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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.

13 Comments on How to Sharpen an Ax

  1. This ax sharpening makes me glad I learned it differently. I agree with burrito about the burr. Try to count the stroke on the first side then repeat on the other. This will give you a good base. You will begin to be able to feel the burr once you have done this a few times. After I finish with the file, I move on to an “ax stone” with some honing oil on it. This will give it a nice touch and it has two sides with diffrent grits to make it even sharper. Lastly, I have been known to use my ax on a barber strop to make it hair splitting.

    Remember that a sharp axe is a safe axe.

  2. In the knife sharpening video, the angle is actually 23 degrees, not 30. You should also sharpen each side of the blade the same number of times. NEVER sharpen serration on a whetstone.

  3. where can i find a whetstone?

  4. nice man:-)

  5. lonhorn_fan8 // April 24, 2009 at 8:12 pm // Reply

    did not understand the knife sharpening

  6. i also agree with burrito about the burr on the axe

  7. Seems very simple.

  8. oldscouter // March 9, 2009 at 1:14 pm // Reply

    I have used and sharpened axes for 30 years — I agree with Burrito about the formation of the burr on the axe, and also making one long stroke each time.
    The idea of the log and stakes is a good one. I have never seen it before, and I think it is a good way to go.

  9. How often should I sharpen my pocket knife?

  10. what about using the file properly, you could very easly ruin files the way the video is showing you how

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