect your eyes from any flying sparks. Hold the grinder firmly using both hands. When sharpening the surface of the blade using a rotating disc, make sure that the angle used between the disc and the blade is at ten to fifteen degrees. Use continuous, long, slow strokes to sharpen the blade and make sure the blade doesn’t start to overheat. Once the blade has been sharpened, switch off the angle grinder and allow the blade to cool off before you remove it from the vise. Be very careful not to drop the hatchet once you have released it from the vise since the blade can stay hot for several minutes after it has been sharpened.

Knife Sharpener

Using a knife sharpener can be one of the safest ways to sharpen the blade. While almost all types of knife sharpeners are specifically designed to sharpen knives only, there are some that are tough enough to handle sharpening a hatchet blade. This type of sharpening process is not complicated. All you have to do is place the blade in the knife slot, then the ceramic wheels will work to sharpen both sides of the blade, simultaneously. These sharpeners will use thirty-degree angles, making them ideal for hatchet sharpening use.

Rock

If you’re camping out or you’re in the woods cutting up firewood and notice that your hatchet is dull, but you don’t have the proper sharpening tools with you, then it’s totally possible to sharpen the blade using a rock, but you’ll need to find the right type. While this method is definitely not the easiest one to use, it can be done.

Keep in mind, not all hatchets should be sharpened using this method.

If the hatchet is overused then you’ll want to avoid damaging the already delicate blade by trying your hand at rock sharpening. You should also avoid using this method if the blade has any rust on it. When exposed to this type of sharpening method, rust can fly off the blade and can wreck it.

If the blade is very dull then you’ll need to use a better, more effective sharpening method. Using a rock is a method that should only be used as a way to touch up the blade.

Not all rocks will work for this technique. Try searching for sandstones that are moderately hard, smooth river rocks, coarse stones such as granite, or smooth stones made out of quartz. The size of the rock will also be important, since you’ll need to be able to get a good grip on it in order to sharpen the blade safely and prevent the rock from slipping out of your hands during the process.

Begin by holding the rock in one hand and the hatchet in the other. Place your hand on the handle, close to the blade. The top of the blade should be facing you. The rock will be placed in the palm of your hand. Get the rock nice and wet by pouring some water over it or dunking it in a stream or river. Move the rock in a slow circular motion beginning from the edge, then move into the blade. Always begin from the top of the edge of the blade and make your way down the edge. You may need to periodically wet the stone during the process, and you should also keep some water on hand to rinse off the hatchet’s blade. Use the same number of strokes for each side of the blade to ensure that it’s been sharpened evenly.

Rust Removal

If you’ve noticed the blade has some rust on it, to remove any rust build up take some steel wool or a wire brush to the blade, before you try to sharpen it. If there’s significant rust, then use a grinder instead of trying to manually remove the rust. If you want to rust proof the blade, you can periodically oil the hatchet head. Any type of oil will work well for this.

Common Sharpening Mistakes

man with an axe

Sharpening is simple enough, but there are some common mistakes that you’ll want to avoid in order to prevent damaging the blade. Below, you’ll find a list of the common mistakes many beginners make and ones you should avoid at all costs.

  • When you’re sharpening your hatchet, make sure you pay close attention to what you’re doing. Leave the TV and music off so you can avoid any distractions that will steal your attention. When you’re sharpening you don’t want to mess up your rhythm, which can make it difficult to achieve a perfectly sharp edge.
  • Don’t use a stone that’s too fine. Using a finer stone doesn’t mean you’re going to get a sharper edge. The edge should be sharp after you use a coarse stone. Many people tend to use a finer stone on the blade before the edge is sharp enough. If you switch stones in the middle of the process then you’ll end up with an edge that’s marbled.
  • You can get the blade reasonably sharp using six to twelve strokes per side. Many beginners don’t realize how important it is to count the strokes and make sure they use the same number of strokes per side. Not keeping track of the strokes can result in a blade that’s not sharpened evenly on each side.
  • The most common issue a beginner makes their first time sharpening a hatchet is using too much force. In reality, the weight of your hands will be enough to properly sharpen the blade. If you put too much muscle into it when you’re sharpening then you can end up damaging the blade.
  • The key to correctly sharpening the blade is to be patient and to stay on top of blade maintenance. Don’t hold off on sharpening the blade once you notice that it has become extremely dull.
  • If you’ve tried these sharpening techniques and the hatchet’s blade still seems dull or the blade is too damaged from nicks and rust, then it may be time to simply replace the hatchet. Ideally, you should sharpen the blade prior to each use. This will keep the blade in good condition, free from rust and ready for work.

Final Thoughts

If you’re new to hatchet ownership, then you may not know how important it is to learn how to sharpen a hatchet and how cutting with a dull blade can be very dangerous. Properly maintaining the blade and sharpening it correctly will make any task faster and easier.

The methods I’ve included here are simple and efficient, so even the beginner should have no trouble learning how to keep the blade of their hatchet sharpened and ready to go. If you’re still not confident in your sharpening abilities, then have a buddy come over and demonstrate a few ways to do it, so you can be sure to sharpen the blade correctly, thoroughly, and avoid damaging it.

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