High Cascades Forest Volunteers

How To
Sharpening an Axe

Never use an electric high-speed dry bench grinder to sharpen your ax. That type of a grinder will almost certainly draw the temper from the ax and ruin it. Very few people have enough skill to use a high-speed grinder without drawing the temper from the steel, leaving the steel too soft to hold an edge.

To start, clamp the ax to the bench at a comfortable height . Put on gloves to protect your hands. Hold the file as shown below. Because you file into the edge of the ax, not away from it, you need gloves in case of a minor slip. Always file into the edge, toward the center of the ax handle, because this creates the least amount of burr to remove on the other side. The single-cut file sharpens only on the push stroke. Lift it away from the ax head on the return stroke. If you "saw" with your file, it will fill with metal particles. It will not cut well and it can also be ruined as the file edges are peened over. Occasionally brush the metal particles from the file with a file card. Always store and transport your files so they are protected from each other and other metal tools. Banging them together will dull their edges.

When sharpening, hold the file at about a 25 degree angle. Start to file on the blade by using a smooth vertical motion, gently working the file as you go down along the length of the blade.  As you are filing downward, make the file move a little along the length of the blade. This will make a smooth stroke that covers the blade. Repeat this several times, then turn the axe over. You may need to go back and forth several times. Turn the ax over and repeat the process on the other side of the ax.

Now it is time to hone the edge with a whetstone. The honing process finishes and polishes the edge and removes the burr. Honing should always be done immediately after reshaping with a file. There are two kinds of stones, oil and water.  Always use oil with an oil stone or water with a water stone to float the metal particles away. Wipe the stone clean of these metal particles periodically and apply more oil or water. Water stones are quite a bit softer than oil stones and tend to cup and wear faster. The advantage of the water stone is that it rapidly puts a fine polished edge on your ax.

Use the ax stone in a circular motion, working into the edge, toward the middle of the ax head. Work one side of the ax with the coarse stone until it creates a metal burr, then flip the ax over and use the coarse stone until it pushes the burr back. Switch to the fine side of the ax stone and repeat the process until there's a very fine burr and both sides of the ax edge have been honed. Honing the edge removes very small particles of metal from the blade and causes the remaining ax metal to burr slightly. This is sometimes known as a wire edge or a feather edge. At this point you may want to move to one of the Arkansas stones like the Hard Arkansas finishing stone and work the burr back and forth until it breaks off or becomes very fine. I recommend stropping the edge by drawing the ax toward the edge (opposite the direction used during sharpening) on a piece of finished leather or a piece of soft, clear wood like pine. This stropping will remove the final burr or wire edge.

Always check the ax for sharpness. A honed ax will cut faster, be safer to use, and stay sharp longer. If you look directly into the edge of your ax with the light over your shoulder (either sunlight or artificial light), the edge that you've just honed will reflect no light. If you see any light reflected from the edge, you need to go back and hone the ax with the stone. Occasionally, a ding or a nick in the edge will reflect light just at one point. It is not always necessary to remove these dings as they will disappear through repeated filings. A correctly honed edge is sharp with no wire edge. It reflects no light. If you followed procedures, your edge should be sharp.

Honing An Axe
Filing  an Axe
Tread Slough and Berms

On hillside trails, slough (pronounced "sluff") is soil, rock, and debris that has moved downhill to the inside of the tread, narrowing it. Slough needs to be removed. Removing slough is hard work, and is often not done adequately. Leaving slough is a reason trails "creep" downhill.

Outsloping is the first line of defense against tread erosion. An outsloped tread is one that is lower on the outside or downhill side of the trail than it is on the inside or bank side. Outsloping lets water run naturally off the trail. A 2 foot wide trail would have an outside edge (1.2 to 2.4 in) lower than the inside edge.

Causes of tread creep include constructing a trail that is too narrow, cutslopes that are too steep, or water erosion..

To remove slough, loosen the compacted slough with a mattock or Pulaski, then remove the soil with a shovel or McLeod. Use excess soil to fill holes in the tread, or on the downhill side of the trail. Reshape the tread to restore its outslope. Avoid disturbing the entire cutbank unless absolutely necessary. Chop off the toe of the slough, and blend the slope back into the cutbank.

