Friday, March 11, 2016

Sharpen Your Splitter

Much like with a knife, keeping your axe, hatchet, maul, or other splitting tools sharp makes working with them far more efficient and much safer. A dull axe won't bite well into wood and can bounce off, causing serious injuries to the user or people in the area. Thankfully, splitting tools are about the easiest blades in the world to sharpen: the edge is less delicate than a knife, and their large, beefy dimensions let you use virtually any method you like to hone them. In fact, they're the one blade where a file is considered a proper method of honing.

To me, the tool of choice for sharpening an axe is a simple mill file. I like an 8 or 10 inch file for general work, as it's large enough to get work done quickly, but small enough to be controllable and not get out of hand.

(There is an astounding range of files available, with a variety of shapes and cutting surface patterns. A discussion of files would be at least an article in itself, but Wikipedia gives a great overview.)

With very few exceptions, files only work while being pushed. Pulling a file may damage both your file and the material you're working on. 

The edge of my tomahawk is pretty hammered. It leads a hard life and sees quite a bit of use. It's in obvious need of some help, especially with camping season in the very near future.

How to Sharpen Your Axe/Tomahawk/Etc.
  1. If you have a vise, clamp the head of your axe in it, blade up. This will help you match the original bevel of the edge. If not, you can lay the blade on a workbench or your leg, but be careful.
  2. Push your file parallel to the existing bevel on your blade, maintaining light, even pressure. 
    • The main focus while sharpening your axe is to maintain the bevel angle, being sure to avoid rolling the file over the edge as you push. 
    • On an axe, this is fairly easy. On smaller blades, it is far more difficult, which is why files are not usually recommended for honing those.
  3. After just a few strokes with the file, a clean, sharp edge should begin to appear.
  4. At this point, any damage to your edge becomes very visible, and it is easy to see where you need to focus. 
  5. After any nicks or dings are repaired, there isn't much visual change, and you'll have to depend on feel for sharpness.
  6. Once the file has given me a decent edge, I run a whetstone over both sides of the blade to polish it down just a touch further. 
    • Again, pay close attention to the bevel as you run your stone, and don't roll over the edge. 
    • As with the file, light, even pressure is what gets the job done. 
    • You can lay the stone on a flat surface and use it just like you would with a knife, but I prefer to pick it up and run it just like I do the file, as I can see and maintain the bevel more easily that way.
  7. Once your blade is sharp to your liking, rub the head with a little oil on a rag like you would any other cutting tool, then store it somewhere safe and dry.

Care for your tools, and they'll care for you for a lifetime.

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