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How To Sharpen An Axe

How To Sharpen An Axe

How To Sharpen An Axe

A dull Axe is no Axe at all. Any tool with a blade is almost worthless unless it is sharp, and when it comes to sharpening tools you can do it the hard way, the wrong way or the best way so make it easier on yourself and get the right information and the right tools for the job. You can learn everything you need to know about sharpening tools and sharpening techniques in The Complete Guide to Sharpening by Leonard Lee. As with most fine woodworking hand tools a little reasonable care goes along to maintaining your tools prime for years to come.

We have had folks ask if they can use a Dremel Grinder to sharpen an axe. A Dremel is a great tool, but not for sharpening axes - the answer is no and this is a suspicious idea which seems to suggest speed as the priority versus quality. We have learned from the fine craftsmen at Gransfors Bruks how important it is to treat axes with care. Even though you may not have a hand-forged Axe the same rules apply: keep in a dry place, but not so dry that the handle risks shrinking in the axe head; make sure that the bit and the bit sheath are not damp; Oil the axe head thoroughly if the axe is going to be stored away; and remember axes are not hammers. Also be sure to check regularly that the axe handle is secure in the axe head.

Sharpening an Axe

Sharpening an axe can be done in several steps, depending on how worn the axe head is.
  1. Shaping
    When the axe head is extremely damaged, start with a file to reestablish the original bevel edge, including the curve of the edge and bevel face. Take care not to over heat the edge, which will cause it to lose its temper - so cool often. We offer several files for shaping an axe, the Gransfors Bruks Axe file is a fine option for heavy sharpening work on nicked or damaged axe edges. Also for basic function the Nicholson Magicut File with aggressive cutting action and tool shaping ability is a reliable economical option.

  2. Clamp the axe head in a solidly mounted vice so you can file with two hands. File against the sharpening bevel, pushing the file away from yourself. Use firm even stokes, do not touch the blade edge and be sure to lift the file completely off the sharpening bevel on the return stroke. Keep the axe head and the file free of filings. Once you see a slight burr form opposite the filing edge you are ready to move on.

  3. Grinding
    To repair slight damage and normal wear you can replace basic sharpness to an axe with a whetstone bench grinder, Tormek Sharpener, a Gransfors Bruks Axe Sharpening Stone or with a coarse handheld whetstone. Clay and sandstone whetstones, like the Gransfors stone, use water versus oil as a lubricant. Working with carborundum or Arkansas whetstones we recommend using any light oil for lubrication and to keep the whetstones from clogging. When grinding always keep the original bevel shape - even a straight bevel edge needs to be a little convex. A convex bevel adds additional strength and if the bevel is too straight the edge can deform or break. No matter what type whetstone you use always move the axe slowly back and forth during sharpening so that the sharpening bevel becomes evenly ground back to it original shape. Also grind evenly over the breadth of the grindstone so the the surface of the stone does not become warped or beveled.

  4. Honing
    Finally you need to hone the very tip of the edge which has become very thin and bent; you should be able to feel a slight burr on the edge. First with a coarse stone and then finer whetstone, remove that feathery edge with a circular motion while turning the axe frequently. You will find using a combination whetstone like the stones mentioned above with a coarse and a fine side particularly handy now. We recommend working the stones from the side of the axe head towards the cutting edge. Lift it on the return stoke to avoid injury.
  5. If your axes get a real workout it may be worthwhile to get a Gransfors Bruks Diamond Sharpening File which lasts much longer than regular files and stones. Once you have finished with your fine grit stone you are ready for stropping.

  6. Stropping
    To make the edge even keener it can be stroked against a leather strop. Run each stroke away from the cutting edge. Just a few strokes should do the job. You are now ready to put your sharp, safe axe to work!

*Always keep the original shape of an axe bit. An axe that is given the wrong shape and bevel face can easily slide and cut you. Use the right axe for the type of wood. Hardwood requires axes with thicker bits and a rounded bevel face. Rounded curvature of the edge equals strength.

Shop for The World's Best Axes.

Watch a quick Gransfors Bruks Slideshow: Gransfors Slideshow.

Learn More information about How To Care For Axes.

Learn More information about How To Sharpen Chisels & Plane Irons.

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