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HOW TO SHARPEN AN AXE FOR TRAIL WORK
by Patrick Wilson

If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend the first four sharpening the axe. ~ Abraham Lincoln

Uses

Trail crews use axes for bucking blowdowns in wilderness areas, swamping the area around blowdowns, limbing and debarking trees to be cut with chainsaws and crosscut saws, and stripping bark from logs used to build drainage devices. In all cases, a properly sharpened axe maximizes both safety and efficiency. (Large roots are best cut with a small saw, which leaves a clean cut without disturbing the surrounding dirt, rather than with a Pulaski, which is certain to get badly nicked and dulled by rocks and grit.)

Design

Axes of various shapes and sizes are designed for everything from hewing timbers to splitting wood. The best axe for trail work is one shaped and sharpened for maximum penetration, namely, a felling or notching axe, or perhaps a dual-purpose axe sharpened like a felling axe. The bit of such an axe will have an acute primary bevel that facilitates deep cuts into limbs and bucking notches, plus a somewhat blunter secondary bevel—called a microbevel when it is very narrow, as it should be—right along the edge to protect the edge from folding, chipping, and rapid dulling. As with all edge tools, both bevel angles should be appropriate for the intended use and user, and as acute as possible while maintaining durability. For an axe used in trail work, these requirements generally entail compromises, because the axe must be able to cut all types of wood without being subject to damage in the field.
  Bevel Angles
  The primary bevel angle on new felling axes ranges from 7.5° to 15° per side and can be as narrow as 1/2" or as wide as the full cheek of the axe; secondary bevel angles of 15° to 22.5° per side are typical, with widths ranging from 1/4" down to 1/64" or less. Most used axes, especially those that have seen particularly heavy use or have been sharpened repeatedly, have both primary and secondary bevel angles that are too blunt and that become even blunter toward the center of the bit. These axes are likely to glance dangerously off wood instead of penetrating deeply into it at the correct chopping angle of 45°. For the novice axe-sharpener, a primary bevel angle of 10°–12° per side and a 1/16"-wide secondary bevel of 17.5° per side are safe starting points. The quality and temper of the steel in your axe, its weight and handle length, whether the bevels are flat or convex, the type of wood being chopped (species, dryness, knottiness, diameter, even temperature), your own technique—all these factors and more help determine the best bevel angles. Experiment with different angles after you’ve had some practice with these.
  A properly prepared secondary bevel of 17.5° per side on a quality axe will hold up in the species of wood found in PATC territory, even chestnut oak, shagbark hickory, and black locust. Be particularly careful with hemlock, though, especially if it is frozen. Although generally a soft wood, it harbors small, dense knots that can chip or bend even the finest tool steel.
  Go easy on your axe when limbing, especially with dead limbs, just as when chopping knots and frozen wood. With proper technique, as taught in the PATC Traditional Tools Workshop, all of these tasks can be managed handily with the recommended angles. (Dead limbs can often be knocked off with the butt of a single-bit axe; knots can be chopped around; and a cold axe can be quickly warmed with a few light cuts.)
  Bevel Shapes
  Virtually all axes designed for chopping have convex primary bevels for strength, aesthetics, low friction, and ease of release from the cut—with flat bevels reserved for carpenter’s axes, broad axes, and similar tools designed to shave dry wood with the grain. The midsection of a convex primary bevel will be 20%–35% thicker than the same section of a similarly acute flat bevel, and hence will be significantly stronger while remaining extremely keen at the edge. Yet flat bevels are easier to create and can be perfectly serviceable, provided they’re made blunt enough—e.g., 2° blunter per side than convex bevels—to hold up under heavy use. Techniques for creating both types of bevels are discussed below.
  It is worth noting that if one actually measures the various drawings and templates that are found in catalogs and books and intended to illustrate convex bevels, one finds that they typically exaggerate convexity and show different angles from the ones recommend in the accompanying text. Properly ground convex bevels, such as those on a new Gransfors-Bruks forest axe, are surprisingly close to flat (figure 1, from http://www.cutleryscience.com/reviews/gb_forest_axe.html). The radius of curvature of a proper convex grind—where the radius of curvature varies inversely with the amount of convexity—will be about 20".
Figure 1
  The worst profile for an axe bevel is a concave, or hollow, grind. That’s one reason a bench grinder is the least appropriate tool for sharpening an axe: the grinding wheel produces a weak, hollow grind just where strength is most needed. The other reason to steer clear of bench grinders is that they will heat the bit enough to draw the temper from the steel and thereby ruin the axe. Although wet and low-speed grinders stay cool, they too leave a hollow grind. Moreover, the geometries of the curved axe bit and the (differently) curved grinding surface of a wheel make a consistent bevel angle difficult to achieve. Hand-filing is a better choice than any bench grinder, even a Tormek.
 
