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How to Sharpen an Axe: Our Guide

by | Jul 18, 2017 | Blog

How to sharpen an axe, is one of those age-old questions plagues the survivalist and woodsman communities. There’s no one way to do it correctly, and many old timers have their own method of doing it.

In this guide, we’ll take you through the standard issue way of sharpening an axe. Most experienced guys will have used this method before, and it works well.

Getting the Geometry Right

There are 5 separate types of axe head, each designed for a specific type of cutting job.

  • Convex: Designed for splitting logs for firewood.
  • Full Flat: Design for simply cutting jobs, this is the standard style of axe head.
  • Scandy: A northern European take on the full flat.
  • Chisel: A style that’s often used by woodsmen who are building using wood.
  • Hollow: A style of head that’s often used in combat axes.

The main difference between axe blades, is normally the concave angle of the blade. The more concave (or blunter) a head is, the less it tries to cut the surface of the wood, and the more it tries to force it apart instead.

It’s for this reason, that a splitting maul tends to have a far blunter and more concave head than a pure felling axe. This is why a true woodsman will always have two types of axe around at any one time!

Sharpening Tools

In a good sharpening kit, you’ll generally get:

  • An axe file.
  • A diamond file.
  • A sharpening stone with a coarse and smooth side, depending on the finish you want.

In addition to these tools, you might also want to invest in some wet and dry sandpaper, which you can use to polish your blade and give it a nice finish.

Cutting Back

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The first step, is to remove any previously damaged metal from the axe. You don’t have to remove every Knick from the blade; however, you should try and end up with a reasonably smooth surface.

When cutting back, always sharpen across the axe in the same motion as it would cut with.

Smoothing Out

Once you’ve cut the excess, the axe with have a somewhat rough and ready look. To start to smooth the axe blade out, you’ll need to alter the direction of your cutting back, to give a more even finish.

Most people switch 90 degrees at this point, and don’t sharpen the axe in the original cutting back direction again.


This is where you start to turn your axe into a felling, or splitting maul. To do this you’ll use your sharpening stone to rub the blade with a circular motion. You’ll need to apply a little water as you go, in a very similar way to using wet and dry sandpaper.

As you sharpen, you’ll begin to see a very sharp and dangerous blade take shape underneath your stone, lovely!

The Sanding

This step is entirely optional, and many Swedish Axes don’t even leave the factory with this step done. Even so, if you fancy making your axe super shiny, it’s the way to go.

Take a section of your wet and dry sandpaper, and attach it to a goo sanding block. You’ll need to apply water again, and use back and forth motions across the cutting blade. After a few minutes, you’ll start to see an extremely polished surface take shape beneath the block.

How far you go here, depends on how shiny you want your blade. Some people will quick a quick once over with 600 grit paper, whilst others will take it all the way to 1500 paper, leaving an almost mirror finish.

Admiring Your Work

Once you’ve completed all the steps, you should be left with a superb cutting blade that’s ready for work! Sharpening your own tools is one of those skills that’s been lost in the modern world.

Enjoy your handiwork, sharpening tools is a time-honoured tradition!

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