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Why Can't I Get My Axe Shaving Sharp?

Discussion in 'Axe, Tomahawk, & Hatchet Forum' started by Lenny, Sep 1, 2018.

  1. Lenny


    Oct 15, 1998
    I've got a Gransfors Bruk Small Forest Axe that I've used a couple times.
    I tried to touch up the edge and that was all she wrote. I only succeeded in dulling it.
    Lately, I've been having better results. First with DiaSharp diamond stones in successively finer grits, and now with my Edge Pro water stones.
    I get it sharp, but not like it came from the factory. I'm really trying to get it to shave hairs.
    Any hints?
    Is it pointless to get an axe that sharp?
    Thanks all.
  2. Brian Rust

    Brian Rust

    Nov 14, 2017
    Depends on what you are doing. If it is just for splitting it can be dull and work. Digging deep with cuts to fell trees.... it doesn’t “have” to be shaving sharp. For doing spoon carving or something it would help to be shaving sharp. One tip I would give is after your regular sharpening, after your finest grit strop it. Make a paddle glue a piece of leather to it, rub some compound on it and then go to town on the edge until it is shiny all the way to the edge. This will get rid or the burr and sharpen the edge to the grit of the compound basically. After that I bet it will shave hair.

    Sometimes it’s just to say “my axe can shave hairs”. Or it’s the accomplishment of getting it to. I understand that part too.
    Nbrackett likes this.
  3. Lenny


    Oct 15, 1998
    Thanks Brian.
    I've been using a strop after sharpening.
    It really seems like that only dulls the edge.
    What's the exact technique I should use with the strop?
  4. Yankee Josh

    Yankee Josh Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 31, 2018
    Are you able to get your knives shaving sharp?
    jblyttle and Square_peg like this.
  5. Brian Rust

    Brian Rust

    Nov 14, 2017
    A lot of people end up rolling the edge over on a strop. Making a sweeping motion and flipping their wrist. Make sure that you hold your angle all the way through the stroke. Only making pull strokes and lifting the axe head instead of flipping it. I put my strop in a machanics vice and take the axe to the strop. If you take the strop to the ax then use push strokes keeping that same angle and lifting the strop up not rolling it at the end. If any stroping make the edge dull I would say you are rolling it. But I could be wrong.
    Square_peg and Yankee Josh like this.
  6. Yankee Josh

    Yankee Josh Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 31, 2018
    . One thing worth mentioning is the last thing you want to do with your stone is slide towards and across your edge. As though you are trying to slice off a thin strip off your stone. Keep doing this, first one side and then the other, until you've no more wire edge. You should be very, very sharp at this point. And Brian gave an excellent dissertation on stropping.
    Brian Rust likes this.
  7. Lenny


    Oct 15, 1998
    OK, I learned a few things here.
    I'm using my stones in almost a horizontal sweeping motion on the edge.
    Guess I need to refine the motion so that I'm cutting into the stones with the axe.
    As to my knives, I use an Edge Pro so I can get them stupid sharp. However, the motion on that
    is also mostly a horizontal sweeping motion so I just don't understand why the same motion doesn't
    produce the same results on my axe.
    As for stropping, I take the strop to the edge and always move away from the edge so there's no way
    I'm rolling it. Perhaps my strop angle is too great and the leather curls around the edge dulling it?
    Should I be using heavy or light pressure with the strop? I assume I should use the same angle with it as the stones.
    Finally, I should mention that I do get a burr on the opposite side of sharpening with each grit stone prior to moving on.
    I just don't get what I'm doing wrong!
    Thanks for all your help folks and keep the comments coming.
  8. Yankee Josh

    Yankee Josh Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 31, 2018
    Don't worry! The burr happens! Unless you're exceptionally skilled, or patient. It's important to TRY not creating a burr, but even still they often happen. I file first then sharpen with circular strokes, moving through stages(However many stones you use) until I've achieved my desired smoothness of bit steel. There is a small curl opposite the side i was just working on. Then take your axe (this is my process anyway) and stand it up and take your fine stone and slice in and down across that burr. You'll be pushing it to the other side. Then use the same motion from the other side and keep going back and forth till the burr is gone. Angle is crucial at this point because you want to maintain your previous angles so that after the curl is gone you have a nice, strong edge, not a wire edge. Meaning you've simply straightened out the curl as opposed to getting rid of it. I strop mine as well. Hope this helps! And good luck!
  9. Lenny


    Oct 15, 1998
    All right.
    I'm doing everything correctly, but still only succeed in getting a beautifully polished yet barely sharp edge.
    Is there anybody in the northern NJ area who's good at axe sharpening who would be willing to meet me somewhere and watch what I'm doing and provide instant feedback? There's a case of beer in it for you!!
    Conversely, can anybody recommend a good axe sharpening service in northern NJ?
    This is driving me nuts. I really want to learn this skill!
  10. Square_peg

    Square_peg Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    This almost has to be a problem with your stropping. Another factor might be your edge angle. What is your final edge angle, inclusive? Is shouldn't be greater than 25° at the very tip. For a thin axe like yours 20°-22° would be better. You may need to file the edge back a ways to achieve this.

