The 9 Best Axe Sharpening Files [buyer’s guide]


We’ll never tire of saying this...


Using a dull axe is one of the most dangerous things you can do.

Between the need to swing it with excessive force and a higher probability of the axe ricocheting off a hard surface, there is a very good chance that you could hurt someone or yourself with a dull axe.


To help you sort out this problem, let’s take a look at the best sharpening files available for axes. One of many sharpening tools for axes, a file has its own set of benefits and drawbacks to consider. Check out our guide for the best axe sharpening files to see if this is the right tool for you.

Product Name

Type

Size

Pros

Top pick

Dual double/single-cut bastard file

9 inches

Versatile cut patterns

Very good sharpening performance

Dual double/single-cut bastard file

8 inches

Inexpensive

Versatile cut patterns

Large sharpening surface

Dual-grit coarse and extra-fine diamond file

4.17 inches

Compact and lightweight

Comes with integrated handle

Comes with a paracord

Diamond-lined sharpening surface

Dual-grit design

Single-cut bastard file

6 inches (all)

Multiple tools included

Highly versatile

Good value for money

Comes with a removable handle

Single-cut bastard file

10 inches

Wide size options

Comes with handle

Large sharpening surface

Single-cut bastard file

6 inches

Comes with rubber handle

Tapered edges

Good portability

100-grit silicon carbide file with four flat faces

9 inches

Comes with a wooden handle

Tapered edges

Allows for rapid sharpening

Single-cut smooth file

4.5 inches

Highly portable

Smooth grain allows for razor-sharp honing

Single-cut bastard file

3 inches

Highly portable

Comes with leather sheath

Benefits of using a sharpening file


When deciding if it’s a good idea to get a file, it’s worth considering how it compares to other sharpening tools for axes such as whetstones or electric sharpeners. The form factor and design of sharpening files give them several advantages over the competition.

Versatile

The single biggest benefit of a sharpening file is the fact that you can use it to sharpen just about anything. If you work with other cutting tools like knives, hooks, or scythes, then you will certainly get a lot of mileage out of a single sharpening file.

Ideal for repairing dull or rusted edges

Just as with any sharpening tool, a file works by abrading the material off a dull edge to hone the blade. The abrasive effect is created by a series of teeth on the surface of the file. Compared to the abrasive particles of a whetstone, these teeth can remove material much faster. If you need to repair a severely dulled down edge with lots of nicks and cracks, then a sharpening file is likely the more practical option.

Easy to pack and store

Sharpening files and long and thin tools that can fit into just about any pack or toolbox. They are pretty tough and robust, which means they don’t need any sort of special carrying case. A sharpening file is a perfect tool if you’re the type who does not like to fuss with their gear.

Downsides of using a sharpening file


A sharpening file may be a rugged and versatile tool, but it also lacks the refinement of other sharpening tools. Although a sharpening file looks like it’s easy to use, you’ll need considerable skill to get good results out of it.

Heavy and bulky

This may contradict how we described sharpening files as easy to pack, but the space it takes up and its weight are two different things. Compared to the compact whetstone, a sharpening file can be a few ounces heavier. If you like to do ultralight backpacking trips, a sharpening file may not be the most compatible tool with your backpacking philosophy.

May not give you a razor-sharp edge

The coarse teeth of a file may be ideal for repairing severely dulled axe edges, but it simply lacks the refinement needed to make those edges razor-sharp. Lots of axe owners would probably say that an axe does not need a razor-sharp edge – it’s a chopping tool, after all, and not a slicing tool. However, a sharpening file may not be enough for you if you carry around hunting knives and would like them to be razor-sharp.

Can create a burr on the edge of the axe blade

Compared to electric sharpeners and whetstones, the coarse teeth of a sharpening file make it a little harder to control. This makes it more likely to over-sharpen one edge of the sharp edge and create a “burr.” A burr isn’t necessarily a bad thing and can be remedied by simply sharpening the other side of the edge. However, it does add some extra work as there’s no way for you to use an axe properly if it has a prominent burr.

How to choose a sharpening file


Different sharpening files may look a lot like each other, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that the subtle details don’t count. You’ll have to take a close look at each sharpening file to tell one apart from the other. To help you develop that eye for detail, here are the things you should be looking for:

Single-cut or double-cut?

The teeth of a file are typically angled by about 65 degrees from the horizontal. This creates the abrading effect when the axe edge passes over the surface of a file. Sharpening files can either have one set of parallel teeth (single-cut) or two sets of crisscrossing teeth set at opposing angles (double-but).


What’s the difference between the two? Double-cut files can abrade through the material of the axe edge faster, making them more efficient for making major repairs to damaged blades. However, they also tend to leave very rough surfaces that need to be smoothened out.