Measuring Bevel Angles
Because the key to the safety and efficiency of an axe is consistent, symmetrical, and appropriately acute bevel angles, it is essential to measure these angles accurately throughout the sharpening process. Doing so is easy if you make a simple bevel gauge by bolting together two hacksaw blades, as recommended by Dudley Cook in The Ax Book (figure 2). The distance between the holes determines the exact total edge angle (= twice the bevel angle) by simple trigonometry. For common 12" hacksaw blades, the following table lists several distances and corresponding angles.
Figure 2
Distance between Holes
(inches)
Edge Angle
(degrees)
Bevel Angle per Side
(degrees)
3 -1/16
15
7.5
4 - 1/8
20
10
5 - 1/16
25
12.5
6 - 1/16
30
15
7
35
17.5
7 - 15/16
40
20
9
45
22.5
This homemade, adjustable bevel gauge works much better for axe bits than do engineer’s protractors or the ubiquitous small brass bevel gauges, which are either too short to measure primary bevels or too crude to measure microbevels.

Preparing an Axe for Sharpening

Clean and polish the entire surface of the axe to provide pristine surfaces for sharpening and to give better penetration when chopping. Use a rust-eraser or steel wool to remove any rust, then work through successively finer grits of sandpaper to take out scratches and other imperfections and to remove any work-hardened metal at the bit. A flexible disk-sander attached to a drill and used with the following grits works well (figure3).


Figure 3

USA220x            (220-grit, U.S. standard)
USA320x
USA400x
USA600x

When sanding, be sure to wear gloves, eye protection, and a respirator. Finish polishing with Tormek paste applied to a felt pad or cloth rag.

Sharpening by Hand
Properly sharpening an axe involves creating smoothly polished primary and secondary bevels of consistent width and appropriate acuteness on each side. Although precise control of the angles is virtually impossible freehand, it’s easy if you use a jig.
  Making a Filing Jig
 
A simple axe-filing jig (figure 4) makes filing easy and safe, guarantees precise and consistent bevel angles (which can be readily confirmed with the hacksaw bevel gauge), and locks in bevel angles in case the axe twists in the vise under heavy filing. Make the jig and prepare the axe as follows.
Figure 4

Figure 5
  1. Bend a 14" length of 1-1/2" x 1/4" bar stock at a 10° angle 2" from the end.
  2. Drill and tap the bar 1" from the bent end to accept a 3-1/2" x 1/2" carriage bolt ground to a fairly blunt point (about 45°).
  3. Make a file clamp out of square or rectangular tubing with inside dimensions of at least 1-5/8" x 1/2".
  4. Punch a registration mark above the center of the eye on each side of the axe head at its widest point (figure 5), then drill a 3/32" hole 1/16" deep at each mark.
 

Filing the Bevels

    A 10" single- or double-cut mill file, equipped with a file guard made of wood or leather whenever the file is used freehand, is perfect for axe-sharpening
(figure 6). Wear leather gloves during the entire filing and honing process. The edge will become as sharp as, or sharper than, a razor blade and should be handled accordingly.

