Prepping Basics

How to Sharpen An Axe: Different Sharpening Tools & Techniques

How to Sharpen An Axe

You need to know how to sharpen an axe in order to ensure that it is always safe to use. An inspection of your axe is necessary for your own protection. A dull cutting edge becomes a liability, particularly when you are using it for felling, hewing or pointing. This kind of edge puts your shins and feet at great risk. A sharpened vane will make things easier for you. Before you carry out your sharpening activity, make sure you have the best first aid kit to help you prepare for any situation.

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In fact you will not be worried about sharpening the edge every now and then. The only thing that you will have to do frequently is fine-tune the edge with a flat file.

How well do you know your axe?

A dull axe will require more strength to use, which is very true. It will not only require more strength to use, but it is also going to be extremely dangerous and less effective. This article is going to show you how to put a proper edge on your hatchet. It will demonstrate the techniques as well as show you the gears that you need to be successful. You will also be presented with the best and most reliable tips and tricks of sharpening an axe.


One thing that is most frustrating as far as sharpening your axe’s edge is concerned is the restoration of the edges. In most cases if you are not careful you are going to end up with a blade that has some pretty bad chips and nicks. Hand filing is a good option, which is a technique that has been used for centuries. However, if you have never tried that nor have the skills to do it, then again it can be really infuriating and your end results may not be satisfying at all. It can be unbelievably difficult to know, to hold and to maintain the angles.

Knowing the different parts of your heavy bladed tool is important, especially if you are new to this kind of a cutting tool. The most important parts that you need to know are:

  • head (poll, lug, and beard, heel of bit, secondary bevel, and bit, and cutting edge, toe of bit, cheek, and eye)
  • handle (shoulder, back of handle, belly of handle/ and knob).

Of all the aforementioned parts, the most important ones are the head and the handle. If you get these two parts right when buying your axe, then you will face less problems as far as sharpening is concerned. The configuration of the head and the handle will determine how easy your tool can penetrate through wood.

Getting started

The first thing that you need to do is to find the pivot point of your axe. In order to do that, you will need a compass. Put the compass point at the upper toe of the head and make sure the pencil comes into contact an eighth of an inch back from the poll. Ensure the compass point is stationary and then draw an arc from the pencil side. Make sure you press hard enough so that you can see the mark. Then place the compass point at the corner of the heel of bit and draw a similar curve from the heel’s point of view.

Finding Pivot Mark on the Axe

The pivot point is usually located at the intersection of the two curves you have just drawn. With the same compass configuration, place the compass point at the intersection point of the two curvatures and sketch out the radius on the bevel. This is necessary because most of the times you will come across hatchets that are improperly sharpened from the manufacturer or from another user. You will be surprised to find out from the curvature radius the authentic position of the cutting edge.

To get the same curvature and radius settings on the other side of the head, go ahead and do a center punch at the point of intersection. Use a drill press to make a small hole at the intersection point on both sides of the head. After a few minutes of sharpening, such as on a belt sander, you will observe great changes on the edge. When sharpening by hand using a file, you may think that you have the radius right; however, that is not usually the case.

Finding Pivot Mark on the Axe

The fixed point that you established by locating the pivot point ensures that all errors that exist on the blade are eliminated. You will slowly achieve the correct angles by gently sliding the edge from one side to another while you maintain the radius. The grind will come in from the back as it corrects the band grind you had started with. As you continue grinding, you will finally achieve the correct angle. However, you need to ensure that you maintain the angle as you grind the edge.

Different types of sharpening tools & techniques

Sharpening with a belt sander

A belt sander is a mechanism that involves an electric motor on the top of a continuous belt that is coated by abrasive and it is driven by rollers lengthwise. The sanding belt is moderately wide, an equivalent of your hand. A dust collection bag comes off one side of the belt sander. Normally, one of the two handles is fitted with an on/off trigger.

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There are various types of belt sanders, including: vertical, bench, table and hand belt sanders. The most recommended model for sharpening an axe is the table design. This particular design allows you to make some unique configurations, such as the ones mentioned earlier.

A table belt sander gives you the most precise angle and edge sharpness as long as you make the correct configurations, which you need to make on both the axe and sander. Locate the pivot of your axe and then drill a small hole on both sides. Ensure that the table model you select has a shorter work support table. Drill a hole at the middle of the support table and then attach the pointed piece of metal using a screw, a nut and some washers. The pointed object should be facing upwards.

Then place the intersection point on the sharp object so that your hatchet’s head is supported by the pointing object. Gently lower the bevel to land on the belt. The belts are categorized as follows: 120 grit, 600-grit, 800-grit and 1,000-grit. The kind of belt you use depends entirely on the bluntness and the angle of your blade.

Sharpened Axe

If it is only the angle that you are interested in; then you can directly use the 1,000-grit belt followed by a leather stropping belt. Once you have turned on the machine, push the edge gently on the belt from right to left to achieve the desired sharpness and angle.

Safety measures when using a belt sander

  • Make sure that your safety glasses are on whenever the sander is in operation.
  • Do not run the machine with flopping belts.
  • Make sure you support the blade with your hand so that it is not thrown off towards you.
  • Get rid of excessively rounded belts.
  • Avoid overheating by ensuring that the blade is moving too fast on the belt.

