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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.

49 Comments on How to Sharpen an Ax

  1. I was a little confusing but overall it was helpful.

  2. Troop17 is right. its better to go against the edge because there is less of a chance of rounding it off an ruining the edge. @hawkeye, maybe you’re just a boss at sharpening blades.

  3. I worked for Buck Knives for two years and one of my duties was sharpening knives on a leather strop.

  4. This is wrong you’re supposed to have the blade pointed away from you while doing this it says so in the boy scout handbook

  5. Good Reminder If You Forget How To Sharpen a Axe or Knife:)

  6. Random person // October 12, 2010 at 6:46 am // Reply

    my knife is so DULL it wont sharpen with a do i sharpen it!please HELP!!!!!

    • get a good qulity pocket gatco sharpener (they sell them at Cabelas)they will sharpen almost anything really well I use them to keep my knives razor sharp (you can alomst shave with my letherman)

    • how long have you had your knife?

  7. files work faster than stones and if you ever have to cut out a stump sharpening with a stone will take forever

  8. it really isn’t that easy

  9. HawaiianEagle74 // August 3, 2010 at 1:31 pm // Reply

    How is it that we teach our scouts to always cut away from their body but when sharpening an ax they file towards the blade with their hands? Shouldn’t it be taught to get on the other side of the ax and file the same direction as the blade?

    • If you try and sharpen ‘with the blade’ you will likely round over the edge – always sharpen against the edge.

      • i disagree i’ve sharpened my tomahawk with the blade a ton and never had a single problem with it exept now it’s razor sharp and thats a advantage

    • Anonymous // May 5, 2011 at 1:40 pm // Reply

      There should be a guard ion the file to protect the hand.

  10. Scouter32 // June 6, 2010 at 5:12 pm // Reply

    I love how Boys Life’s website shows you cool stuff like this.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. where can i find a whetstone?

  14. nice man:-)

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

    did not understand the knife sharpening

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

  17. Seems very simple.

  18. 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.

  19. How often should I sharpen my pocket knife?

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

  21. random guy, yuh gotta click on tha thing that sez ax sharpening.

  22. The video won’t play for me either.

  23. knife collector // November 29, 2008 at 9:42 am // Reply

    video wont play.

  24. now i know how to sharpen a AXE thanks for the TIPS!

  25. i can sharpen my pocket knife.Thanks for the tips.

  26. The axe/hatchet sharpening is correct. The knife sharpening is only partially correct.

    Alternate from one side of the blade to the other. NEVER continuously hone one side of the blade. This creates an uneven bevel.

  27. these are wrong

  28. now i can sharpen my pocket knives

  29. Axe sharpening info is incomplete. You should mention that a burr will be formed on the opposite side of the blade that you’re filing on, then tell us how to get rid of the burr edge, strop the blade, etc. Also, we were taught to make a long, single file strokes from the near end of the blade to the far end. Your method of filing in small sections most likely will lead to uneven sharpening.

  30. CuriousScout // May 27, 2008 at 4:41 pm // Reply

    How long should I sharpen the knife?Mine become very dull.

    • Sharpen it until it is as sharp as you want it. Differences between people, metals, and stones all contribute to differences in how fast a knife gets sharp, and how sharp it gets. What you consider sharp or dull may be different from what I consider sharp and dull.

  31. great video and tip

  32. Very good videos!!

  33. You can just hold the axe with one hand and sharpen with a whetstone with the other hand if you don’t want to set up the stakes

  34. natitonic the file sharpenz the axe (duh)

  35. our troop always used wetstones for our axes and stuff. but i think i will tell them to try and use a file next time and see how hat works

  36. I never knew you could sharpen an ax with just a filer, log, & tent pegs. I tried it and found out it really works.

  37. it is facinating to learn about it

  38. oh sorry bout that other comment im just fig. things out here


  39. no offense but, how do you sharpen an ax bye putting it be hind some pegs and a log?

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