How to Maintain Axes and Chain Saws

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Perhaps all the firewood you'll need for this winter is split and neatly stacked. But you may need to cut up a fallen tree or split kindling. Is your chain saw ready? Is you axe sharp? Here are some tips to keep your wood-cutting equipment in good condition.


Sharpening an Axe. Most axes are more than just a blade; they also function as a wedge. The sharp edge of the axe head creates an entry into wood, but the wider part of a convex blade actually pushes the wood apart to split or chip it. Sharpening an axe involves much more than achieving a sharp edge, here are some tips.

  • Wear gloves and don't sharpen an axe on your lap (if it slips and cuts your leg, it will be near a major artery).

  • Maintain the same basic shape of the axe head as when it was new.

  • To shape the head, start with a coarser rasp or file, making strokes diagonal (not perpendicular) to the edge, then diagonal in the other direction.

  • Sharpen the edge with a stone (oil or water keeps the dust from clogging the pores in the stone).

  • Don't try to get out all the nicks in the edge. It's not necessary; to do so and maintain the correct shape of the head would quickly wear it down.

A step-by-step guide to sharpening axes is available at BushcraftUK. It includes photos and illustrations.

Replacing an Axe Handle. Eventually, most axe handles will splinter or the axe head will become loose (and you don't want it to fly off the handle).

  • To remove the old handle, drill some holes into the end of the handle that you can see through the 'eye' of the axe head, then pound the old handle out of the eye using a steel bar and hammer.

  • If the new handle doesn't fit perfectly, use a rasp to shape the end of the handle that fits into the eye.

  • Be sure the head is aligned perfectly with the handle ? not slightly twisted ? so that the head meets the wood squarely when you're chopping.

  • Tighten the handle by driving a wooden wedge into the split in the handle. Most new handles have a groove for this wedge already cut into the end that fits into the axe head, but if yours does not, saw a groove into the neck of the handle.

  • Saw off the excess part of the new handle, including the excess wedge. For additional security, tap a metal wedge into the handle almost perpendicular to the wooden wedge.


Chain saws make quick work of jobs that might take much longer with an axe. Proper maintenance will increase the life of your chain saw and make it more effective while you're using it. Maintenance for chain saws varies somewhat by model, but here are some reminders that pertain to all (consult your owner's manual for specific maintenance of your saw).

  • Keep the chain lubricated.

  • Maintain proper chain tension.

  • Clean out the housing over the base of the bar.

  • Clean out the groove in the bar.

  • Maintain the engine (air filter, clean oil, spark plug).

Sharpening the Chain. A sharp saw chain produces shavings as it cuts, but a dull chain produces finer shavings that look more like saw dust. Sharpening a saw chain involves not only sharpening the cutting teeth, but also the depth gauges.

Sharpen the cutting teeth with a round file and a guide. All of the teeth should be sharpened at the same angle to do the best job. Fastidious sharpeners will count the number of strokes of the file used on each tooth to keep all the teeth even. About every fourth time you sharpen the cutting teeth, file down the depth gauges as well. For details, see Keeping Your Chainsaw Sharp and be sure to visit the image gallery.

For a complete guide to axes and chainsaws, check out our How to Maintain Axes & Chainsaws e-handbook.

Share your experiences with maintaining axes and chain saws by posting a comment below.