An axe may well be the most important tool you can bring with you on a camping, hiking or hunting trip, but a dull axe is dangerous. A sharp blade will bite into a log, but a dull edge may glance off the mark and cause a serious mishap.
To sharpen an axe you will need a file, and if available, a vise. Place the axe-head in a vise with the blade up. Clamp the axe-head in the vise close to where the handle is inserted in the eye. Holding the file flat, file from the eye along the entire edge. File on the outgoing stroke only, maintaining the same pressure and the same angle throughout the stroke. Turn the axe-head to the opposite direction to file the other side of the blade. Be sure to file both sides evenly.
In the field, where a vise is not available, extend the edge of the blade over a log or stump and hold the axe-head securely with your knee or foot while you file. To check if you have sharpened the blade evenly, sight down the edge. There should be a fine bur on the blade edge. If you notice any bright or white spots, file the edge again until these dull patches disappear. A final rubbing with a fine emery stone will hone the edge to razor sharpness.
An axe should never be thinned...that is, ground or filed to a thinner edge than when it came from the factory. Grind or file the axe in a fan-shape, leaving a little more metal at the corners. The cutting edge of an axe should be rounded, not wedge-shaped. The rounded edge will throw wood chips outward, away from the blade.
An axe is the outdoorsman's most useful tool. Select a quality axe and care for it properly. Keep it sharp, take proper care of the handle, keeping the head tight and the handle smooth. Never use your axe to drive or pound on anything more than a tent peg. Axes are not designed to be used as a sledgehammer or as a wedge, and should not be used for these purposes. With care, an axe will give you years of useful service. Image by B. Gliwa/Wikimedia Commons