Berm is soil that has built up on the outside of the tread, forming a barrier that prevents water from running off the trail. Berms are a natural consequence of tread surface erosion and redeposition, and of inadequate compaction during construction. Berms prevent water from flowing off the trail. Water runs down the tread itself, gathering volume and soil as it goes. Berm formation is the single largest contributor to erosion of the tread surface. Removing berms is almost always the best practice.

Berms also trap water in puddles on level portions of tread and at the bottom of dips. Trapped water contributes to soil saturation, greatly reducing tread cohesion.
Crosscut Saw, for non certified volunteers

To use a crosscut saw, working as a volunteer, on Forest Service lands, a person must be certified through the Forest Service.  Or, have a certified person there onsight overseeing the sawing.  The following is an introduction to using a crosscut saw when a non certified person would like to help.

The first step in cutting a log is swamping. Remove any brush, plants, etc. that may interfere with the work. Something as seemingly insignificant as a blade of grass between the teeth and kerf can jam a saw.

Never start sawing until given the ok by a certified sawyer.  With that being said, look at the lay of the log and decide what will happen when the log is cut. Will it roll? Will it jump? Will it drop? Sometimes it will only be safe to have one person sawing. This is often the case if the log is on a slope. Saw from the uphill side.  If a non certified person feels uncomfortable with a cut, stop, and inform the certified sawyer. 

Before making the cut, remove the bark where the saw will pass. Bark often has dirt in it and some say bark itself dulls a saw rapidly.

The secret to using a crosscut is being smooth.  On a two man saw, only pull on the saw, never try to push it back towards the other sawyer.  Let the saw handle basically float in your hands on the return stroke.  And maintain body positioning and pull strokes that keep the saw in a straight line.  The more bend put in the saw, the more bend the other sawyer has to try and straighten out while pulling the saw through the log.  On one man saws, the sawyer must push and pull.  But on the push stoke, push smoothly, and straight.  Pushing to hard and having the saw bind, or pushing a bend into to it, can cause the saw to break.

Make sure the saw doesn't get into dirt or rocks at the end of a cut. Make the last few strokes with the end of the blade ... then if it does drag in the dirt, only the end teeth are dulled. Put a piece of bark under the log if possible when there's a chance of running the saw into the dirt. If necessary, dig the log free where the blade will pass. The object is to keep the teeth sharp as long as possible.

Axe Uses

Axes are of two basic types--single or double bit. Single-bit axes have one cutting edge opposite a flat face. Double-bit axes have two symmetrically opposed cutting edges. One edge is maintained at razor sharpness and the other is usually somewhat duller as a result of chopping around rocks or dirt. Mark the duller edge with a spot of paint.

Before chopping, check for adequate swing clearance. Remove underbrush and overhanging branches that might interfere with your swing. Be sure your footing is stable and secure. Chop only when you are clear of other workers.  Stand comfortably with your weight evenly distributed and both feet planted shoulder-width apart. Measure the correct distance to stand from the cut by holding the handle near the end and stretching your arms out toward the cut. You should be able to touch the blade to the cut.  Begin chopping by sliding your forward hand within 150 mm (6 in) of the head. As you swing, your forward hand slides back down the handle to the other hand. Just after impact, give the handle a slight twist to pop severed wood out of the cut.

Proficiency with axes requires practice. Inexperienced users with dull axes may cause serious accidents. In general, the force of the swing is not as important as accurate placement. Always chop away from your body. Stand so a glancing blow will not strike you. If you must cut toward yourself, "choke up" on the handle with both hands and use short swings for more control

Choosing a Crosscut Saw

Mike Kinyon

When deciding to buy your first crosscut saw, one should determine what type of usage the saw is expected to have.  For most of us, we are not making a living using crosscut saws, so some decision factors are not as important as others.  The less a crosscut saw is used, the less critical some of factors become. 


Crosscut saws were, and still are, manufactured with a few different thickness designs.  For trail use, older saws, pre 1950's, are the preferred saw for general trail work.  This is because they were ground to be thinner at the side of the saw opposite of the teeth.  Except for some competition saws made today, about all of today's saws are a uniform thickness.

The importance of a ground saw, one thinner at the top of the saw, is that it needs less kerf width when cutting through a log.  The less material that is to be removed, the more efficient the saw.

