How to Maintain Axes and Chain Saws

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Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay 

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 your axe sharp? Here are
some tips to keep your wood-cutting equipment in good


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
  • 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
  • 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

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.