Figure 6
    Secondary Bevel
    File the secondary bevel first so that its final width can later be set by filing the primary bevel down to it without removing any extra metal from the edge itself. Stabilize the axe by clamping its handle tightly in a vise so that the centerlines of both the handle (figure 7) and the head (figure 8) are parallel to the ground. Be careful that the axe handle doesn’t slip in the vise and the head doesn’t turn; double-check both periodically with a level.
    Clamping or holding the file against the underside of the jig, adjust the pivot bolt for the appropriate secondary bevel angle (e.g., 17.5°) using a magnetic angle-finder attached to the top of the jig (figure 9). After locking the pivot bolt with a nut, remove the angle-finder to keep it from collecting filings. Position the clamp about 3/4" from the axe bit and slide the file down so that only its end gets used. By moving the file up little by little as it gets dull, you’ll always be using a sharp portion and can eventually use most of the surface. You may have to break off the dull portion of the file so the remaining part will fit in the jig. Save yourself frustration by using a new file, pushing it in one direction only, and cleaning shavings out regularly with a file card or wire brush. Expect a sharp file to clog frequently.
    File the secondary bevel with a sideways, drawfiling technique, pivoting the jig in the registration hole while holding the file flat against the bevel (figure 10). Be sure to hold the pivot bolt down firmly enough that it doesn’t jump out of its hole. File off enough metal to remove even the smallest nicks, to produce a thin wire edge along the entire underside of the bit, and to form a smooth and symmetrical profile with an even radius of curvature (when viewed from the side) of about 6–7" (figure 11).
    Repeat on the other side using the same angle setting, then touch up one or both sides so that the edge is exactly centered on the body of the axe, even if one bevel must be slightly wider than the other. (The bit might be off center because of previous sharpening or a flaw in manufacturing.) Use the bevel gauge to confirm that the total edge angle is 35° and that the edge is centered along its entire length. Don’t worry about file marks or the presence of a wire edge; those will come off later.
    If you must work without a jig, you can leave the angle-finder attached directly to the file and pivot the end of the file on your hand (figure 12). Take special care that the axe doesn’t twist in the vise.
   

Figure 7
Figure 8
Figure 8
Figure 9
Figure 9
Figure 10
Figure 10
Figure 11
Figure 11
Figure 12
Figure 12

 
    Primary Bevel
   

Flat

Figure 13
Figure 13

A flat primary bevel is easy to file: set the filing gauge to 12° and file enough metal from each side that the secondary bevel gets thinned to 1/16" along the entire bit. To ensure that the thin secondary bevel, i.e., microbevel, shows up clearly and doesn’t get filed away, mark it first with a black marker (figure 13). Although the microbevel should be a consistent width along its entire length, the chief requirements for the primary bevel are that it maintain a consistent angle along its entire length and that it be reasonably symmetrical on both sides. Its width on a given side may vary from the heel to the toe of the axe because of the overall profile of the axe cheek, uneven wear through previous use, and imperfections in the original forging.

Convex

 

To create a very close approximation of a true convex primary bevel, start filing the primary bevel at an angle slightly less than that of the secondary bevel (e.g., 15°) and file off just enough to create a 1/16" wide microbevel. Then back off the filing angle 1° at a time, removing just enough metal in each step to create the amount of convexity you want. You’ll finish filing at an angle several degrees less than the average of 10° recommended for convex primary bevels. Aim for the same shape on both bevels, erring on the side of exaggerated convexity because you can always remove more metal later.