Sharpening with an angle grinder

An angle grinder is a versatile sharpening tool with ample finishing possibilities. These grinders come with different attachments that are connected to one end. The best model is one that features the next generation motor that delivers the finest power to weight ratio.

It should be installed with a heavy duty dust ejection system that will effectively eject damaging debris and dust that may get into the machine. It should have oversized brushes along with a large spiral bevel kit for a double brush life and long transmission.

It should have a One-Touch guard that offers 360° rotation with a single action. Your angle grinder should be installed with a grinding blade. You also need to have the following in place: a bucket with cooling water; abrasive for removing rust on your axe; a vice for holding the axe in place; protective glasses, gloves and ear muffs; a compass and a pencil; a drill; and a file.

The first thing you should do is remove any traces of rusting. Then determine the pivot point and draw the correct radius on the bevel/ cutting edge.

Place the poll end in the vice and lock it; just make sure that you strategically place the head in the vice in such a way that you will be able to do the angles at ease. This is so since you need to maintain the “true radius” you had initially established using the compass.

Make sure you cool your blade every now and then to avoid damaging the quality of the metal. When grinding the blade, try as much as possible to maintain the angle by looking at the radius and remember to continuously cool the blade.

Angle grinder safety

  • Wear all the protective gears before operating this tool, including: gloves, ear protection and glasses/ a full-face shield.
  • Make sure that your angle grinder has a wheel guard, which will help keep sparks out of your face.
  • Ensure there are no flammable objects in the proximity of your working table, such as a gas tank, pieces of papers or loose clothes.
  • Always remember that you are operating an angle grinder to avoid grinding yourself by mistake since concentration is a key ingredient when using this tool.
  • Do not do it yourself if you have a tendency of not paying attention to detail and focus; you should rather hire someone to do it for you.

Sharpening with a hand file

The best file hand file to use is the 12 inch mill bastard file. The file should weigh at least nine ounces and it should be fairly large for easy filing. It should be a single cut file and also make sure that you buy a fine grip handle.

Other items that you need to have in place include but are not limited to: gloves, rags, light machine oil, beeswax, wide leather strop, a vice, wire brush and 2 grit axe stone. Determine the pivot point as explained earlier in this article, and then use the pivot to draw the correct radius on the cutting edge.

This radius will ensure that you get the correct angle and you do not end up with a bad angle. Once you have established the radius, strategically lock the head on the vice, in such a way that you can sharpen the blade at ease. Wear your gloves and glasses. The best technique you should use when hand filing is to push the stroke into the edge of your axe head by maintaining the radius. This will ensure that you are filling at an angle and not directly into the cutting edge.

Filling directly on the edge will lead to chattering and rough/ uneven marks. You need to constantly clean the file to maintain its effectiveness. You should use a wire brush to remove any dust and debris from the file. You should never back drag the file, instead you should push it, and this will ensure that you do not dull the teeth.

Sharpening Axe

File the opposite side by following the same procedure. Unclamp your axe and use the stone to remove any debris and fine tune the blade. Rub the axe with oil as well as beeswax and store it in a leather sheath to avoid rusting.

Hand file safety

  • Always wear your protective gear.
  • Make sure the file is attached to a handle.
  • Do not use a loose vice.

In case you  sustained a cut, read our article on how to gauge if the wound is infected for more information.

In conclusion

Sharpening your axe is easy if you have the correct skill. However, it can be a very unpleasant affair if you do not have the correct skill. This article should help you do it correctly. The three discussed tools are the most resourceful ones as far as sharpening a hatchet is concerned.

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Therefore, you should choose a tool depending on your skills and experience. A hand file is the easiest tool to use and there are fewer risks attached. With a hand file, it is quite hard to damage the blade. A belt sander and an angle grinder can easily damage your blade if you incorrectly do the sharpening. Therefore, always pay attention to detail.

To ensure you have the best gear with you, check out our piece on how to choose the best axe for you survival needs.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you click on one of these links and make a purchase, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Also, as an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. If the information in this post has been helpful, please consider purchasing through one of the links in this article. Thank you.

About the author

David Dawson

David Dawson is a retired security specialist with over 20 years of experience. He worked for a secret manufacturing facilities and hospitals in Illinois. David's responsibility was to protect people in case of any disaster or cataclysm that might occur. Now he keeps on doing it through teaching others about how to prepare and survive flood, earthquake or even war.


  • Really helpful articles! We use this angle grinder on a regular basis for a shop my relatives own and pretty works great so far. We are very impressed with the quality and overall performance. And yeah, you should pay attention especially when using this because dont forget this can grind your fingers too!

  • I pulled my shoulder a while back because I used a dull axe to chop wood, and learned to always keeps my axes sharp since then.
    is there a specific angle grinder mark you would recommend?

  • Having a sharp axe is important. Not knowing how to properly maintain tools is widespread across the globe. A sharp axe is a must have for every household. It is not easy to use the sharpening tools the way they are meant to be used if you do not how.

  • I had never put much thought into finding the pivot point of the blade as a guide to sharpening. That is a great tip I’ll be sure to put to use the next time sharpening day comes around.

    Thanks, David, for that precise and useful tip.

  • We are glad we could help, just make sure you know your blade too well not to make a mess of it.

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