    My axes will shave when they come off my hard black Arkansas stone. If I go a step further and use a razor hone the hairs will pop off and fly away. These axes cut beautifully and release easily. Sometimes in lieu of stropping I will use a buffer or often just a kitchen honing steel. I think the steel is less likely to rob your edge than a strop is - it's more forgiving. But a properly used strop won't rob your edge.
  11. survivor45


    Feb 15, 2018
    I use the Rooster method.
    Using 400 then 600 grt sand paper. I can get them "sharp enough" without even trying.
    And all I'm trying to accomplish is an even smooth polished edge.
    Silly Rabbit likes this.
  12. A17


    Jan 9, 2018
    I've never gotten my axes shaving sharp, just pretty sharp. I've never stropped them, just file sharp and a couple strokes of an oil stone work just fine for tree cutting. By the by, you WANT a burr or wire edge. It shows you have gotten close to getting it shaving sharp. When you have a burr on your edge you should take a few strokes along your edge to remove it, then strop it. Just my 2 cents. I could be way off the mark, but it works for me.
    survivor45 and Yankee Josh like this.
  13. Brian Rust

    Brian Rust

    Nov 14, 2017
    If you are getting a burr on every stone you may not be keeping a consistent angle. I know everyone is throwing a lot at you but take your time and just experiment. Eventually you will find your own process. It takes time and repetition to get good at it just like any other function. But I would also recommend using a vise. To either hold your ax or your strop that way you can focus on the angle. Hope something on here will work for you!
    survivor45 likes this.
  14. Lenny


    Oct 15, 1998
    Success, kind of.
    I taped sandpaper to some really Dense foam and went to town. Started with 150 grit then finished with 340. The edge is appreciably sharper than before. Still can’t shave with it but that’s OK. at least I’m on the right track. Thanks all for your help. Any suggestions to improve my technique?
    fishiker and survivor45 like this.
  15. RayseM

    RayseM Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 18, 2010
    A side note - if you don't mind. A shaving sharp axe can do OH, SO MUCH DAMAGE with a glancing blow. :rolleyes:
    Good to really have a handle on how to swing that great tool to minimize the surprises. Just sayin'
    Have fun sharpening but take care swingin'. :thumbsup:

    survivor45 likes this.
  16. Bigfattyt

    Bigfattyt Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 23, 2007
    If you are using a strop, and it is dulling the edge, you are using too much pressure. The soft strop material will wrap the edge and actually be dulling/rounding the apex. Use almost no pressure. Even just the weight of the axe is too much. You may want to hold the axe and use the strop more like a push cut file on the edge.

    If your edge is not already shaving sharp before the strop you have likely not made an apex. Go back. And make sure you have a shaving edge at each grit. Even a course diamond stone, with a properly apexed edge should shave (albeit feel like a rough shave, because it is really like a micro serrated edge at that point).
  17. Lenny


    Oct 15, 1998
    Well, I checked the edge with a 10X loupe intermittently throughout the sharpening process.
    I only flipped the axe over when I saw the scratches go all the way to the edge and felt the burr.
    Still not shaving sharp, but pretty darn sharp.
    What else can I do?
    Maybe I just don't have the sharpening gene : )
  18. Square_peg

    Square_peg Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    Just practice. It'll come.
  19. Gvard


    May 5, 2017
    You don't NEED your axe to shave hair to do it's job. But if you CAN'T get it that sharp, it simply means your sharpening technique is lacking. Getting an axe to pop hairs off your arm only takes about 2 minutes longer than getting it sharp enough to do the job and a polished edge really is what you want for chopping. A rough stone for removing small chips and a medium/fine stone is all you need most of the time. You can make big jumps in grit because axe steel is rather soft. Start with files if you have to reprofile. Using strops really only makes sense if you can already shave hair after using a stone.
    skillgannon likes this.
  20. fishiker


    Nov 5, 2006
    I've gotten good results using 400 and 600 grit paper taped to a mouse pad using double sided tape. I strop the edge with the pad laid on a firm flat surface.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2018

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