    If you’re impressed by the control and repeatability of the simple jig described above, you might consider the industrial-quality jig made by Tuatahi for their racing axes (figure 14). Figure 14
Figure 14
Because filing determines all the critical dimensions of an axe’s cutting edge, before moving on to the next step check the angle of the primary bevels along the entire bit with the bevel gauge and carefully measure the width of the microbevel along the entire bit on each side. Touch up your filing job as needed.
  Honing and Polishing the Bevels
  Honed and polished bevels are sharper, cause less friction, look better, last longer, and cut much more effectively than unfinished filed ones. The objective is to remove all file marks and any wire edge, and to gradually bring the bevels up to a mirror finish. It is especially important to remove any trace of a wire edge, which would otherwise get mushroomed directly into the bit the first time the axe hits wood.
  Hold, clamp, or otherwise attach a coarse stone to the underside of the filing jig and set the jig to the angle you used when filing the microbevel (figure 15). After marking the bevel with a black marker, make a trial pass with the stone and adjust the angle if necessary. Oil stones, diamond hones, and even sandpaper work fine, but avoid water stones because they wear too rapidly in this application. Figure 15
Figure 15
  Using a coarse stone and the appropriate angles on the jig, hone off every vestige of filing marks from the secondary, and then the primary, bevels. Mark the bevels again and repeat the honing process with successively finer grits. See my drawknife article for suggested grits of each type of abrasive and for instructions on flattening stones. Persistence and perfectionism pay off.
  Once you have honed with the finest stone, polish the bevels to a mirror finish in a similar manner, using Tormek compound or 0.5µm chromium oxide compound applied to a piece of wood clamped, taped, or held under the jig. Finish the job by stropping the secondary bevel (always away from the edge) on a piece of leather charged with chromium oxide compound (figure 16). Strop at an angle equal to or slightly shallower than that of the secondary bevel to allow for the fact that the leather will flex slightly around the edge. Figure 16
Figure 16

Sharpening with a Belt Grinder
By far the most effective tool for shaping, honing, and polishing an axe is a belt grinder equipped with a pin-type jig. Because grinding belts have low thermal mass and move rapidly through the air, they generate negligible heat when used properly. They take just seconds to change and are available in dozens of grits and compositions, making it possible for one machine to do everything from rough shaping to mirror polishing.
A jig similar to the filing jig described above enables precise, repeatable control of bevel angles and bit curvature and guarantees the symmetry of both sides of the bit. Perhaps most importantly, perfect convex bevels of various degrees of convexity can be ground and polished with ease. Even a seriously damaged axe can be restored to professional standards with minimal labor, and it takes only minutes to bring an edge back to razor sharpness after normal use.
The examples below show the optimal tool for grinding convex bevels: a KMG knife-maker’s grinder with a reversible, variable-speed motor and a rotary platen attachment (figure 17). Many of the numerous belt grinders and attachments on the market, though, can be readily modified for axe-sharpening. On most grinders, the slack belt (no platen) technique can be used to create convex bevels without special equipment, while a flat platen can be used for flat grinding. Figure 17
Figure 17
  Working Safely
 
You should remain keenly aware of the fact that grinding and polishing, which involve high-speed belts, create very sharp objects, and generate unhealthy amounts of dust, are hazardous operations. Metal dust, particles worn off of grinding belts, and airborne polishing compound are particularly insidious. Personal protective equipment should include, at a minimum:
 

high-quality respirator (not a painter's dust mask)
safety goggles
hearing protection
leather gloves
leather apron

Figure 18
Figure 18
A dust-collection and/or air-filtration system for your shop will make your respirator’s job easier, minimize the spread of dust, and greatly aid cleanup. A five-gallon bucket with a little water in it positioned just below the grinder will collect the bulk of the coarse dust (figure 18).
Concentrate on your work; don't leave loose tools lying around; think before you grind; and, above all, take seriously the very real hazards of belt grinding.
  Using a Jig
 