There are three types of grinds in describing crosscut saws, flat, straight taper and crescent taper.

The flat taper saw has a metal thickness the same through out the saw.  For bucking, the added weight helps in applying pressure down on the teeth, but requires a wider kerf for the blade, thus more wood that has to be removed, making the saw less efficient.  Flat taper saws are more likely to get pinched when cutting under compression.  Most new saws manufactured today are of this design.

A better choice is the straight taper ground.  These saws are ground straight along the length of the saw, but due to the arc of the teeth positioning, the center teeth are thicker than those at the ends. 

The best saws were crescent taper ground.  The grinding followed the arc of the teeth, so every tooth was the same thickness. 

For practical trail purposes of a volunteer, the saw thickness design may or may not be a consideration, it depends on the expected usage of the saw.   A saw in good condition, with a flat taper, can still be a good saw.  I wouldn't advise against buying one.  But if you are going to do a lot of saw work, with bigger logs, then its justifiable to look for one with a ground design. 


Crosscut saw have had many different teeth configurations designed through the years.  For softwoods like Douglas Fir, hemlocks, spruce, pine, etc., a lance or perforated lance tooth is the preferred choice.  Other designs will work, but not as efficiently for softwoods, due to being designed for different types of wood, or for price considerations.

Again, the more sawing a person is going to be doing, either in log size, or quantity, the more important the choice is.  I would suggest staying with a lance, or perforated lance tooth in two man saws.  Champion tooth for a one man saw is ok for moderate trail work.  If the one man saw is a backup saw, or just a saw for the occasional small tree while doing trail surveys, then the other teeth patterns are fine.


Two man saws are made either as felling or bucking saws.  Both will work for trail bucking purposes.  Felling saws have a concave back, and are narrower, and thus lighter, and more flexible.  If used for bucking, they are lighter to carry, but aren't as efficient in cutting since there is less weight applied to the teeth when cutting.  And, more difficult to use as a one man saw if needed, because of the lack of stiffness.

A bucking saw has a straight back, so is wider, heavier and stiffer than a felling saw.  This helps in cutting the wood more efficiently and allows the saw to be used as a one man saw easier than a comparable length felling saw.  The disadvantage is it's heavier to pack.

The bucking saw is the preferred choice for most trail work.  The felling saw however will work for bucking just fine, but just not quite as efficiently. 

One Man Saw

One man saws are usually found in lengths of 3 1/2 feet to almost 5 feet.  A one man saw 4 feet or so in length is a good choice for trail work.

Two Man Saw

Two man saws can be from 4 feet to 16 feet.  For general trail purposes, a 5 to 6 foot saw is preferred.  Saws longer than 6 feet can be cumbersome to pack.


When buying a crosscut saw, pay close attention to the condition of the saw.  Are there broken teeth?  One or two broken is a concern, but doesn't end the usefulness of a saw, but is still not preferred.  Are the teeth and rakers still of good length?  Even short teeth and rakers can be made long again, but it takes a lot of time, and a lot of work.  If the teeth are longer than the width of the teeth, the saw still has some use, but won't be a as efficient as a saw with the teeth length two to three times it's width.

How rusted is the saw?  Generally, for trail use, this is not a big concern.  Light rust is nothing to worry about.  Heavier rust, with pitting, does slow a saw when cutting after being cleaned of the rust.  But, as long as the metal is still sound, the slight performance difference is not all that much when being used for occasional trail work.

Handles can be spendy to replace.  And, really worthy of an article of there own.


Saw prices vary widely.  My suggestion, either get a feel for prices of saws by following ebay, or if interested in buying one, talk to someone with some experience with them.  If crosscut saws is something you fall in love with, then price is whatever its worth to you.  But for occasional use in your trail tool collection, ask around.


Buying saws is really a subjective process.  And the advise written here won't be agreed upon by everyone.  Best advise, when on the trail with crosscut saws, ask to try someone else's saw on a log.  Note the teeth pattern, teeth length, bucking or felling saw, how well the saw cuts........ etc.   Then decide what decision factors are most important to you based on your estimate saw usage.

If you should have any questions, contact me at outdoorguy412000@yahoo.com