This is where single-cut files come in. Sharpening with a single-cut file provides a bit more control and leaves a smooth finish on the axe edge.


The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to choose between the two. Some files have multiple faces, each with a different level of coarseness or a different cut. Just pick one that offers all the sharpening features that you will need.

Smooth or coarse?

Just as with sharpening stones, sharpening files also have smooth or coarse versions. In this case, the difference between the two is the density of the teeth on the sharpening surface.


The coarseness grade of sharpening files can be classified into three categories – bastard files, second cut or medium-smooth files, and smooth files. Bastard files are the coarsest and typically have around 26 teeth per inch. Smooth files can have densities as high as 60 teeth per inch.


Bastard files are more appropriate for grinding away large nicks and imperfections on an axe edge, while smooth files are used to hone them to sharpness. Just as with single-cut and double-cut options, there are sharpening files with multiple faces that let you switch from coarse to fine.

Handle

The handle of a sharpening file may not be as important as the quality of its sharpening surface, but that does not mean that this is a detail you can afford to overlook. A good handle provides good grip and leverage, providing better control on the angle in which you sharpen and how much force you are exerting.


If you anticipate having to sharpen several tools frequently, you may also want to get a handle that is ergonomic for your long-term comfort.

Size and shape

The common sharpening files for axes either have a flat profile with a constant width throughout or have a slight taper towards the end. Both have benefits – a flat file has a larger sharpening surface that can speed up the job, while a tapered file provides better angle control.


There are also more unusual versions, such as triangular files with three sharpening sides or knife files that taper to a sharp point.


The size of the file is something you may want to consider if you intend to bring it with you on a long backpacking trip. Most files are around 8 or 9 inches long, but there are also ultra-portable versions that are just about the size of a knife. Small files may be conveniently light but they will also be a lot slower when sharpening large axe edges.

Best axe sharpening files



This entry from Helko Werk is another dual-sided file with both single-cut and double-cut sides. Made of high carbon steel, this file features a flat rectangular shape that maximizes the sharpening surface and safe edges on both sides to prevent damage on adjacent objects.


In terms of sharpening performance, there is little to complain about in this product. Both single-cut and double-cut sides work as expected. The double-cut face is exceptional for repairing nicks on axe edges, while the single-cut face finishes it off nicely. You’re not going to get razor-sharp blades with this file, though, so it’s best to use it exclusively for axes.

The only drawback to using this as an axe sharpening file is that it feels a little too small, especially if you’re sharpening full-sized splitting mauls. A bit more length and bulk would have made this file safer to use, although that would have also made it less portable.


The sharpening file also does not come with a handle, which is quite a traditional approach to designing a file. Some users may be averse to this lack of grip and ergonomics.


The quality of Helko Werk is a lot higher than many other sharpening files available today, which means that’s also accordingly more expensive. If you’re on a tight budget, there are axe sharpening files that cost less than half the price of this particular one.

Specs

Pros

Cons

Type: Dual double/single-cut bastard file

Versatile cut patterns

Too small for full-sized axes

Shape: Flat rectangular

Very good sharpening performance

Somewhat expensive

Size: 9 inches

Cell
Cell

With handle? No

Cell
Cell

For sheer value for money, it’s hard to beat this dual axe sharpening file from the Nicholson brand. Today a global brand for handheld tools, the origin of the Nicholson brand can be traced to one of the first lines of machine-made sharpening files. Based on this heritage alone, you can’t go wrong with a Nicholson file.


This particular axe sharpening file has two sharpening surfaces – one with a single-cut pattern another with a double-cut pattern. This gives it an incredible level of versatility, as you can repair nicked axe edges with the double-cut surface and finish it off with one the single-cut side. The sides of the file are safe edges for working in confined spaces.

One criticism of this product is that the double-cut side does not perform quite as well as advertised. Instead of two cuts that should be equally effective, one pair of teeth is much less pronounced than the other. This means that the double-cut side is only slightly more abrasive than the single-cut side. You can still tell the difference in performance between the two, but there’s clearly room for improvement there.


The lack of a real handle is also somewhat problematic. If you plan on using this frequently, you may have to invest on a good universal handle. Fortunately, the Nicholson dual-sided file is inexpensive enough for this to not be such a huge drawback.

Specs

Pros

Cons

Type: Dual double/single-cut bastard file

Inexpensive

Does not come with a handle

Shape: Flat rectangular

Versatile cut patterns

Double-cut side performs poorly

Size: 8 inches

Large sharpening surface

Cell

With handle? No

Cell
Cell

If you’re looking for a sharpening file to bring on a long camping or backpacking trip, then you should really consider this compact sharpening file from Sharpal. This file is designed specifically for portability – it’s small, has an integrated handle, and even comes with a protective leather sheath (which also doubles as a strop).