As with hand-filing, the key to precision grinding is a sturdy and finely adjustable jig. Unlike the filing jig described above, however, a grinding jig is stationary, with the axe pivoting on the fixed pivot pin while the bit contacts the grinding belt. The jig must bolt securely to the grinder, enable the pivot pin to be adjusted to any position, and easily accommodate fine bevel-angle adjustments. The pivot pin fits into the registration mark punched into each side of the axe head, as described above. (With belt grinding, as opposed to hand-filing, registration marks work best when punched—but not drilled—as far back from the bit as possible.) Have a welder or machinist rig up a jig similar to the one shown but built to fit your particular grinder (figures 19 and 20). Figure 19
Figure 19
Figure 20
Figure 20
  Grinding the Bevels
  Compared to hand-filing, the order of operations is reversed with grinding: the most effective procedure is to grind the primary bevel on each side first, which establishes the overall shape of the bit, before grinding the microbevel on each side, blending the bevels into one another, and then polishing everything to a mirror finish.
    Primary Bevel
    The bulk of your grinding will be aimed at establishing a 10° (average) convex primary bevel on each side that extends almost, but not quite, to the very edge of the bit. The very edge will become the microbevel, which when viewed from the side will trace a smooth arc with a radius of curvature of about 6–7". Use an angle-finder to set up your jig at the appropriate grinding angle (figure 21). Figure 21
Figure 21
    Set the tension on the rotary platen for approximately a 20" radius of curvature of convexity. At this tension, a 5/16" drill bit will just fit between a straightedge and a tight grinding belt on the widest of the four faces of the platen (figure 22). Although this amount of convexity is well suited to axes used for trail work, you can experiment with different amounts of convexity by altering the tension on the rotary platen and/or by using different faces of the platen. Figure 22
Figure 22
    For a damaged axe or one that’s being reshaped, use the following sequence of belts.
   

USA24x            Norton Blaze
USA50x            Norton Blaze
USA80x            3M Gator
USA120x          3M Gator
USA240x          3M Gator
USA400x          3M Gator
USA600x          3M Gator

    For routine maintenance of the primary bevels, skip right to the Gators.
    Depending on the symmetry of the axe’s original forging, the primary bevel on one side might have to be slightly wider than that on the other in order for the cutting edge to be perfectly centered. While establishing the basic bevel shape with your coarsest belt, use a hacksaw bevel gauge to confirm that the bit is perfectly centered along its entire length and that you are in fact grinding at an average angle of 10° per side. If necessary, fine tune your grinding angle or grind more off of one side before changing belts. Measure the protrusion of the pivot pin from the jig whenever you settle on a bevel angle, so that you can quickly reproduce the angle later (figure 23). Figure 23
Figure 23
    Carefully observe the following principles of belt grinding.
   
  • Use new, high-quality ceramic or engineered belts such as the ones recommended above. They pay for themselves many times over.
  • Run the grinder at the highest speed—up to 5400 SFPM (surface-feet per minute)—for the coarsest belts, and decrease the speed by a factor of 2 or 3 for the finer ones.
  • Grind into the edge to minimize the formation of a wire edge and to enable you to see what you’re doing.
  • Start with a coarse enough belt and a high enough speed that the initial shaping requires just a few passes on each side.
  • If the bit ever gets too warm for a fingertip to be held against it indefinitely—i.e., warmer than it would get in normal use—run a little water over it . . . and use sharper belts! Feel for warmth often, because drawing the temper from the bit will ruin it.
  • Mark the bevel on each side with a black marker each time you change belts. Make a light trial pass to see if you have to fine-tune the grinding angle. (You will if your belts vary even slightly in thickness.)
  • Grind both sides equally before changing belts each time, with the last pass on each side being the lightest. Make sure that every trace of the black marker has been removed and that all the scratches from the previous belt have been ground out.
  • With the grinder running at medium speed, clean each belt with a crepe block before changing it (figure 24).
    Without skipping belts in the above sequence, grind the primary bevel on each side through 600x before moving to the microbevels.
    If a rotary platen is unavailable, use a slack belt (figure 25) to grind convex primary bevels, taking particular care to maintain consistent pressure on the axe—and hence a consistent grinding angle—with each belt. Follow the same guidelines as above (except for the one about the tension settings on a rotary platen). Although grinding with a slack belt is trickier and slower than with a rotary platen, it results in the same coveted convex bevel.
    Although considerations of strength, aesthetics, and friction make flat bevels a less desirable alternative for trail axes than convex ones, flat grinding can be done easily and very precisely (figure 26) on a belt grinder without special accessories. The procedures are the same as above, except that the grinding angle should be a couple of degrees blunter for strength. Although it’s possible to approximate convex grinding by flat grinding at successively shallower angles, as can be done with hand-filing, the better alternative is slack-belt grinding.
    For high-performance flat grinding, epoxy a dead-flat, cool-running, low-friction ceramic platen liner onto your steel platen (figure 27). Grinding doesn’t get much flatter.
   
