Proper Axe Maintenance: How to Sharpen Your Axe

Foresters and outdoorsmen alike know that the secret to having an efficient blade (whether it be a knife or an axe) is keeping it sharp. Just as it’s important to inspect your harness or helmet before a climb, so, too, must you inspect your axe before you start chopping wood. Not only does a dull blade make your job a bit harder, but it also makes it a lot more dangerous.

Think about it: if you’re not hitting the wood with a sharp blade, you’re essentially clubbing at it. This affects you and your job twofold: the wood and the axe both become difficult to control. Loss of control leads to unwanted accidents.

With safety being the top priority when it comes to any job involving an axe, it’s important to know how to sharpen your blade properly and to do so safely. You can apply these tips to both professional axes and those designed for outdoorsmen and hobbyists.

Follow these steps to learn how to sharpen an axe safely:

1. Gather necessary materials

Before you can begin to sharpen your axe, it’s best to make sure you have all the required tools beforehand. Here are some of the tools you will need to sharpen your axe:

  • Steel wool
  • Rough grit sandpaper (aluminum oxide or silicon carbide)
  • Fine grit sandpaper
  • Safety gloves
  • Mounted vice
  • Metal file
  • Wire brush
  • Sharpening stone
  • Strop
  • Metal polishing paste
  • Rags
  • Sharpening oil (or water)

2. Clean the axe

Before you try to sharpen your axe, it’s important to clean it first. Use steel wool first to remove any dirt or rust from the head of the axe. You can also use a rust eraser.

3. Use sandpaper

Next, rub rough grit sandpaper firmly over the axe head in one direction. Then, use a finer grit of sandpaper to rub the axe head in the same direction.

4. Polish

Once it’s sanded down a bit, apply the polishing paste to the entire axe head using a rag.

5. Prepare to sharpen

Securely clamp your axe into the vice and don your heavy-duty safety gloves. You may also choose to wear eye protection.

6. Sharpening: two methods

A. File method

Using your metal file, rub the edge of the blade pushing towards its. Keep the file as flat against the head as possible. Use your metal brush to clean the metal shavings that may clog the file. Once you’ve completed the one side, do the same with the other side. Repeat the process using the finer file edge.

B. Whetstone/oilstone

If you have a sharpening stone, first apply your lubricant to the coarse side of the stone. Then position the axe head’s edge, so it matches the angle of the bevel. While applying a moderate amount of pressure, work the axe head in small circles, working from the one side to the other. Perform a complete pass. Flip the axe and repeat on this side.

After you’ve worked the axe blade with the stone’s coarse side, you can do the same thing with the fine side. Follow the same process as mentioned above. You can repeat this process 2 or 3 times on each side to achieve a finely-honed axe edge.

Axe maintenance tip: Always clean your axe and apply a thin layer of oil after every use. This will help prevent rust from forming.

Replacing your axe

Improper sharpening or improperly maintaining your axe may mean you have to replace it sooner than you would like. If you do find yourself in need of a new axe, you want to choose one that will be reliable now and for the foreseeable future. If you’re looking for a smaller tool, such as an axe for camping, we recommend Estwing.


Estwing has been manufacturing American-made hand tools since 1923. They currently produce a variety of durable, comfortable, and attractive striking tools, including hammers, axes, knives, and prybars.

Are you looking for the best axe for camping? The Estwing Camper’s Axe is one of our most popular products and is the outdoorsman's "must have" tool. Its fully-forged, one-piece design with Estwing's patented Shock Reduction grip makes it a durable and comfortable tool that will last generations. Additionally, its lightweight design makes it a great axe for backpacking.



For a tool better suited for the sportsman, the Estwing Hunter’s Axe has a hand polished blade perfect for clearing and maintaining a tree stand area. Its sharp gut hook for field dressing large game. Constructed of a single piece of U.S. steel, it is built for tough jobs but remains light enough for easy carry in the field. This Hunter’s axe comes with a sheath and sharpening stone so you can properly take care of your blade no matter where you are in the field.


You can find our entire range of Estwing axes at