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How to Sharpen an Ax

Scouts most often use hand axes to complete conservation projects on trails and in campgrounds. Occasionally, they also use them to split cut wood into handling. To keep an ax safe and effective, it must stay sharp. Here’s how to sharpen your ax.


  • Mill bastard file that is 8 or 10 inches long
  • Leather gloves
  • Knuckle guard
  • Two wooden pegs or tent stakes
  • Log about 6 inches in diameter

Check your file: The lines across the face of a file are its teeth. They angle away from the point, or tang. A sharp file will be flat gray, not shiny. A silvery shine means that a file has broken teeth and won’t work very well.


1. Safety first! Wear leather gloves to protect your hands as you sharpen an ax with a file. Make a knuckle guard by drilling a small hole in a 3-inch square of leather, plywood, or an old inner tube. Slip the hole over the tang (or pointy end) of the file and hold the guard in place with a file handle. You can buy a handle at a hardware store or make one from a piece of wood.

2. Brace the ax head on the ground between two wooden pegs or tent stakes and a log about 6 inches in diameter. Another Scout can help hold the ax steady.

3. Place the file on the edge of the blade and push it into the bit. Use enough pressure so that you feel the file cutting the ax metal.

4. Lift the file off the ax as you draw it back for another stroke. A file cuts only when you push it away from the tang. Dragging the file across the ax blade in the wrong direction can break the teeth and ruin the file.

5. Sharpen the ax with firm, even strokes. After you have filed one side of the bit, turn the ax over and do the other side. Use about the same number of strokes.

6. Remember that a dull edge reflects light and will look shiny. Keep filing until the sharpened edge seems to disappear.

16 Comments on How to Sharpen an Ax

  1. I was a little confusing but overall it was helpful.

  2. Troop17 is right. its better to go against the edge because there is less of a chance of rounding it off an ruining the edge. @hawkeye, maybe you’re just a boss at sharpening blades.

  3. I worked for Buck Knives for two years and one of my duties was sharpening knives on a leather strop.

  4. This is wrong you’re supposed to have the blade pointed away from you while doing this it says so in the boy scout handbook

  5. Good Reminder If You Forget How To Sharpen a Axe or Knife:)

  6. Random person // October 12, 2010 at 6:46 am // Reply

    my knife is so DULL it wont sharpen with a do i sharpen it!please HELP!!!!!

    • get a good qulity pocket gatco sharpener (they sell them at Cabelas)they will sharpen almost anything really well I use them to keep my knives razor sharp (you can alomst shave with my letherman)

    • how long have you had your knife?

  7. files work faster than stones and if you ever have to cut out a stump sharpening with a stone will take forever

  8. it really isn’t that easy

  9. HawaiianEagle74 // August 3, 2010 at 1:31 pm // Reply

    How is it that we teach our scouts to always cut away from their body but when sharpening an ax they file towards the blade with their hands? Shouldn’t it be taught to get on the other side of the ax and file the same direction as the blade?

    • If you try and sharpen ‘with the blade’ you will likely round over the edge – always sharpen against the edge.

      • i disagree i’ve sharpened my tomahawk with the blade a ton and never had a single problem with it exept now it’s razor sharp and thats a advantage

    • Anonymous // May 5, 2011 at 1:40 pm // Reply

      There should be a guard ion the file to protect the hand.

  10. Scouter32 // June 6, 2010 at 5:12 pm // Reply

    I love how Boys Life’s website shows you cool stuff like this.

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