Figure 24
Figure 24
Figure 25
Figure 25


Figure 26
Figure 26

Figure 27
Figure 27
    Microbevel
    Creating a perfect microbevel with a belt grinder takes only seconds and is done the same way with all three tools described above (rotary platen, slack belt, and flat platen). With the grinding angle set at 17.5°, use a 600x belt at low speed and with very light pressure to create a microbevel on each side, ideally with a single pass per side. Be particularly careful with the corners; you can always grind more off later. The microbevels should be the same width as each other (between 1/32" and 1/16") and equally wide along their entire length.
    With convex grinding (rotary platen or slack belt), it’s worth taking the additional step of backing off the grinding angle 3–4° and making a light pass on each side (600x, low speed) to blend the microbevels into the primary bevels. Subsequent polishing will remove any remaining trace of a transition between bevels
(figure 28).
Figure 28
Figure 28
  Polishing the Bevels
  The aim of polishing, whether by hand or machine, is to bring the ground surfaces to a mirror sheen for beauty, low friction, high cutting performance, and durability—not to mention to remove any wire edge left over from grinding.
  Use felt belts charged with polishing compounds in the following sequence.
 

0.5µm chromium oxide compound
blending compound
white or pink polishing compound

  Be sure to observe the following principles of polishing.
 
  • Polish away from the axe edge.
  • Don’t let the axe get warmer than it would in normal use.
  • Use a separate belt for each compound.
  • Charge belts frequently with compound.
  • Taking care to match your earlier grinding angles, finish all the bevels with one compound before moving on to the next.
  • Mark the bit with black marker each time you change belts.
  • After every trace of black marker is gone and the polished surface looks perfect, make several more light passes—just to be sure—before changing belts.
  • Clean the axe bit with rubbing alcohol before switching belts to avoid cross-contamination of belts.
  • Keep belts scrupulously clean and store them in plastic bags.
  For the ultimate in polish on the primary bevel, instead of the above steps involving blending and pink compounds use an 1800 rpm buffer with a spiral-sewn muslin wheel charged with blending compound and then with a loose muslin wheel charged with pink compound (figure 29). Buff the primary bevel only to avoid overheating or hollow-grinding the microbevel, which should be polished with the belt grinder as directed above. Figure 29
Figure 29

Testing the Edge
Test the sharpness of the edge three ways. First, visually inspect it to make sure there are no nicks or flat spots on the edge itself large enough to reflect light, nor any hint of a wire edge. To find nicks and flat spots, look directly into the edge in good light (figure 30); to detect a wire edge, look at the secondary bevel from the side as you gradually tilt the axe so light strikes it at steeper and steeper angles (figure 31). You can perform these visual tests easily in the field.
Second, use the elegant and inexpensive edge tester from Razor Edge Systems to ensure that you have produced a glass-smooth, level-100 edge (figure 32). Even the slightest imperfection detected with these two tests should be removed with additional stropping or polishing. A tiny wire edge, for example, will fold over and dig into the axe’s edge on the first cut.
Finally, after confirming that the edge of the axe is perfectly smooth and “wireless,” see if its entire length will cut folded but not creased newspaper (figure 33). You can be justifiably proud of your work if your axe passes this last, surprisingly rigorous test.
Don’t bother with the poor man’s “finger test” of sharpness: you’ll leave corrosive oils on the edge and probably cut your finger in the process.
Figure 30
Figure 30
Figure 31
Figure 31
Figure 32
Figure 32
Figure 33
Figure 33

