My blade sharpening services in Mobile Alabama include axes. Most non-professional users of axes, meaning the average guy or gal, do not realize that an axe is not suppossed to be razor sharp. Blade sharpening for an axe should result in an edge that is great for all around use – chopping wood or felling trees.
Always wear gloves when sharpening an axe blade. The force used and the amount of steel to be removed from a dull or damaged axe requires more force than you might think. Not that it can’t be done. It can, quite easily and that is the problem. You do not realize just how deeply you can push your fingers or palm into the blade. I wear and recommend heavy leather welders gloves.
Axe Sharpening Near Me
Depending on the condition of the axe and its intended use, I go through these steps:
Shaping An Axe
I clamp the axe head in my bench vise and go two work with two hands (covered with heavy leather gloves). First I file against the sharpening bevel, pushing the file – not pulling. Using very firm even stokes of the file, I let the file travel the edge of the axe without touching the edge. Each stroke is interrupted at the end of the bit and the file is completely pulled off the sharpening bevel on the return stroke. Remember, no sharpening on the return stroke. When a slight burr forms opposite the filing edge I will remount the axe in the vise to begin the other side. When the axe head is extremely damaged, I will start with a file to reestablish the original bevel edge including the curve of the edge and bevel face. I do not use grinders or powered stones unless the head is in very bad shape, in which case I will use a slow-turning grinding stone with plenty of water flowing over the axe and stone. Care must be taken to not over heat the edge, which will cause it to lose its temper. I use a Gransfors Bruks Axe Sharpening File for the heavy sharpening work and often finish the face edge with Gransfors Bruks Axe Sharpening Diamond. Always keep the original shape of the 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 and a rounded curvature on the edge gives the edge strength.
How To Sharpen An Axe With A Grinder
As said earlier, I avoid using power tools such as a bench grinder or hand-held grinder unless the axe head is badly deformed. When it is necessary to use a grinder, I will use a wet bench grinder or, in extreme cases, a hand-held grinder with a flap disc. My preferred type is 4.5″ x 7/8″ Premium High Density Jumbo Zirconia Type 29 Flap Disc 40 Grit – 10 Pack and I grind very little between dunks in a barrel of water.
Honing or How To Sharpen An Axe With A Stone
To finish the very tip of the cutting edge use a medium-coarse stone and move to a fine stone for the last dozens or so passes. Rotate sides and use a circular motion to sharpen the edge. It is important to move from side to side of the bit. The circular motion combined with the appearance f an ever increasing shine and sharpness is kind of mesmerizing and its easy to get carried away. About a dozen circular passes and rotate. Repeat. Repeat. Always work from head to edge and do not work from edge to head because you will certainly cut yourself if you do!
Stropping An Axe
Most people sharpening an axe never consider stropping an axe. Stropping is usually reserved for knives and surgical instruments, but to me, a cutting edge is a cutting edge and all deserve as much attention as needed to achieve quality work.
A strop is a piece of leather that is either plain or treated with a very fine abrasive. Unlike the hard surface of a stone, when you put your tool on the strop the leather gives, you get more than a point contact and you hone a much larger area of the tool at the same time. I treat my strop by rubbing it with a fine abrasive such as rubbing compound and liquid or paste metal polishes. The treated strop becomes a fine abrasive that conforms to the curvature of the edge unlike stones.
Axe Sharpening Techniques
- Clamp the axe edge up in a vise. Using an big, course file, first tackle any nicks that exists on the blade. Once they have been removed are extend no futher that the rest of the edge, proceed to file the edge in a downward motion. On the upstroke of the file, lift the file slightly above the blade so it does not file “in reverse.” Make a few passes on one side and then the other. Alternate between the sides of the edge. until you have an arc of shiny steel on both sides of the axe blade.
- Now start concentrating your attention on the edge. As you file the edge while looking for a slight burr or sliver of steel to appear on the edge opposite from the one you are filing. When you see this burr or sliver appear, stop filing.
- Put your file away and grab a sharpening stone. Apply the stone to the edge just as you did with the file – using a downward motion. What you hope to achieve here is removal of the marks left by the file. Removing those marks means you are in reality sharpening the edge even further and removing any courseness in the edge that may encourage the axe blade to stick in the wood. When those marks are gone, pick up a finer stone…
- .and in a circular motion, improve the edge further by removing any swirls or marks left by the previous stone.
Axe Sharpening Angle
Dull axes make your work harder and they can glance off the wood and cause you serious injury. Keep them sharp or do not use them at all – they are very dangerous when used dull or used improperly.
There are different types of axes and therefore there are different sharpening requirements. I go into greater detail on this matter elsewhere but I will say here again that a axe for cutting and an axe for splitting wood are two different animals. In fact, for splitting logs, consider a maul not an axe.
When sharpening your axe pay special attention to the bevel (cutting angle) at the bit end. You should notice an axe does not have a straight consistent wedge shape. The angle and thickness is different as you move along the cutting edge. Most axes have a 30-40 degree angle at the end of the bit, parallel and inline with the axe handle, and a 15-20 degree angle about ½” to 1″ from the cutting edge. Do not narrow the thickest part of the blade (the bulge). Get just the edge sharp and take away no more metal than that. The thick part of the axe head cutting edge (bit) is what provides the axe its splitting power. If you narrow this area you just wind up with a sharp axe that sticks in the log.
Axe Sharpening Tools
The tools you need for sharpening an axe are basic and relatively inexpensive; a good file, an axe stone, and a wire brush are really all that is needed. Sharpen your axe by hand. Do not use motorized grinding wheels unless it is slow and has water running over the axe head. A motorized grinding wheel can heat the blade to the point where it loses it’s temper, weakening the steel and permanently damaging the axe head.
Tools I normally use for sharpening an axe:
- 10″ or 12″ single cut mill bastard file. Files come in single or double cut.
- Axe stone. Look for one that has 2 grits and can be used dry. I use a Lansky Puck – Dual Grit Multi-Purpose Sharpener – Blade & Tool Sharpener and you should have one of your own to keep the axe in good shape after I have reprofiled and sharpened your axe.
- Wire brush
- Leather strop. For fanatics like myself. If you regularly need to polish a sharpened edge, I recommend the one I use – Straight Razor Strop Leather Sharpening Strap 20″ Barber Strop.
- Beeswax. Once you start using beeswax, you will find it hard to find anything else to replace it. Luckily, I buy my beeswax from local bee farms but when they are out, I order this product from Amazon: ChefLand Organic Beeswax Yellow Bars | Natural Bee Wax 1 Ounce Blocks | Hand Poured, Premium Quality, Cosmetic Grade, Triple Filtered | Unbleached | Pack of 5 | Perfect for DIY Lip Balm, Body Lotions
- Light machine oil
The Ax Book: The Lore and Science of the Woodcutter
Published: February 25, 2015