Making up for its size is the fact that this file comes with a sharpening surface embedded with monocrystalline diamonds. It has both a coarse side (325 grit) and an extra-fine side (1200 grit). If you like keeping your tools razor-sharp, then this is the perfect sharpening tool.

Another nifty bonus of this file is that it comes with a 2-meter paracord braided right into the handle. As anyone who has spent time outdoors can tell you, this can be a very valuable accessory if you’re in a pinch.


Of course, you’ll have to live with the fact that you will be using a very small sharpening file. The abrasiveness of the diamond surface somehow makes up for this. As you would expect, this sharpening file is also a lot more expensive than most of the files available today.

Specs

Pros

Cons

Type: Dual-grit coarse and extra-fine diamond file

Compact and lightweight

Quite expensive

Shape: Flat rectangular

Comes with integrated handle

Very small sharpening surface

Size: 4.17 inches

Comes with a paracord

Cell

With handle? Yes

Diamond-lined sharpening surface

Cell
Cell

Dual-grit design

Cell

The best thing about this product is that it’s not just a single file. Instead, it’s a collection of similarly sized files with different shapes. Included with this bundle is a flat tapered file, a circular file, and a triangular file. This is a good all-around set for general home use, as well as if you have a lot tools that need sharpening.


The file set comes with a removable handle that bears the standard Stanley look. Instead of each file having its own handle, the handle is meant to be swapped between them. While this seems innovative, it also means that the handle can go missing someday and render the files unusable. Add to that the fact that the handle and tool connection is proprietary, which means that fashioning your own handle out of wood is near-impossible.

One thing that this tool misses out on is any double-cut surface. Considering that the set includes three tools, one of which is triangular, this seems like a squandered opportunity. This is something to keep in mind if you’re buying this set for axe sharpening. If your axe gets huge nicks on it, then none of the files in this set would be a great help.


A saving grace of this toolset is that it’s pretty inexpensive for a set for three files. This is ideal if you’re looking for sharpening files that are more all-around. It’s also not a bad choice if you just need to sharpen an axe every now and then.

Specs

Pros

Cons

Type: Single-cut bastard file

Multiple tools included

Single-cut surfaces only

Shape: Multiple

Highly versatile

Included handle is proprietary

Size: 6 inches (all)

Good value for money

Cell

With handle? Yes

Comes with a removable handle

Cell

Corona has been in the business of hand tools for about a century which makes them one of the more reliable brands in our book. Their line of bastard cut sharpening files is quite extensive with four size options (6, 8, 10, 12-inch) and the option to include a built-in handle. This particular file is a 10-inch sharpening file with the handle option.


The file is made of carbon steel with chromium treatment for corrosion protection. The single-cut teeth pattern wraps around the entire surface of the file without a safe edge, which helps increase the total sharpening surface. Simply put, this isn’t the type of file you would want to use for delicate jobs.

The beauty of a large 10-inch file is that it feels appropriately robust for sharpening a full-sized axe. The added bulk, along with the leverage of the grip, allows you to exert just enough pressure on the file to speed up the sharpening job. The tapered profile also gives a good sense of control to avoid burrs and other unwanted sharpening results.


One thing that this tool lacks is a double-cut surface. The hard bastard cut teeth might be able to handle damaged axe edges, but there’s no doubt that it’s a job that can be done more efficiently with double-cut teeth. 

Specs

Pros

Cons

Type: Single-cut bastard file

Wide size options

Single-cut surface only

Shape: Rectangular tapered

Comes with handle

No safe edges

Size: 10 inches

Large sharpening surface

Cell

With handle? Yes

Cell
Cell

This bastard file form Sheffield is another good option for sharpening your axe. While it doesn’t perform exceptionally well in any department, it offers an acceptably good combination of form and function.


This file comes with single-cut bastard teeth on both surfaces which is ideal for general maintenance and finishing of an axe edge. The tapered rectangular shape makes it a lot easier for the file to go around corners and allows for better control while sharpening. The file also comes with a rubber-lined handle which certainly helps with comfort and grip, making the sharpening job a little more efficient.

The 6-inch sharpening surface may seem a little small, especially if you’re sharpening a large axe. However, the compact design may still be preferable for those who prefer to keep their tools small and light.


As mentioned, the Sheffield file has single-cut teeth on both sides. If you have an axe edge that has been badly damaged, this bastard file may not be the best option to rehabilitate it to good condition.


Despite a few limitations, this sharpening file from Sheffield is still a pretty good all-around option. It’s inexpensive, compact, and easy to use. You may want to keep a double-cut file handy, just in case your axe gets a few nicks.

