DO IT YOURSELF

How to Sharpen An Axe: Tips for The Average Lumberjack

Axe maintenance
Jerry Mueller
Written by Jerry Mueller

We’re in the height of summer, and that means every outdoorsy nature-loving person, and their mother is enjoying this year’s season of sensational camping. What would a camping trip be without a nightly fire to keep you warm?

Where would you tell the ghost stories? How would you roast the marshmallows for the late night s’mores? Luckily, you won’t have to ask yourself these questions because you’ll be prepared to split that firewood like a seasoned camper.

Axe outdoor

Not many campers understand the importance of axe maintenance, and how it’ll make their lives much easier when they go camping. Making sure your axe is in tip-top shape is just as important as making sure your tent is in working order. You greatly depend on both of these items in order to have a fun and safe camping trip. Maintaining your camping axe is a fairly easy task to achieve, but it is also a highly overlooked one.

Let’s Get Down to Business

The first step in maintaining your axe is to identify where it needs the most work, or where it is already breaking, cracking, chipped etc. Be sure to pay attention to the sturdiness and firmness of the handle when you swing the axe.

The easiest way to check for sturdiness is to get in a few practice swings to see if the handle wobbles at all. Check the wood to see if there are any cracks or splinters in the handle. You should also inspect the grain of the wood and make sure it runs the full length of the handle.

Cracks in the wood means that your axe might be close to breaking, or isn’t splitting wood efficiently. A damaged handle can also lead to accidents when splitting wood, or leaving a job incomplete if the handle breaks. If you need to replace the handle of your axe, there are certain woods that are better at getting the job done than others. This will be explained in greater detail later.

Damaged axe handle

The next thing you should do is inspect the blade of the axe. The end of the blade should form a nice smooth curve from top to bottom. What you’re looking for in this inspection is the presence of any dents or curves in the blade that could be a result of splitting a lot of wood, or contact with other surfaces if you’ve missed your target.

Chips and dents in the metal will greatly affect your ability to split wood effectively, so repairing or replacing the head of your axe as soon as possible is very important.

Work Out that Wobble!

The first problem we will address is that of a wiggly handle. If your handle isn’t sturdy or firm, it could cause a few issues. You may lose your grip and possibly hurt yourself or another person if you lose your grip in the middle of a swing.

Injuries to the hand and wrist are also common when using axes with wobbly handles, and it can make the task of wood splitting much harder than it needs to be. If you want to prevent this from happening, there are two ways you can achieve that.

When you’re splitting wood, make sure you aim for your target carefully! One of the most common ways a handle becomes loose is because you miss your target and hit the handle against the wood you’re trying to split or another surface. Secondly, if you get your axe stuck in something, don’t try to wrench the axe out, because it can loosen the handle from the inside of the axe. Take care with removing your axe from the surface it’s embedded in.

Axe for Chopping Wood

If you have adequate wood working skills, then it will be a simple task for you to replace the handle of your axe. Before you buy a new handle, make sure that the wood is high quality and that the grain of the wood runs the entire length of the handle.

Now that you’ve selected the right kind of axe handle, you’re ready to fit the blade into the handle. Turn the blade upside down and secure it safely. To do this, you need a tool called a table vice. Make sure that the blade is snuggly fit into the table vice so it doesn’t move when you insert the handle. This is vitally important, because you’ll have to put some elbow grease into this next step.

Next, place the new, carefully inspected handle over the eye of the axe head, also known as the hole, and fit it in as snuggly as you can. Now, grab a rubber mallet and carefully drive the handle all the way into the eye of the blade. You should be able to achieve this in a few firm taps to the end of the axe handle. Continue until the handle is flush with the top of the axe blade.

If you continue to do so, you could split the end of the handle accidentally or make the handle too short.  If you aren’t an experienced wood worker, it is recommended that you simply buy a new axe. This way your wiggly problem will be solved, and you won’t get hurt in the process of trying to fix it.

Work out that Wobble

Lastly, don’t store your axe in a hot place for too long. By doing this, you’re drying out the wood, and it could cause the handle to become loose. Wood expands and contracts with the variations in temperature, so you’re taking a gamble on how your handle will fit when you use it.

Which Wood Is Good?

Ash and hickory wood are the best kinds of wood to use for an axe handle. Hickory wood is incredibly sturdy, durable, and will keep together until the last block is chopped. The only disadvantage to this wood, is that when it finally does give out, it tends to shatter.

Ash is also a great option to use for an axe handle. Where the hickory wood is prone to shatter, the ash is the exact opposite. Ash is an even tougher wood than hickory. When an ash axe handle has had enough, it doesn’t shatter like the hickory would. Instead it falls away in smaller ribbons of wood.

So basically, after every other use, your handle will accumulate more and more chips until it isn’t safe to use anymore. This also may seem like bit of a disadvantage, but it is much better than having the handle shatter all at once.

If possible, purchase a kiln dried axe handle. They’re easier to maintain compared to a handle that was air dried. An air dried handle tends to be much more flexible. However, they require more maintenance. Additionally, if you have a choice between finished or unfinished wood, go with the unfinished axe handle.

