Hatchets are a key wood-cutting tool. They combine the precision of a one-handed tool with the heft and power of an axe, making them very useful for craftsmen who want to harvest and/or split their own wood. Like any bladed hand tool, hatchets must be kept sharp to deliver their best performance. Using a dull hatchet means employing more muscle to achieve the same result, compromising many of the hatchet’s virtues, increasing the wear and tear on the tool, and compromising the safety of the user.
The simplest way to sharpen a hatchet is with a mill file, and using a file is therefore a common choice for sharpening a hatchet in the field. Clamp the head of the hatchet between your knees with the blade facing outwards, or place the hatchet in a vise if you are sharpening it at home. Place the end of the file against the axe blade at an angle matching the bevel, and draw the file across the blade in long strokes using steady pressure. About half a dozen strokes is usually sufficient. Sharpen the other side of the blade with the same number of strokes, and then examine the edge to see if it is still straight and centered. If not, continue filing to bring it into line.
Filing a hatchet will sharpen it enough for most tasks, but some jobs require more of an edge. Whetstones are more often used to sharpen knives, but these coarse sharpening stones can also be used to further hone an already sharp hatchet. Place a whetstone on a table or other flat, stable surface, and place the blade of the hatchet on the stone at an angle roughly matching that of the bevel. Pull the hatchet blade back across the whetstone. Give the blade a dozen strokes on one side, and then a dozen on the other.
Grinding wheels are the classic sharpening tool, because with a grinding wheel you can both put a very sharp edge on a blade, as well as quickly grind nicks and other deformations out of the blade. Work that might take half an hour with a mill file and a whetstone requires only a few minutes with a grinding wheel, and a completely dull blade needs grinding to bring it back into working order.
Hold the blade against the flat of the grinder at an angle matching the bevel, and draw it back and forth against the wheel to sharpen it completely. Then flip the hatchet over and grind the other side. Always wear safety goggles when sharpening with a grinding wheel, since sparks will fly.
Few people own grinding wheels, and these heavy table-top power tools are awkward to take into the field. A handheld rotary tool fitted with a grinding wheel or aluminum oxide grinding stone can be used as a substitute for a grinding wheel, and are much easier to carry to work sites. The main difference in using a handheld rotary tool is that instead of working the hatchet against the grinder, you clamp down the hatchet (just like using a file in the field) and work the grinder against the hatchet blade. Once again, always wear safety goggles to guard against sparks.