Specs

Pros

Cons

Type: Single-cut bastard file

Comes with rubber handle

Single-cut surface only

Shape: Rectangular tapered

Tapered edges

Small sharpening surface

Size: 6 inches

Good portability

Cell

With handle? Yes

Cell
Cell

As reliable as steel sharpening files are, they don’t exactly do a stellar job when it comes to the speed with which they sharpen tools. If time is more important to you, then you may want to consider this silicon carbine sharpening file from Norton Abrasives.


Not only is the silicon carbide material harder and more abrasive than steel, but the huge 9-inch sharpening surface can shorten the time you spend on tool sharpening. The file has four abrasive sides, a tapered profile, and a basic wooden handle.

One thing you likely won’t want to do with this sharpening file is carry it with you on backpacking trips. This thing is huge. It was clearly designed for performance rather than portability. If you need a file to keep in your shed or garage, then this is certainly one of the better options out there.


As usual with sharpening files that are made of specialty materials other than steel, the Norton silicon carbide file is a little more expensive. This is a high-performance sharpening file that you’ll want to handle with a bit more care.

Specs

Pros

Cons

Type: 100-grit silicon carbide file with four flat faces

Comes with a wooden handle

Single-grit surface only

Shape: Rectangular tapered

Tapered edges

Not ideal for razor-sharp honing

Size: 9 inches

Allows for rapid sharpening

Very bulky

With handle? Yes

Cell
Cell

The sharpening file from Warner is likely one of the simplest that you can find today. It’s a plain rectangular flat file with two single-cut sharpening surfaces. With a streamlined body and no contours, it’s also one of the easiest files to pack when you’re going on a long hiking trip.


A characteristic of this file which is quite unusual is the fact that it has a smoother sharpening surface care of a closer spacing between the teeth. This makes the Warner sharpening file highly suitable for sharpening knives and axes to a razor-sharp point. However, it also limits how the file can be used to repair heavily dulled or damaged blades.

The danger of using a smooth sharpening file is that you could end up wearing it out quickly if used improperly. If you need to repair nicked blades, make sure to use a coarser file first before finishing it with this one.


The flat rectangular design helps keep the Warner sharpening file easy to pack, but the lack of any contoured grip makes using the file awkward and uncomfortable. We recommend using this file only for files and hatchets. For larger axes, an appropriately larger sharpening file may safer and more efficient.

Specs

Pros

Cons

Type: Single-cut smooth file

Highly portable

Lacks a handle

Shape: Rectangular flat

Smooth grain allows for razor-sharp honing

Small sharpening surface

Size: 4.5 inches

Cell

Teeth can get worn out easily with heavy-duty sharpening

With handle? No

Cell
Cell

With a price tag that is close to $50, it’s hard not to take notice of this axe sharpening file from Gransfors Bruks. Aside from costing more than four times the standard sharpening file, the Gransfors Bruks file also has a very handy and portable design. Does the performance of the file live up to the brand?

With its compact design and leather sheath, it’s clear that the Gransfors Bruks sharpening file was made for portability. This is the kind of file you can keep in the pocket of your trousers or backpack, barely getting in the way of the rest of your gear.

As for performance, this file has single-cut bastard teeth on both sharpening sides. These perform well enough for general maintenance and for touching up an axe edge before use. As one would expect, a single-cut bastard file won’t do as well when used for an axe edge that has already been heavily dulled.


Should you go for a sharpening file this compact, the small sharpening surface is something you’ll simply have to live with. The inclusion of the wooden handle certainly makes the file more comfortable to use. This is a good thing, as you’ll probably spend a lot of time having to sharpen your axe.


All in all, the Gransfors Bruks sharpening file is a good emergency tool for backpacking or hiking trips, but we wouldn’t buy it for all-around use around the shop. There are a lot of less expensive and efficient alternatives out there.

Specs

Pros

Cons

Type: Single-cut bastard file

Highly portable

Expensive

Shape: Rectangular flat

Comes with leather sheath

Very small sharpening surface

Size: 3 inches

Cell
Cell

With handle? Yes

Cell
Cell

Conclusion


When it comes to sharpening an axe, the two major options are either a whetstone or a sharpening file. Both options are equally valid – the choice between the two is really a question of preference and application. Sharpening files are a little more versatile when it comes to the types of tools it can sharpen. The choice of abrasive teeth instead of a fine abrasive surface also makes files more suitable for repairing of heavily dulled or damaged axe blades.


As with any tool, proper selection and use is key to maximizing the potential of a sharpening file. We hope that this guide has helped you choose just the right sharpening file for your need and your budget.


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