Kiln dried axe handle

A finished handle might look more professional, but it only causes more blisters in the long run. An unfinished handle, on the other hand, won’t give you blisters as quickly, and will most likely work out cheaper in the end.

Looking Sharp

The second most important part to maintain on an axe is the blade. Maintaining the blade can be a bit trickier than the handle because it’s much more dangerous than handling a blunt piece of wood. The quickest way to sharpen an axe is to use a grinder.

You must practice extreme caution when using one of these tools, as it is easy to make a mistake and get hurt. Be sure to wear the proper protection. This means you should be wearing jeans, closed toed shoes, a long sleeve shirt and safety glasses to protect your eyes.

Sharpen an axe with grinder

Firmly grasp the handle with one hand and face the cutting edge of the blade away from you on the grinder. Be careful once you start grinding away at the axe, because the metal will be shaved down very quickly!

Work the blade from side to side on the grinder to make sure you even out the whole side. Do the same to the opposite side. After you’re done grinding, make sure you inspect the blade! Make sure you got out all of the nicks and dings, and that the blade makes a smooth curve.

Safety First!

No matter how easy you think chopping wood is, you should always make sure you are careful when you are using your axe. We understand how badly you want to get that fire burning and those marshmallows roasting, but it’s more important that you return home with all of your fingers and toes intact.

Before every use, make sure the axe head is securely on the axe handle. A loose head can be very dangerous, and can injure someone very quickly. If you’re taking a break in your camping adventures, make sure you oil the head of your axe before you store it to prevent rusting.

Furthermore, you should never hit your axe with a hammer in attempt to split something, or get it unstuck. This can cause the hole at the top of the axe to lose its shape, which can cause the axe head to loosen.

Axes in action

Having adequate work space is another great safety tip you should remember when chopping wood. Make sure the block you are using to chop wood on is larger than the wood you are splitting, and that it is sturdy. You don’t want the wood to be on a flimsy area when you are chopping it! Also, check to make sure the surface of the chopping block is relatively flat.

Be aware of the people around you; ensure that they stay a safe distance away from your work area to avoid any injuries. When chopping wood and working with an axe, there is a lot to focus on, so making sure that no one else is around to get in the way takes some of that stress away.

Tried and True Tricks

Every camper has gotten into a sticky situation at least once when they have been camping. Whether it be that they got caught in a rainstorm without a waterproof tent, or picnic ants got into their food supply, it happens to every camper once in a while.

You might not have considered it, but some of these sticky situations can involve an axe malfunction! And as stated before, this can put a damper on some very important and traditional camping events.

So here are some interesting tips and tricks to help you avoid those pesky incidents at the campground. If you find that you need to replace your axe in a hurry, but can’t get the handle out from the eye of the axe blade, try and soak the head in a bucket of water for the night. Submerge the axe head completely and at least an inch of the handle, and soak it overnight.

Remove it the next morning and leave it out to dry until mid -afternoon, depending on the weather conditions. Once the axe head is dry again, the handle should be a little bit looser in the eye of the axe blade, making it easier to remove.

Bring your axe

In final analysis, the axe is probably one of the most important tools you can have with you at your campsite.

It is responsible for the fire you have at night that provides you with warmth, perfectly golden brown roasted marshmallows, and a place for your friends and family to gather around to tell stories. But all of this can be put in jeopardy if you don’t properly maintain your axe.

There’s plenty of evidence in this article that maintaining your axe is incredibly simple, and really only takes a few minutes every time before you go camping. Yet, it is one of the most overlooked camping jobs by all outdoorsmen alike.

So, the next time you go exploring the outdoors, make sure you remember to inspect one of the most important camping tools you have. It may seem tedious at first, but you’ll stop taking it for granted once you’re seated around that cozy campfire, with your friends and family.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Mueller
Jerry Mueller

Jerry ‘Boy Scout’ Mueller spends 99% of his time camping or teaching others how to live in the wild. He became an Eagle Scout which is the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouting division when he was 17 and after that he still lives the scout life. Jerry always plans neatly every trip, takes leadership very seriously and if you listen to his tips and stories, you can learn tons of useful things.

  • Edward Gregory

    I was wondering if I can actually use whetstone instead? Then I’ll apply honing oil or sewing machine oil to the extreme edge, then rub the tip of a coarse whetstone along it in a circular motion to move the burr from one side to the other. I think it’s cheaper, but I am not sure if it’s more effective.

  • Beatris Bronson

    I made a mistake when I tried to make a razor sharp axe. You’ll waste your time if you sharpen an axe with a knife blade angle, because it will be extremely sharp… but just for few strokes. First chops will take off that edge. Axes do need a little blunt edge, because they have to hold up to the tremendous forces put on them.

  • Jerry Mueller

    Thanks for the tip Beatris and I hope you were informed by the article. Most of my buddies do take the time to sharpen their own axe. In fact, there’s a lot of videos that show you how. Some of my friends who don’t have the time or dexterity just asked our friends to sharpen theirs, lol. Well, it works – blade is sharpened, everyone is cool!

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