How to Sharpen an Axe with a Stone: The Beginner’s Guide

Man lumberjack

A sharp axe will cut smoothly, evenly, and easily, slicing right through the wood with each swing. But not all axe owners pay attention to blade sharpness, which can make any chore incredibly difficult. Because of this, learning how to properly care for your axe is crucial [Need a hatchet? Check out our guide on the best hatchets of 2020]. The sharpening stone is the most important tool you’ll need to have to keep your axe ready for some chopping.

Of course, you’ll also need to use a belt sander for some of the heavy-duty work. A belt sander will do the rough work of blade shaping, while the sharpening stone will hone each side of the blade and ensure that it’s extra sharp. If you don’t know what you’re doing then sharpening an axe for the first time can be a dangerous experience and one that can lead to a severe injury if not done correctly. Unfortunately, beginners tend to make plenty of mistakes, but with this guide, I’ll go over how to sharpen an axe with a stone the right way for the perfect edge.

How to sharpen an axe with a stone is simple. The first step of the process is to clamp down the axe in a vise and use a belt sander to shape the blade. Of course, this step should only be done if you’re dealing with an extremely dull blade. If you simply need to quickly sharpen the axe, then you can pull out the whetstone, however, I still recommend having it clamped down as you do so in order to prevent the axe from slipping out of your hands while you work and causing serious injury. Use a belt sander to shape the blade. Once that step of the process is complete then you’ll take the whetstone and run it along the edges of the blade on each side alternately in order to ensure both sides are perfectly razor-sharp.

The frequency in which you need to sharpen the blade will depend on the quality of the head. In most cases, the blade should be sharpened prior to use, especially if you’re taking on a big job such as chopping firewood. If you only use your axe for smaller jobs and rarely, then you may only need to sharpen it after every few uses. If you’re not sure whether or not you need to sharpen a blade, then just carefully run your fingers along the edges of the blade and note if you can feel a stinging sharpness. If so, then you’re good to go. If the blade feels dull then you’ll need to quickly take out your stone and give it a good sharpening. Typically, sharpening the axe should only take about 5 to 10 minutes.

Routine Maintenance

The axe is a tool that belongs on any survival gear list. While heavy and difficult to swing for some, this tool can slice through even the thickest logs.

Like with any type of woodworking tool, the axe must be razor-sharp in order to cleanly and easily cut through wood. A dull blade is a dangerous one and can cause an injury if the axe is struggling to make contact with the wood. Sharpening the blade should be a major part of the blade’s routine care and maintenance and should be done often if you use your axe for big jobs around the yard. But learning how to correctly sharpen the blade is important, for a smooth, even, cutting performance.

Power Tools for Blade Sharpening

A man sharpens

While there are definitely some great power tools that you can rely on to get the blade sharpened faster they come with their own set of problems. Most tools that are designed for this purpose come with a high price tag. Another issue that comes with using power tools to sharpen your blade is the chance of it heating up the axe and damaging the blade irreparably. I heated blade can actually end up splitting or warping due to the pressure on the head. Because of this, using a sharpening stone is the best way to go. While it may take more time it’s much safer and you’ll be able to easily hone the edges to perfection.

A sharp axe can easily cut you and there can be coarse filing chips and metal splinters around as you work trying to obtain that perfect edge. These splinters and metal shavings can easily get stuck in your hands and caused mild to moderate injury if you’re not careful.

When you use a stone to sharpen your axe, you need to also be prepared and wear safety equipment. Always wear the proper eye and headgear and gloves based on the type of work you’re doing. When you sharpen an axe you should also consider the possibility that you may drop it at some point. Because of this, always make sure that you wear closed-toed shoes.

If you’re planning on using a sharpening stone to sharpen the axe I recommend starting off by clamping the axe in a vise in order to prevent it from falling or slipping out of your hands

Sharpening

You can use a larger tool such as a sanding machine in order to create the perfect edge for your axe however, you always want to use a sharpening stone in order to hone the edge.

Use some honing oil or even a type of sewing machine oil and generously rub the edge of the blade. Next, you’ll rub the tip of the sharpening stone along the edge of the blade while using a circular motion. Both sides of the blade should be honed alternately to remove the burr from both sides. If you’re not familiar with axes, the burr is a bent, very thin end. It’s also referred to as the feather edge. Try running your fingers along the edge of the blade to track its shape and be careful not to cut your fingers when doing so.

Best Sharpening Stones

stone and a blade

Sharpening stones are typically made out of clay or sandstone and tend to wear down pretty fast. When using a stone some pros recommend using water instead of oil.

When you purchase an axe, it’s going to be very sharp, but after just one or two uses it requires some general upkeep and sharpening. Just like any other type of tool you should focus on keeping the axe blade rust-free and clean to ensure it does a good job, as a dull blade can be difficult to cut with and dangerous. Additionally, keeping up on blade maintenance will ensure that your axe lasts longer.

Is an Axe Overkill?

If you’re looking for a smaller cutting tool, one that you can use to clear brush or chop kindling and firewood when you go camping, then I recommend using the best survival hatchet instead. Models such as the Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet are a much better choice and feature a compact, lightweight design that makes them highly portable.

Related Questions

What Angle Should an Axe Be Sharpened?

Most axes have a thirty to forty-degree angle, with a twenty-degree angle half an inch from the edge. What provides the axe with its cutting power is the bulge away from the end of the bit. You should never sharpen this tool on a bench grinder because the amount of heat it generates will most likely cause the axe to lose its temper.

Does an Axe Need to Be Sharp?

Any type of cutting tool needs to be sharp and sharpened before use. If you try using an axe when it’s dull, not only will it be more difficult to split wood with, but it will take longer. Additionally, cutting with a dull axe is very dangerous since the blade may not be able to find traction and can easily slip off the wood’s surface, injuring the user. Before use, always test the blade to ensure it’s sharp enough. If you’re not sure whether or not it should be sharpened, then sharpen it. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

How Do You Use an Axe?

Start by tightly gripping the handle. Make sure your body is nice and relaxed, with no tension in the neck and shoulders. The hands should firmly grip the axe handle. Be sure that you have your hands placed a few inches apart on the handle before you start swinging. This will help to better balance the axe. Use your non-dominant hand to grab the axe approximately two inches above the head. Carefully take your first swing, using enough power to split the wood, without going overboard. If you find that you’re having trouble cutting, check the blade to ensure the blade is nice and sharp. If not, use a stone to hone both sides of the blade for a nice even cut.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know how to use a stone to sharpen an axe you can ensure that the blade is razor-sharp before each use for optimal cutting performance and safety. Once your axe has been properly sharpened you can use it over and over again and sharpen as needed. While your first attempt at sharpening may not provide the best results, over time you can quickly sharpen a blade in around 5 to 10 minutes. This method is simple and easy to do and very beginner-friendly and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment for a job well done. Remember, when it comes to an axe, a dull one is essentially useless.

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