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Sharpening an Axe With a Rock | Can It Be Done?

Keeping your forestry equipment sharp isn’t just a way to make your tools look good; it’s a functionality issue. An axe that’s not sharpened is difficult to use and can even cause serious injury to the wielder. But what if you don’t have a sharpener? It’s really not a problem, you can make do with many items around you. 

You can sharpen an axe with a rock if it is the only option available. You will need to:

  1. Choose a rounded rock that’s easy to hold. 
  2. Get the right safety gear to protect your hands. 
  3. Sharpen the axe by brushing a smooth, rounded rock in circular motions from the blade in.

I recommend using this type of sharpening stone for your blades. I’ve had the same one for years, and the thing never seems to wear out.

Learning how to sharpen an axe with a rock is actually fairly easy if you know what you need to do. If you’re new to improvising sharpening materials, this handy guide will transform you into a better woodsman.

Axe in Stump Rocks Near

Can You Sharpen An Axe With A Rock?

Believe it or not, it’s absolutely possible to use a rock to sharpen an axe. In fact, using rocks to sharpen blades of all kinds is one of the oldest methods to keep gear sharp. While it may not be the easiest way to sharpen your axe, it absolutely can be done, and anyone can learn how to do it. 

That being said, not all hatchets and axes should be sharpened with a rock. If any of the following statements are true, you will need to have professional equipment to sharpen your hatchet:

  • Your axe is fairly overused. There’s a huge difference in the structural reliability of an axe that is relatively new, and an axe that’s been used for years. If your axe looks like it’s seen better days, you probably should sharpen it with a different tool. 
  • The hatchet in question has rust on it. Rust, when exposed to this sharpening method, can break or fly off your axe. This can cause injury to you while you sharpen it and also wreck your axe. You will need to sand the rust off your axe before proceeding with this method.
  • The blade is seriously dull. Generally speaking, using a rock to sharpen an axe is something that should only be done for mild touch-ups or for regular maintenance. If your blade is extremely blunt, you probably should just get a new axe.

If your axe just needs a little brushing up, then you should be alright when you try this method. 

Getting Started: Choosing a Rock

Learning this unique tool sharpening technique all starts with finding a decent sharpening stone, to begin with. Not all rocks will be good sharpening stones, and choosing the wrong one can turn your endeavor into a massive mistake. 

According to forestry experts, the following types of rocks are ideal for sharpening sessions:

  • Smooth river stones. The smoother, the better! Jagged edges can actually wear and tear axe blades. 
  • Moderately hard sandstones. The gritty feel of sandstone acts as sandpaper, which in turn, makes it easy to sharpen and file your blade in a pinch. 
  • Smaller stones. Coarse stones like granite and smoother stones like quartz can both work well, as long as you can keep them in your hands without slipping. This should be your last resort, though!

The size of your rock will also matter. The ideal rock size is small enough to fit in your hand comfortably since you will be maneuvering the rock around your axe blade. 

Safety Tips

Safety is absolutely crucial when it comes to sharpening an axe. After all, you’re dealing with a sharp object, rapid movement, and the potential of things flying off the handle—literally. Keeping yourself safe just makes sense. 

Before you start sharpening, it’s important to grab a pair of sturdy gloves and wear them. It only takes one false move while sharpening to end up with a serious cut, and gloves can prevent that from happening. Even cotton gloves can prevent serious injury to your hands. 

Goggles, too, are important. Since you may have parts of your axe flying off while you sharpen, it makes sense to protect your eyes. A single eye injury is all you need in order to lose your sight. 

Another thing to keep in mind before you start sharpening your axe is to go to a well-ventilated area. In fact, getting a ventilator mask or even just placing a bandana over your face is a smart idea. You don’t want to breathe in the dust around you. 

A Small Note About Sharpening An Axe With A Rock

While it is possible to sharpen hatchets with rocks, it’s not exactly the best option to choose. If you have a whetstone, a leather strap, or any other “modern” sharpening gear, it’s better to just stick with those tools. This technique should be used sparingly and, ideally, only when you don’t have other gear to work with.

How To Sharpen Your Axe With A Rock: Hand-Held Method

Now that we’ve gotten a rock, an axe, and the right safety practices in place, let’s get to the meat of this story. Here’s how to sharpen your axe using a rock using the most popular method:

  1. Grab your axe in one hand and the rock in another. You should have a hand on your axe handle, right near the blade. The blade should have only one side facing you, and that would be the top side. The rock should be placed in your palm. 
  2. Wet the stone. Just dunking it in a nearby river will work if you don’t have extra bottled water to spare.
  3. Slowly start to move the rock in a circular motion, starting from the edge, then moving into the blade. When sharpening an axe, always start from the top of the edge of the blade and then move your way up and down the edge. Once in a while, just wet your stone again and rinse your axe as well. 
  4. Once you have finished sharpening the top of your blade, turn the blade over and sharpen the other side. Once again, slow and steady wins the race. 

How To Sharpen Your Axe With A Rock: “Vice” Method

If you’re not comfortable holding the axe steady and applying a decent amount of pressure to get things done, there’s another option. With this option, you will need to fasten your axe in place with two rocks or whatever you have nearby. 

  1. Fasten the axe in place, with one face of the blade facing upwards. This is a more secure way to sharpen your stone. It’s up to you to decide how you want to fasten it, though. Many people use bungee cords, rope, clamps, or even press the axe’s handle between two larger rocks. 
  2. Wet your stone. See a pattern yet? 
  3. Move your stone in a circular motion, starting at the edge and then working your way toward the handle. Work the circular motions up and down the blade’s edge. Take your time, and remember to keep both the stone and axe wet for the best results.
  4. Once you are done with the top side, turn the axe over, refasten it, and start sharpening the next side. After that, rinse it one more time to get extra grit off your blade. 

Important Things To Remember While Sharpening

When sharpening, remember to keep a close eye on the shape of your axe. Too much sharpening in one spot or another can harm the overall shape, which in turn, harms your axe’s ability to do its duty. By keeping a close eye on keeping your axe’s shape intact, you will get the best possible results you can using man’s oldest axe sharpening tool.

Incidentally, I wrote an article on how to sharpen an axe in the wild, be sure to check it out.

Related Questions

What angle do you sharpen an axe? Sharpen an axe at a 15 to 20-degree angle about 1/2″ from the cutting edge. However, a good rule of thumb is to just lay the sharpening tool against the already-established contours of the axe blade while sharpening.

Should I sharpen a splitting maul? Sharpening a splitting maul can result in better penetration during use. A dull splitting maul can sometimes bounce off the wood you are attempting to split.

What is the purpose of a double-sided axe? An axe with two sides allows you to keep one side razor-sharp and the other side a bit duller. This allows you to preserve a sharp edge for when it is needed.

For more, check out 10 Best Places to Practice Bushcraft and Survival Skills.