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How to Sharpen an Axe with Minimal Tools

how to sharpen an axe

If you’re like me, you prefer to do things the hard way. Why use a chainsaw when you can bear down on a sharp piece of metal attached to a handle and bust some wood? Chopping wood is not only great for your manly (or womanly) physique, but it’s also a great survival skill similar to finding water in the wilderness. There’s a good chance you’ll chop wood at some point in your life, whether you’re an outdoorsperson or not so you need to know how to sharpen an axe. 

Heck, a good axe and some skill and you can build a lean-to structure, cabin, provide wood for a nice, warm fire and even protect yourself. Just be sure you have a way to start your fire once you’ve chopped enough wood. I like to carry lanyard fire starters just in case my lighter goes out. 

survival skills

I’m not going to get into the different ways to chop or split wood in this article. My main objective is to give you a few different options on keeping a sharp blade on one of your most important pieces of survival or outdoor gear.

Using a dull axe is no fun and will wear you out quickly! It’s also dangerous to use a dull blade – it can glance off the wood instead of finding its mark deep inside the tree you’re cutting. Learning how to sharpen an axe or tomahawk will save you back-breaking labor further down the line. You may find yourself in a jam and need to chop trees as quickly as possible one day and you want your blade to eat through the wood like a zombie dining on brains.

OK, that wasn’t the best analogy, but you get the picture.

There are many different ways to sharpen an axe, as well as many products you can use. I like to keep things simple and not complicate it. Some knife sharpening devices are expensive, but I’m going to show you one thing you can use that costs less than $10 and one you probably already have in your tool box.

Before you get started, there’s a few things to cover so you don’t hurt yourself. Dealing with axes, tomahawks, hatchets and survival knives can be a dangerous endeavor, so you have to take proper precautions. We suggest wearing thick gloves, safety goggles to protect against metal and possibly a dust mask. That may be overkill, maybe not.

Clean Your Axe or Tomahawk 

First, you’re going to want to clean the axe blade with steel wool and use coarse-grit sandpaper to rub the axe head. Repeat this process with fine grit sandpaper to ensure you have a clean axe before you start sharpening it. Obviously, if you’re out in the wilderness and don’t have much time, you can skip this part of the process and go straight to sharpening your blade.

Use a vice if you’re working out of your garage or shop. Clamp the axe horizontally to file, or vertically to put a better edge on it. If you’re not at the shop and at the camp or in the woods, hold the axe in your arm.

These methods may not put a razor sharp edge on your axe, but it will be sharp enough to fell trees, chop firewood, clear property and if you’re into throwing tomahawks, you will be able to put a good enough edge to stick into your targets.

Check out the Top 5 Tomahawks for Under $50.

Time for Some Elbow Grease

Use an aggressive file to fix any nicks or burrs in your axe. I use a bastard file I picked up from Harbor Freight for a few bucks.

Pass over the blade with your file a few times on each side. Use a downward motion and switch from side to side. Don’t catch the blade with your file on the upswing, that won’t do much for sharpening and it could damage your file.

At this point, you will want to switch over to a stone or a lighter file. I like to use Lansky Pucks for sharpening my tomahawks. They’re easy to use and you can carry them with you with ease. 

These axe sharpening pucks come with two different grits on each side: Coarse grit of 120 and Medium grit of 280. They fit in the palm of your hand and can easily be carried in your pocket, go-bag, survival bag or vehicle. 

When using a stone, start at the top corner of the axe blade and push to the bottom corner. Do this until it’s as sharp as you desire.

How to Field Sharpen an Axe with a puck

It may take a few tries to perfect the art of sharpening your axe, but you’ll get the hang of it.

There you have it, two cheap items that can sharpen your axes for maximum efficiency. 

Do you have anything you’d like to add? Leave us a comment. 

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