Obviously, you don’t intend to go out and chop wood with a dull ax. But, if you don’t keep your ax sharpened, this is what could end up happening, and you won’t get very far. The sharper your ax is, the better it will work, and the easier your job will be.
A splitting ax doesn’t have to be overly sharp because it is not meant for cutting. But, if you need to cut anything with an ax or a hatchet, you need to learn how to keep it sharp. This article will discuss one method of sharpening an ax by using a file and a whetstone.
Before you can begin sharpening that ax, there are a few things you will need to do to get ready. First, you should be wearing gloves. You don’t have to use a pair of thick gloves that will inhibit your dexterity; a pair of gloves made from light cotton will do. You just want to have something covering your hands, so you don’t end up with nicks and cuts. Another option is to use a pair of light chainmail gloves to ensure you don’t get any cuts while sharpening the blade.
If there is rust on the ax, that will need to be cleaned off before you can begin sharpening. This is easy to do by using steel wool, coarse-grit sandpaper, or a rust eraser. If you choose sandpaper, simply fold it over both sides of the blade; using even pressure, rub it back and forth. This will take care of the sharpening, but if you want to make the blade shiny, keep going over it with finer sandpapers until you get the shine you want.
Hold the ax steady. This is best achieved by putting it into a vise or laying it down on a flat surface (the vise will help keep both hands free, which will make the job easier). Now you are ready to begin sharpening.
Choosing a Whetstone
A whetstone, also called a sharpening stone, is necessary for anyone who wants to keep their blades sharp. By using a whetstone, your ax can be sharp enough that you should be able to shave with it (although we really don’t advise doing this). The following is a list of the many grades of whetstones you can use.
- For chips – Use up to and including whetstones that are 1000-grit and coarse. These are used for keeping edges sharp and getting rid of chips
- For dull edges – Use 1000 to 3000-grit whetstones for sharpening dull edges
- Finishing – Use 4000 to 8000-grit whetstones for finishing the blade and refining the edge
If you are in the market for a whetstone, the best option is to get one that is double-sided with 1000-grit on one side and 3000-grit or higher on the other, or 3000/8000 if it is to be used as a finishing stone.
Sharpening an Axe with a File and a Whetstone
Shape the Profile and Edge
The first step in sharpening an ax is to use a file to shape the blade’s profile and edge. The file should be 10 to 12 inches in length because shorter files don’t have as many teeth and won’t work as well. Some people find the best type of file for this is a bastard mill file because it has an easy-to-hold handle.
While shaping the blade, follow its curve, using even pressure with every file stroke. There are two ways you can hold the file. You can hold it in one hand and move it back and forth. You could also hold the file handle in your non-dominant hand while holding the tip in your dominant hand and pull it towards yourself. This is known as the draw method.
Depending on how dull your ax is, you could be spending a lot of time on the shaping step. Keep working until you have a straight edge that has no chips, dents, or other marks. You will need to make a lot of passes on both sides of the blade edge to get rid of the burr. Don’t worry if you don’t remove all the burr; you can take care of that in the next step – honing the blade with your whetstone.
Sharpening with a Whetstone
Now that you have prepared the blade for sharpening, it is time to really get down to the nitty-gritty. Hold the whetstone in one hand and your ax in the other hand. The ax edge should be coated with water or honing oil, depending on the type of whetstone you are using.
Place the whetstone against the edge of the blade, rub it in circular motions against the blade edge, and make sure that you are using even pressure and moving from edge to edge. Once you have finished doing this on one side, turn the ax around, and repeat the process on the other side of the blade.
When you have gotten the blade to the sharpness you want, it is time to use a finer whetstone (or if yours has two sides, use the finer one) to get rid of the remaining burr. Once it has turned into a “feather edge,” you are finished, and your ax will be ready to use.
There is one more step, but this is optional. If you want to make sure that no moisture gets into the blade, apply a protective coating. For this, you can use beeswax or oil. You can even use Vaseline for this step.