Hardening the Edge
A serious axeman will test any newly sharpened axe in the woods by chopping lightly a few times into soft wood to work-harden the edge and then working up to full-force hits into solid oak, inspecting the edge after each hit for any visible damage. Minor imperfections can be polished or stropped away; major ones indicate the need for a blunter, more durable secondary bevel. Always work-harden and inspect a newly sharpened axe’s edge before putting it to serious use. Indeed, it’s a good idea to start with a few light hits on any tree to be cut, just to confirm your aim and reach and to get a feel for the soundness of the wood.

Maintaining the Edge
Because it’s essential to be able to touch up a damaged edge in the field, always carry both coarse and fine hones, such as DMT Mini-Sharp diamond hones (figure 34). Every time you take a break from chopping, use the visual tests described above to check for nicks, bends, or slightly flattened portions of the edge. If anything on the edge reflects light, repair the problem area immediately before it worsens (figure 35). Touch up the microbevels only, and only the damaged parts of them. If you’re serious about field-sharpening, make and carry a portable leather strop (figure 36) charged with chromium oxide compound. With proper care, a quality axe with a polished, work-hardened edge and appropriate bevel angles will cut like a knife and stay sharp surprisingly long.
Figure 34
Figure 34
Figure 35
Figure 35
Figure 36
Figure 36
The second and third sharpness tests described above, which no normal person uses in the field, are rigorous enough to detect microscopic imperfections caused by the tiny, unavoidable pieces of grit in wood and bark. Such minor blemishes can usually be removed after a day’s work by light honing and stropping by hand or by re-polishing the microbevels on a belt grinder. The better your axemanship, the more you’ll appreciate a perfect edge and be willing to maintain it at the highest level.

Protecting the Edge
For highest performance, frequently wax your axe with a machine-table product (e.g., Waxilit) designed specifically to reduce friction between metal and wood. Spray-on wax (e.g., Boeshield) is a convenient substitute. In lieu of waxing, at least coat your axe with linseed oil or WD-40 to prevent rust. Never expose the bare steel of an axe, especially right after sharpening, to air or water. As sharpening guru Leonard Lee warns, “rust never sleeps.”
Always sheathe an axe when carrying it even for a short distance, but store it unsheathed (if it is safe to do so) in order to prevent rust. In use, scrupulously avoid even the smallest rocks, grit, and dirt particles, which can damage the best axe instantly. Fortunately, the methods described above make it easy to restore a perfect edge any time.

Resources
Leonard Lee’s Complete Guide to Sharpening (Taunton, 1995; ISBN 1561581259) is the definitive guide to sharpening edge tools; it includes sections on metallurgy, abrasives, sharpening equipment, technique, and the importance of rust-prevention. (See “Rust Never Sleeps,” p. 65.)
Good sources of sharpening equipment include:
  • Beaumont Metal Works (KMG belt grinder, rotary platen attachment, accessories)
  • Diamond Machining Technology (DMT diamond hones)
  • Ellis Custom Knifeworks (ceramic platen liners)
  • EZedge (device for convex grinding with a belt sander)
  • Jantz Supply (belt grinders, belt grinder attachment for bench grinders, grinding and polishing belts, crepe blocks, polishing compounds, leather)
  • Lee Valley Tools (rust-erasers, Acu-Angle level, files, basic belt grinder, stones and hones, microabrasive paper, chromium oxide compound, felt wheel, leather strops, keychain diamond hones, Waxilit, Boeshield)
  • Razor Edge Systems (edge tester)
  • Tuatahi (filing jig for racing axes)
  • Woodcraft (stones and hones, Tormek and chromium oxide compounds, leather strops)
revised February 2008