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How To Sharpen An Axe: A Guide To A Razor Sharp Edge

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Maintaining the sharpness of your backpacking axes and bushcraft axes is critical for keeping them effective, safe, and dependable.

We’ll see how you can sharpen your dull axe at home by hand using tools such as oil stones, wet stones, water stones, a file, and even a rock.

This DIY approach can come in handy when you are out in the bush but forgot (or left) your sharpening tools. Before starting, though, remember this tip: spend an equal amount of effort on both sides of the head.

The reason is that you don’t want to distort the shape of the blade and tilt it toward one or the other side. This can make using the axe a lot more difficult, as you’ll have to compensate in your stroke for the twisted edge.

Safety is important when sharpening an axe. You’re working around a blade that could cut you to the bone with one wrong move.

Your hands should not be the testing ground for how well you sharpened that cutting edge.

We recommend you use leather safety gloves and eye protection. Just make sure the gloves are not too thick, as this will make your movements a lot more laborious.

No matter which sharpening process you use, keeping your hands and eyes safe is a must.

If you’re using a Dremel tool or bench grinder to sharpen, use ear protection too. When working inside, a dust mask or a respirator will keep that harmful debris out of your lungs.

Cleaning The Axe Head

cleaning axe head at home

First, cleaning the head removes any dirt or rust that makes sharpening the axe harder.

Secure your axe in either a workbench vice or your lap with the head between your legs, like in the picture above. Using steel wool, buff away any surface rust and dirt.

You can also use abrasive solutions to clean the rust off. For example, white vinegar or WD40 will eat the rust if given enough time.

With white vinegar, you should detach the handle from the head. Then, fully submerge the head and leave it overnight.

With WD40, spray the head with enough solution so that you cover it. Leave WD40 to work its magic for a half to a full hour. After using either white vinegar or WD40, use steel wool to remove any remaining rust.

As long as you get most of it cleaned off, you can move on to your preferred sharpening method.

Different Sharpening Methods

1. With a File​​​​​

sharpening axe using a file


  • A 10-inch mill file, as well as an optional bastard file, are required.
  • Bench vices or clamps

Push File Method

  • Secure the axe, either in a vice or firmly in your lap.
  • Use a sharpie and color the entire bevel to serve as a guide.
  • Take a 10-inch mill file and place it on the blade.
  • Match the angle of the bevel and the angle of the file.
  • Push long, continuous strokes 5–10 times along the blade.
  • Perform the same number of strokes on the other side of the blade.
  • If the blade still has damage, give it more strokes.

Draw File Method

  • Secure your axe head with a bench vice.
  • Sharpie the bevel edge to create a guide for filing.
  • Hold the file with a hand on each edge, with one hand anchored at the top of the axe head.
  • Match the bevel angle, and draw the file across the edge.
  • Repeat 10-15 times to sharpen the edge.
  • Repeat the same process on the other side of the axe blade to finish sharpening.

2. Using a Whet Stone


  • Axe-sharpening stone (whetstone)
  • A vise (optional)
  • Use a lubricant (water or oil, depending on your stone).


  • Secure your axe in a vise (if you have one).
  • Apply lubricant to the coarse side of your whetstone.
  • Place the head’s edge on the stone while matching the bevel’s angle.
  • Apply moderate pressure and begin working the head in small circles, counting the number of strokes used.
  • Work from one side of the axe edge to the other.
  • A little paste will start to accumulate; do not wipe this off.
  • Perform one complete pass by working the whole side and ending at your starting point.
  • Flip to the opposite face and start working the blade in the same number of circles.

After working the axe blade on the coarse side, you can flip the stone over to the fine side and use the same process.

  • Apply oil to the fine side of the whetstone.
  • Position the head’s edge on the stone and match the angle of the edge.
  • Apply moderate pressure and work in small circles once more, counting the number of strokes used.
  • Start on one side of the axe edge and work your way to the other.
  • Complete a pass by working the entire edge back to your starting point.
  • Work the other face of the head in a similar manner, using the same number of strokes.
  • Repeat 2 to 3 times on each side for a finely honed axe edge.

After working on the fine side, the blade should now be razor sharp. Test your arm hair’s sharpness or run your fingernail against the blade.

If the edge cuts your hair or leaves a notch in your fingernail, it’s sharp and ready for service.

This method works great for sharpening both axes and knives, so if you ever need to touch up a knife blade, you’ve got the skills to take care of the job.

3. With a Puck


  • Sharpening puck
  • Use a lubricant (water or oil, depending on your puck).


  • Position the axe handle between your legs, with the head resting on your lap.
  • Honing oil should be applied to the coarse stone side of the sharpening puck.
  • Apply the sharpening puck to one face of the blade while matching the bevel angle.
  • Begin working in small circles down to the opposite side of the blade and back while counting the number of strokes.
  • A little paste of honing oil and metal will form; do not wipe this off.
  • After you’ve returned to your starting point, repeat the same number of strokes on the other side of the head.

The edge of the axe blade should now be sharp enough to cut paper. We can now move to the side with the stone’s finer grit. In the same position as before, the axe will be between your legs.

  • Apply honing oil to the fine-grit side of your sharpening puck.
  • Bring the stone to its head and match the bevel’s angle.
  • Apply moderate pressure, and work the puck in small circles along the edge of the axe blade while counting the number of strokes used.
  • Switch to the other face of the blade and perform the same number of strokes as the previous one.
  • For a honed edge, repeat 3–5 times per face.

Your axe is now honed and razor sharp if you’ve used the correct sharpening technique.

The sharpening puck’s fine grit helps refine the edge and turn your axe into an effective wood processing tool.

