Recommendation? Optimal Axe Sharpness?

Discussion in 'Axe, Tomahawk, & Hatchet Forum' started by Steely_Gunz, Jan 13, 2020.

  1. Steely_Gunz

    Steely_Gunz Got the Khukuri fevah Moderator

    May 9, 2002
    Howdy, y'all.

    After years and years of hatchet a tomahawk collecting, I have started to find myself drawn to the idea of an axe for general "whatever" chores. My LGS had a Condor Greenland axe sitting over in the corner, and I decided it needed to come home with me. This particular model Sports a 2.5lbs head married to a 26" boy's axe handle. It seems like a decent bridge between the tomahawks I have carried out and about in the woods and the 32" splitting axe I keep at home for fire wood.

    Let's just call this a "truck axe". It has no specialized purpose. I won't be Bushcrafting with it. I won't be using it to quarter an elk. This is just going to be a tool that may get brought out from under the back seat to cut up a small dead tree down at my stepdad's cabin or to break up a bit of firewood on a very comfortable tent camping trip.

    So my long winded question to you much more learned folks, given my projected usage how sharp should I keep this your opinions? It came with an edge just north of "butterknife". Being that I'm a khukuri guy, I'm pretty comfortable roughing in an edge with a file and then conveying it with a sanding sponge/paper and a leather strop. So far, I've got it about as sharp as I keep my hawks. Nice beefy edge that will bite deep yet keep its structural integrity if pushed. It won't shave, but I can push the head down with my hands and easily cut through a piece of 8oz leather cleanly. However, this is the first axe I have ever owned that wasn't a small kindling hatchet or a splitting axe. It comes with a really nice protective sheath, so in theory I could hone this to a razor's edge and transport it safely.

    What do y'all think? Keep the working edge and let it go at that or take it skinny and turn it into a razor blade? I could see it both ways. The practical side of me says it's just fine how it is. The other side of me says that it won't see much use, so why not thin it to scary sharp.

    Thoughts? Thanks in advance.

    Here's a pic of it. I gave it a good sanding, and I tossed on some darker stain to "age" the wood a bit, make it look like one that got left in the splitting stump every winter. The wood looks might thirsty. I'll probably burn some runes into it for fun and give it a soak in oil to plump up the wood a bit.

    This is a cheap project axe. One part, make it useful. One part, whatever makes it unique that doesn't interfere with the first part.
  2. FLINT77


    Apr 8, 2013
    you will get some really good advice on sharpening here - there are some sharpening masters. I'm not a master, but I do ok with my axes.

    you can get it sharp without making the profile of the edge super thin and fragile. I'm not sure that you need shaving sharp for a general purpose axe. Some of my axes have ended up sharp enough to shave some arm hairs off, but that's not necessarily my goal. I get them pretty sharp but keep a good convex edge on them and they seem to chop really well and hold their edge really well.

    The last time I did trail maintenance, I chopped quite a good bit, including some hard hemlock limb knots and was surprised that at the end of the day the axe seemed just as sharp as when I started, so whatever I've got seems to be a good working edge, so I'll probably stick with it.
    Trailsawyer, A17, Yankee Josh and 3 others like this.
  3. Square_peg

    Square_peg Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    I file to the Forest Service gauge and then hone to shaving sharp. Then I'll just touch up with a fine stone until it needs filing again. In between filings it's sharp and may cut a few hairs but it won't be hair-poppin' sharp.

    It should be sharp. You shouldn't see a reflected edge. A sharp axe bites. A dull axe is more likely to deflect.

  4. Steely_Gunz

    Steely_Gunz Got the Khukuri fevah Moderator

    May 9, 2002
    I have a feeling that since I'm an axe neophyte, I will most likely not worry about my edge performance that much. I keep my pocket knives shivering sharp, but even my khuks are kept about as sharp as my good hatchets, at least the ones meant for going through wood.

    I am just curious as to what others think and always eager to learn.
    Yankee Josh and Hairy Clipper like this.
  5. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    In general, it should be quite sharp. How thick or thin that edge is will depend on the steel and the applications you're using it for, but axes cut with a push rather than slicing, so a highly polished edge is preferable in all cases. But even a filed edge is plenty good enough. It's just not optimal. :)
    dantzk8, A17, Yankee Josh and 4 others like this.
  6. muleman77


    Jan 24, 2015
    I do about like @Square_peg. Usually I just eyeball but check my work with a gauge now and then to see if I'm maintaining.

    I have a few thinner and thicker for certain applications but an all around axe set up like described will do it all well.

