Axes should be kept in a dry place, but not so dry or warm that the handle risks shrinking in the axe head. Make sure that the bit and the bit sheath are not wet when you put on the sheath. Oil the axe head before the axe is put away for some time. An un-oiled axe may rust.
Axe heads are forged for cutting or carving. Only the poll of a Splitting Maul is strong enough for hammering in a wedge, for example. Do not use other axes as a sledgehammer or wedge. If you hammer too hard on or with an axe, the eye of the axe may deform or break.
An axe handle, whether fixed with a wedge or glue, may come loose if the axe has been fitted with a handle that has not been dried properly*. Check regularly that the axe handle is secure in the axe head.
* All axes from Gränsfors Bruk come with properly dried handles.
The sharpening of an axe is done in several steps, depending on how worn down the axe head is.
1. Major nicks and damage can be filed down with an emery wheel, but do not overheat the steel or it will lose its temper. Cool often! However, the easiest method is to use a fine-toothed flat file. Make sure that the edge retains its original shape – file the same amount on each side and along the whole edge. The whole bevel face should be in contact with the wheel/file if it is a straight bevel face.
2. Minor damage and normal wear can be tackled on a wet bench grinder or with a coarse handheld whetstone to re-establish the sharpness of the edge. Remember to always keep the original shape of the edge. If you have an axe with a straight bevel face: place the whole bevel face against the grindstone. When grinding on a rotating bench grinder, first place the rear part of the bevel face on the grindstone and then angle the edge until the whole bevel face is against the stone. The choice of grinding with or against the rotation of the grindstone is a matter of taste: Going against it produces less of a burr. Going with it avoids the risk of digging into the grindstone.
Stand steady with one foot placed beside the grinder and support yourself with the axe against a supporting stay on the grinder or with your elbow against your hip. Move the axe slowly back and forth during grinding so that the whole edge is evenly ground. Also grind evenly over the breadth of the grindstone, otherwise it will soon become warped and difficult to use. Do not leave water in the grinder’s drip cup, as this reduces the quality of the stone. An alternative to the rotating grinder is a coarse handheld whetstone (axe stone).
3. Finally, you need to hone the edge to remove the burr or ‘feather edge’. The feather edge occurs when the very tip of the edge has become so thin that it bends up. The feather edge is only a few tenths of a mm long, but can clearly be felt if you slide your fingertips carefully down to the edge. The honing requires first a coarse then a finer whetstone. Moisten the whetstone with water (mainly for clay and sandstone whetstones) or oil (mainly for carborundum or Arkansas whetstones), e.g. honing oil or sewing machine oil.
Move the whetstone along the edge in a rotating motion. Hone along the edges of the whetstone rather than in the middle to avoid gradual cupping of the stone. Turn the axe frequently and hone both sides to remove the feather edge. Wipe off the whetstone occasionally so that the burrs do not damage the edge. Also give the whetstone a thorough wipe down before putting it away.
4. To make the cutting edge even keener, it can be stropped against a length of leather after honing. Run each stroke away from the cutting edge.
The design of the axe head is adapted to its area of use: hardwood demands axes with a fairly thick bit and a rounded bevel face, while axes with a more pointed edge are good for cutting softwood. Axes with a thin, straight edge are good for carving with, while axes with rounded edges are good for chopping in the forest. Broad axes and carving axes have many different edge designs, depending on their use and whether the user is right- or left-handed.
1: For cutting hardwood or frozen wood
2: For cutting softwood
3: For carving. Angle 25º – 30º
4: Wrong grind
A: Curved edge.
Stronger than straight edge. E.g. Forest Axe and Wildlife Hatchet.
B: Straight edge.
For carving. E.g. Carpenter’s Axe
C: Wrong grind and dangerous.
Always keep the original shape of the edge even after grinding and sharpening. A wrongly ground axe slips more easily. Grind equally over the whole edge and on both sides!
Fitting an axe with a handle
It is important that the axe handle is of high quality. The handle and the wooden wedge have to be very dry when fitting. If not, they will dry and shrink later, loosening the head. Another reason for a loose head is the incorrect use of the axe, for example hammering on or with the poll and deforming the axe eye.
Sometimes it can be difficult to remove the handle, as it is secured with resin or glue. However, never burn an old handle from an axe. The heat can cause the steel to lose its temper.
To replace a handle:
1. Saw off the old handle close to the axe head.
2. Drill out as much of the wood and glue in the axe eye as possible.
3. Once the majority of the wood and glue has been removed, the rest can be punched out from the side where you sawed off the handle.
4. Clean inside the eye of the axe with a knife.
5. Lay out two pieces of planking to support the axe head and then hammer in the new handle. Make sure that the handle is secure and comes out a little way on the other side of the axe head. Check and adjust the handle so that you have your desired angle of alignment with the head.
6. Put some glue in the wedge slit and on the wood wedge.
7. Drive in the wedge as far as it will go.
8. Saw off the excess of the handle and the protruding part of the wedge. Keep a few millimetres.
9. Finally, hammer in a three-pronged iron wedge, diagonal to the wooden wedge.