There seems to be a lot myth and confusion on internet forums about how sharp an axe should be. Some say they should be dull. Some say "kind of sharp, like a dull knife". Others say as "sharp as your sharpest knife." So who is right?
Answer- Your axe should be shaving sharp!
Why? I think it's best explained by Mors Kochanski, father of modern bushcrafting, who said in his 1987 book "Bushcraft",
"The inexperienced and occasional users who are more prone to accidents in the first place, often fail to appreciate the importance of a keen edge. All woodworking tools, including axes, should be sharp enough to shave with for effortless, efficient and enjoyable work. Most new axes require from an hour to a half a day of hand sharpening to put them into proper shape. A dull axe is less efficient and more tiring to use. It is also a greater hazard as it glances more readily. An axe should be sharpened on a regular basis, perhaps with every half-hour of use or each time a tree is cut down. A minute spent on sharpening may shorten your chopping time by 5 minutes."
Also, Bernie Weisgerber, author of the US Forest Service Axe Manual "An Axe to Grind" says,
"A correctly honed edge is sharp with no wire edge. It reflects no light. If you followed procedures, your edge should be sharp enough to shave with (Figure 73). I sometimes check the sharpness by carefully dry shaving the hair on the back of my hand. This is a traditional method used in the woods for years. A safer and equally effective test is to carefully put your fingernail (not your finger) against the sharpened edge. The edge should bite into your fingernail and not slide down it.
(from an "Axe to Grind")
In the coming weeks I will be posting some of my techniques for sharpening axes, so keep checking back!
About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ hotmail.com (without spaces)