View Full Version : How to sharpen a hatchet?

2nd wind
12-03-2004, 11:08 AM
The only way I get a knife sharp is with a Lansky(sp?)sharping system.... How do you fellas get a good edge back on a hatchet?
Thanks, John

12-03-2004, 12:26 PM
Secure the poll (back of the axe) somehow, I use a block of wood with nails to keep it from slipping. just make sure the blade is UP and wont move.

Depending on metal hardness, use a small toothed file to clean up the edge (this was all I ever needed to do with a throwing tomahawk... and it was SHARP)

Once youve cleaned up the edge, use a rough flat hone (it can be in rough shape) and work the edge at approx a 30degree angle (I find it gets kind of "clubby" steeper than that). If youve only got a lansky, you can even use the hone out of the jig if your careful.

Its my opinion that thats as sharp/clean as you should make an axe. Anymore and youll spend more time cleaning up chips in the edge than you will cutting anything.

12-03-2004, 01:36 PM
Maybe I didn't know what I was doing all this time, but it's working. I sharpen my ax with a file. I get the poll secured like Sgathak does, and then work both sides of the blade with a flat file. It has gotten it sharp enough to suit me. Being a part-time wildland firefighter, I got into the habit of putting 100 MPH tape on the blade when I store my ax to keep from chipping or dulling the blade.

12-03-2004, 07:34 PM
The above works fine, however, look at any new hatchet/axe you get very carefully. Many come too blunt from the factory. This isn't bad for splitting, but won't cut well when chopping.

Many folks use a saw for cutting and an axe only for splitting. The methods for sharpening differ with the use. A splitting axe (note: axe and hatchet are the same for purposes of this discussion.) wants a fairly sharp edge to bite without skidding but wants to bulge out fairly quickly to free the cutting edge and pop the split wood clean. If this is your use, the factory edge is probably okay. Just use a file (I use an 8" mill bastard cut most of the time. For splitting I don't use the stone. The file cuts fine micro-teeth in the edge that reduces the tendency to bounce, the teeth "bite" into the wood.

For chopping, you need a finer edge. And this requires more prep work since you have to reshape the blade a bit. The 8" file will do, but a bigger one does better for this work.Where you start varies depending on the shape of the axe as it is. In general, you have to reduce thickness starting from about halfway between the poll and the edge, about where the handle enters the head.

Work the blade completely from left to right. Change the angle slightly and work it again. Keep doing this until you get to the edge. You will see rows of parallel arcs. Using a little less downward pressure on the file, fair the parallel arcs smoothing from poll to edge. Then use the stone, fairing the blade until you have a smooth "brushed" finish. When you sharpen the edge, again, start back a bit and be sure to work the edge from left to right completely, then finish with a medium/coarse stone. A working axe should be sharp but not razor sharp. A hair cutting edge will crumble from the pounding an axe gets.

I just got a decent digital camera, and will have to take some pictures of this process, it is eaasier to illustrate than describe. If you have any old axemen in your area, perhaps one of them can show you how it is done.

Once you have reshaped the blade, you usually only need to dress the edge from time to time with a stone of file. However, with either one be sure to work the edge from all the way left to all the way right (lefties might want to reverse the direction) and pay attention to retain the contour of the edge. It's easy to put more effort on the corners resulting in the round axe coming seen in junk shops. An axe with a round edge is about worthless for cutting and dangerous, to boot.

Rule of thumb: hold the axe upright on a flat surface with blade and handle end in contact. A properly hung head should touch the surface just a fraction down (toward the handle) from center.

Also, sight down from the center of the handle to the edge, be sure the midline of the edge is centered (blade is front sight, center of handle end is rear sight). Then hold the handle at the end loosely and check that the head hangs straight down and is aligned with the center of the handle. If the axe fails either of this try another, or re-hang the head. A head not aligned won't cut right, will never hit the mark and most likely will glance off ending up in your leg or the guy next to you. The scar in my left ankle and the permanent notch in my ankle bone will testify to the truth of this.

Hope all this wasn't too confusing. Also the really high quality axes (G-B among others) won't need a lot of prep, but the garden variety will.

After use wipe the exposed metal with an oily rag or give everything but the edge a quick coat of paint.

Putting tape on the edge is a good idea. Better is to make a muzzle from leather, flexible plastic or aluminum. Cut a rectangle, fold in half and put in a couple of rivets top and bottom. Punch a couple of holes for a piece of bootlace on each side and tie it on.

2nd wind
12-04-2004, 06:33 AM
Ralph, Pictures would be great if you can. I saw some of the G-B Hatchets while traveling. The mini was very appealing but I couldn't understand why it was listed at $99 while the next size up was $75...?
Somewhere earlier it was posted that the much less expensive Gerber hatchets had a coating on them that helped them cut better.Has anyone had experience resharpening them both?
BTW I'm looking to cut Kifaru stove size hardwood. The sport saws work great but the blades dull quickly.
Thanks again to all,

12-04-2004, 05:13 PM
I'll try to get some pictures of the process. Sharpening will, of course, remove any coating. The Buck and Gerber hand axes don't need any major re-shaping. just run the file over the blade edge, retaining the blade shape and contour as much as possible. If you use them for splitting only, they won't need much dressing which will preserve the slippery coating.

For saws, I use the SawVivor frame saw. This has a Bushman type blade (cuts in both directions). The Swedish blades are excellent with hardened tips and don't lose sharpness easily. I lucked out and found a bunch of blades in a local discount store for $.79 ea and bought about 10. The usual price is around $3-4. The SawVivor is fairly short (14-15" I guess) but is light and compact. I recommend it. This saw and the Gerber Sport Axe would make a good combo for firewood. Not too expensive and both lightweight and compact.

12-05-2004, 10:56 PM
I use a medium arkansas on my G-B small forest axe and sharpen it freehand like I do a knife. It works well for me. It's the only axe I use these days, mostly chopping and small limb work. Years ago I used single and double bit axes for felling and I used the file techniques mentioned above in addition to the foot operated grindstone my grandfather had.
The forest service put out a nice VHS two tape set back in the 90's called "An Ax to Grind". It went into the history of axes as well as maintainence, sharpening and handle hanging etc. You can probably still get a copy of it for a nominal fee from: USDA Forest Service, Missoula Technology and Development Center, Bldg. 1, Fort Missoula, Missoula MT 59804, (406) 329-3900. Thee was a book that the videos were based on by the same name that I'm sure you could find on the net. It had chapters on the above plus much more.

beta male
12-06-2004, 07:55 AM
Elmbow, the Ax to Grind publication is available online at fhwa.dot.gov/enviroment/fspubs/9923823/toc.htm
It has a nice pictorial on the sharpening.
Making a hand guard for your file is a sound idea.