    I dont go finer than the fine side of a puck.
    Trailsawyer, junkenstien, A17 and 3 others like this.
  7. Steely_Gunz

    Steely_Gunz Got the Khukuri fevah Moderator

    May 9, 2002
    I roughed my edge in with a file. Then I followed it up with a strop on an 80 grit then 220 grit sponge. Finally I gave it about 100 licks each side with a loaded leather strop.

    I know I skipped some grits in there, but it's all I had on hand. Its pretty polished as it is and will scrape hair. Seems sharp but durable. I burned in some ruins on the wood and plan on picking up some oil for the handle tomorrow.

    Thanks again, fellas.
  8. npace


    Oct 24, 2019
    Don’t forget to post pics of the final results! Nice looking axe.
    Yankee Josh and Steely_Gunz like this.
  9. Square_peg

    Square_peg Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    In truth I haven't checked my work with a gauge in years. After a while you just know how it should be sharpened.
    quinton, junkenstien, A17 and 2 others like this.
  10. David Martin

    David Martin Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 7, 2008
    I don't have a gauge but I know the ax is close by how it cuts. I sharpen mine starting on a coarse India and going 2 grits more to a x fine India, at 500 grit. The edge is frosty, not polished. I'll test it on bailing twine or a shop cloth. When it cuts that with less than 1" of movement, I'm good. After 2 days of splitting or cutting I'll touch it up back to that same grit. Good luck, DM
  11. thunderstick


    Jan 15, 2007
    My ideas of sharpening an axe are centered on what is reasonably achievable in the field--because going beyond that is just a starting sharpness and is not a working sharpness--so in my mind a razor edge is not essential for an all round "working axe."

    The number 1 priority for axe sharpening is to get the right geometric profile for the intended usage on the common local species.

    Sharp axes with the wrong geometry still won't work well and axes with the right geometry that are reasonably sharp will work amazingly well. Therefore my point is ... once you get the right geometry whether you have a stone honed edge or a finely polished edge is inconsequential in most applications--except for slicing paper in YouTube clips.

    So file it to the right profile and then hone it. Use it on species to determine if it is the right geometry for you. After it is honed you should only need a stone thereafter to keep it sufficiently sharp for a working axe. In my experience a stone hone can still get it to pop a few hairs which is plenty sharp. Because I tend to be a perfectionist, my axes on standby usually have a razor polished edge but when they get employed I only use a medium grit stone, and that easily keeps the working edge. I have many sharpening options, and have used a lot of different sharpening tools; but here is my preferred (Norton) stone for an axe:

    I use the stone on the axe in a circular motion rather than the axe on the stone in a sliding motion. You can finish with using the stone in a sliding along the edge motion like when sharpening a scythe. I like the canoe style better than puck style stones.

    Now I do like my belt axes razor sharp and with a finer edge because I want them to be able to double for knife duty also if needed.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2020
  12. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    Good to see some scythe stone appreciation. They're one of the most versatile of all field-honing stone shapes in my opinion.
    Yankee Josh, quinton and muleman77 like this.
  13. Steely_Gunz

    Steely_Gunz Got the Khukuri fevah Moderator

    May 9, 2002

    I find I do the same thing. I may polish even a big chopping knife up to and past razor sharp but just maintain it while in the field. As long as the edge can remain sharp yet durable, I'm good.
    A17 and FortyTwoBlades like this.
  14. Old Axeman

    Old Axeman Gold Member Gold Member

    Jan 10, 2015
    I add a small, fine India to the scythe stone, thats all I need in the woods.
  15. thunderstick


    Jan 15, 2007
    Yikes -- I edited my grammatical typos--I'm glad you guys are not word smithing Nazis.
    Yankee Josh and Square_peg like this.
  16. thunderstick


    Jan 15, 2007
    I must confess that I often carry a small finer stone also, but I don't think it's essential.
  17. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    It's also worth noting that fine scythe stones exist, as well. Though a pocket stone certainly takes up less space and can definitely still do the job in that context.
    Yankee Josh likes this.
  18. Square_peg

    Square_peg Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    I keep a small well-worn Norton round stone in my daypack for touch-ups. It's pretty thin now from 40 years of use but it still has both grits. Weighs almost nothing. Takes up little space. Does a fine job. Coarse side shown.


    The Arctic Fox puck is pretty nice for touching up an axe.
    Yankee Josh, dantzk8, A17 and 6 others like this.
  19. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    Worst. Cookie. Ever. :D :D :D
  20. thunderstick


    Jan 15, 2007
    Out of curiosity -- what is your methodology for dressing a puck and keeping it that flat after 40 years? That's impressive looking. Not much room left to hold the edges and keep away from the bit.

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