Date Published: 2021-09-08

How To Sharpen An Axe

How To Sharpen An Axe

By Adelia Ladson

What’s The Big Deal About Axe Maintenance?

Like any bladed tool, an axe needs to be maintained if it’s going to continue performing at the highest level. The most important reason for your axe to be in top shape is that, if it isn’t, it could cause personal injury. If it’s dull, you risk it slipping on the wood and bouncing off or back, possibly hitting your leg or foot. If the axe head is loose, it could slip off the handle and I don’t really need to explain that risk scenario. So, axe maintenance is a really big deal!

How To Sharpen An Axe?

Keeping your axe razor-sharp or making sure that it is razor-sharp before you actually start that chopping task is a necessity. Here are the steps to take to keep it ready-to-work.


I’m going to start with shaping, even though this isn’t part of a normal sharpening routine. This is what you do only if you’re starting with an axe head that’s extremely damaged. Use an axe file (you can find one easily online) to restore the original bevel edge, including the curve of the edge, and the bevel face. Clamp the head in a vice that’s securely mounted so that you can use both hands. You want to file against the sharpening bevel so that you’re pushing the file away from yourself. The strokes need to be firm and even, making sure not to touch the actual blade edge and lifting the file completely off the sharpening bevel on the return stroke. Make sure to keep the head and file free of filings and that you don’t over-heat the edge, so cool it often. When you have raised a slight burr opposite the filing edge, you’re done shaping the axe head. A word of caution: Keep the original shape of the axe head and bevel face or the axe can slide and cut you when you’re using it.


To repair normal wear and replace the basic sharpness to an axe, you grind it. I’m sure you’ve seen an axe being ground on a spinning grindstone on movies or shows. As most people don’t have one of those handy, you can use just a regular whetstone. You can find a few specific axe sharpening stones or “pucks” with a coarse grit. I suggest the Arkansas Tri-Hone Sharpening System, which comes with an oil lubricant and a coarse grit silicon carbide stone. Whatever type of whetstone you chose to use, move the axe head slowly back and forth so that the sharpening bevel is evenly ground back to its original shape. Even a straight edge bevel needs to be slightly convex because if the bevel is too straight the edge can break.


The honing step is for the very tip of the edge of the axe blade, which, with use, becomes thin and bent. There will be a slight burr on the edge that can be removed with first a coarse grit and then a fine grit whetstone. The Arkansas Tri-Hone Sharpening System comes with both a medium and a fine grit, 100-percent natural Arkansas stone. Use a circular motion and turn the axe frequently, removing the burr by working from the side of the axe head towards the cutting edge. When you have finished honing with the fine grit stone, you’re ready for stropping the edge.


Stropping makes the edge razor-sharp, and it only takes a few strokes on the Kriegar Extra-Wide Double-Sided Hanging Strop to do it. The 3” wide, 21” long strop is smooth buffalo leather on one side and coarser suede on the other side with a metal swivel hook on top, so that it can be flipped from one side to the other while hanging. Start with the coarser suede side and run each stroke away from the cutting edge, then, repeat the process on the smooth leather side. Your razor-sharp, safe axe is ready to work!

Other Maintenance

Just a couple of more things that you need to do to assure that your axe will perform well when you need it. Make sure that you clean the blade after use, especially, if you’re splitting wood with a sticky sap like pine. Or if you’re cutting anything else that will leave a residue on the blade. All steel has the possibility of rusting so, after you clean the axe, make sure that you dry it good and store it in a dry environment. However, if it gets too hot where it’s stored, a wood-handled axe could shrink and loosen the axe head. So, I wouldn’t store it in a place where it’s being hit by full sun every day. That being said, always make sure that the axe head is secure in the handle before using the axe. Finally, if you’re storing the axe away for any length of time, the axe head should be oiled to help prevent rust.

Our Axe Recommendations

When you’re going camping or packing a bug-out bag or survival gear, a good, solid axe is an absolute necessity. There are tasks that you’ll encounter that need an axe to accomplish, especially, cutting firewood and building a shelter, if necessary. If you’re bugging out, you never know if you’ll need to break through a barrier or break into something to survive. In a dicey situation, an axe isn’t a bad self-defense weapon either. I have chosen a couple of camping and survival axes that are top-performers on the market, based on customer reviews of their performance.

USMC Field Axe

You can’t get a better recommendation for a camping axe than one that is officially licensed by the United States Marine Corps. The USMC Field Axe is the most compact tool on this list, coming in at 11 1/4” in overall length. It’s smaller size, however, doesn’t mean that you’re getting less chopping power! It has a thick, stainless steel head with a stonewashed finish and a 3 1/2” blade on the front, which narrows down to an edged point on the back end. The handle is a solid ABS that is wrapped in black paracord, extending into a wrist lanyard. Three heavy-duty screws secure the handle to the axe head and the head snaps securely into a TPU belt sheath for easy carry. The USMC Field Axe can tackle either chopping or penetrating tasks, giving you a versatile, must-have survival tool.

Schrade Titanium Survival Axe

You know you can count on quality with a name like Schrade, and the Titanium Survival Axe is no exception. The real appeal for this axe is that, with its titanium-coated, 3Cr13 stainless steel head, it’s rock solid and almost indestructible. If SHTF, you can count on this survival axe to back you up whatever the job and last through the entire Apocalypse! It, too, has a textured hammer head on the back end. The ergonomically, contoured handle is glass-fiber filled with a TPR rubberized grip for supreme control. An added benefit is that a sharpening stone is included and there’s a firestarter in the handle. The Schrade Titanium Survival Axe can be carried, conveniently at your side in a heavy-duty nylon belt sheath.

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