4. With a Bench Grinder

sharpening axe using grinder


  • Workbench grinder
  • A tub of water
  • Wearing protective gear such as eyes, ears, a long-sleeve shirt, and pants is essential.
  • Mill file


  • Start with your bench sharpener.
  • Match the bevel’s angle to the grinding wheel’s.
  • Use light pressure and grind so that the wheel moves away from the blade, not onto it.
  • Frequently dunk the head into water to cool it off and preserve the temper.
  • Grind the other side of the axe blade to the same amount as the previous one, making sure to dunk the head frequently.
  • With a wire brush, clean up the edge to remove the burr and give the axe a sharp edge.

Bench sharpeners can take away lots of material quickly. This can both be a good and a bad thing, so pay close attention when using them.

With just a few minutes of stone grinding, you can eliminate significant damage that would have otherwise required extensive manual filing. After a quick touch-up with a mill file, your axe will be razor-sharp like new.

Sharpening your axe with a bench grindstone isn’t ideal, as the heat from grinding can ruin the axe steel’s temper. Use light pressure and intermittent grinds to prevent heat buildup.

Dunk the head in a tub of water to cool it and preserve the temper. If you’re not careful, the bench grindstone can also leave your blade with a hollow grind. Be sure to limit the amount of material you take away to a minimum.

5. With a Dremel Tool


  • Dremel tool
  • The grinding stone head is typically based on aluminum oxide.
  • A tub of water
  • Protective gear (eyes, ears, dust mask, long-sleeve shirt, and pants)


  • Sharpie the edge of your bevel to create a guide for sharpening the blade.
  • Match the angle with your dremel tool.
  • Use light pressure to grind from one edge of the blade to the other.
  • Frequently dunk the head into water to cool it off and preserve the temper.
  • Grind the other side of the axe blade to the same amount as the previous one, making sure to dunk the head frequently.
  • With a wire brush, clean up the edge to remove the burr and give the axe a sharp edge.

Using a dremel tool is a great way to speed up the process. After a few minutes of careful grinding, you can have your axe razor sharp and ready for business.

Sharpening your axe with a dremel tool comes with the same issues as using a bench grinder. If you grind too quickly, the head will heat up and lose its temper.

To prevent the head from heating too much, use brief and intermittent grinds. To keep the temper intact, frequently dunk the axe in a tub of water.

6. Using a Rock

Sometimes you find yourself out there in the Amazon without your trusted sharpener to hone that cutting edge.

You either forgot or lost it. But nature has plenty of tools lying around, so don’t fret.


  • The rock is relatively flat and has fine grit, acting as a natural hone.
  • Water (optional)


  • If you want your rock to behave more like a wet stone, apply water.
  • Hold the rock firmly in your hand, avoiding exposing any fingers around the sharpening edge.
  • While counting the number used, use either small circles or sweeping motions along the blade’s length.
  • To sharpen the other side of the blade, use the same amount of motion.
  • Strop the now-sharp blade against a piece of leather or pant leg to remove the burr.

This first method employs a fine, smooth rock to sharpen, similar to using a sharpening puck.

Stones like these are easiest to find in rivers. To sharpen the blade on the wet rock, use a small circular motion, and be mindful to use the same number on the opposite side for an even edge.

Any sharpening edge you’d normally use with a sharpening puck will work just the same with an improvised one.

7. Improvised Sharpening Stone

sharpening axe using stone


  • Quartz (found in rivers or with other stones)
  • Live wood with the bark removed


  • Take a piece of quartz you found and smash it between two rocks.
  • Grind the quartz to a fine powder and remove any large leftover chunks.
  • Take a piece of live wood with the bark removed and wet it.
  • Add water to the quartz powder, then hold it in your hand.
  • Drag the piece of live wood through the powder to create an improvised hone.
  • To sharpen your knife blade, drag it across the quartz on both sides.

The second method comes from Bear Grylls during a survival trip in Costa Rica. Bear smashes a fine-course rock and uses live wood to create a sharpening stone.

This method is great for giving your camping knife or sport hatchet a quick touch-up whenever you’re in a survival situation.

Now you can return to woodworking with your sharpened blade.

8. Polishing Your Axe Head


  • Angle grinder (optional)
  • Machine sander (optional)
  • Bench sharpener with buffing wheel (optional)
  • Sandpaper ranges from 120 grit to 800 grit.
  • Clean rag
  • Wax polish
  • Light machine oil
  • A tub of water
  • Wearing protective gear such as eyes, ears, a long-sleeve shirt, and pants is essential.


  • Use an angle grinder or sandpaper to remove surface rust, but be careful not to heat the head. If you use an angle sharpener, occasionally dunk the head in water.
  • To sand the blade, use a machine sander or sandpaper, starting with 120 grit sandpaper and moving up to 800 grit sandpaper.
  • Use a waxed buffing wheel in the direction of the blade or a clean rag to apply wax polish.
  • Take a clean rag and apply a fine layer of light machine oil to protect from rust.

Polishing your axe head is a process that will protect all the hard work you’ve put into sharpening and honing it. Polishing your axe blade protects the edge and helps it last longer.

A thin coat of polish will ward off any dirt or corrosion that could damage your axe’s metal. If you use an angle grindstone, be careful not to heat the head up too much. Dunk the head periodically to maintain temper.


You’ve now got a sharp and polished axe head that’s ready for anything you decide to put it up against.

While even the most durable axe edges won’t stay sharp forever, here’s a quick list of tips to help care for your axe’s newfound edge and maintain the handle wood.

To prevent dirt from embedding in the metal, use a chopping block instead of chopping on dirt or rocks.
To prevent moisture-induced corrosion, cover the head and carry it in a waxed leather mask whenever possible.

Apply linseed oil to wooden axe handles to maintain a protective finish and prevent the handle from splitting, cracking, and drying out.

If you have any questions or comments on sharpening your axe, please share them below.