Honing a Skill


It only takes one attempt to realize that sharpening a broadhead is not only an invaluable skill, but an art. One that I’ve never been great at. I once ruined an entire pack of Ace heads to get two or three popping hair. “Popping” mind you, not shaving. There is a big difference. Those of us who have shaved with a razor that “popped” hair off your face wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. The same applies to those who have lost deer with heads that aren’t as sharp as they could’ve been.

I’ve written several posts about sharpening in the past. I’ve come a long way since and have deleted them to avoid giving misinformation. Learning to sharpen broadheads is a skill that requires work, patience, and time to develop. You must put the time in to improve, whether you use file, stone, sticks or a combination of all three.

I once overheard a flintknapper say it requires approximately 300lbs of rock to start making decent hunting heads with any kind of consistency. Sharpening store bought steel heads isn’t nearly as difficult, but if someone is willing to put that kind of time in to their gear, the rest of us really have no excuse.

This really lit a fire under me. I swore I’d have razor sharp broadheads by hunting season and purchased a KME clamp and Stropping Block from my buddy Steve at Simply Traditional. Sharpening became a breeze the moment I opened the package and watched his demonstration video. The KME sets the angle precisely, making it impossible to mess the edge up. Ten passes on the gritty side of a sharpening stone followed by 10 on the strop and five on a piece of clean cardboard was all it took to get my Magnus 2-blades razor sharp with a mirrored finish. The hair was coming off my arms cleanly and I felt I was finely where I needed to be.

However, after several trips into the woods my heads began to dull. When it came time to touch them up I realized the KME wouldn’t work unless I removed the head from the arrow. This isn’t a big deal for someone with screw-in broadheads, but its a royal pain for someone whose heads are glued to a brass adapter or directly to a wood shaft. I was now the latter after watching an Ed Ashby presentation showing how prone to failure screw-in components can be.

It occurred to me I could just remove the broadhead from the shaft, sharpen, and reattach but I spent the better part of a day getting the wobble out of every arrow and I wasn’t about to go through that again. Plus, this isn’t something you are going to have time to do in the field when you should be worried about hunting and hanging with your friends.

I needed to learn how to use a file. Period. The following video by Dale Karch of 3-Rivers Archery helped me learn the basics but I still wasn’t as proficient as I wanted to be. There were concepts I clearly didn’t understand.

I expressed my concerns to Steve who then sat me down to show me the finer points of using a file. He taught me the following:

  1. Choose a small bastard file for your sharpening needs. I was originally working with a 12″, which was extremely hard to maneuver. A small 8″ file is much easier to work with and won’t take as much metal off.


  2. Use a sharpie marker. I’d learned this trick from Dale’s video but thought it pertinent to mention it here. To make sure you are actually sharpening every bit of your head, coat the entire edge with a sharpie and don’t be afraid to do it more than once.
  3. Learn to get a feelĀ for the edge. No, this isn’t a bad pun. The cutting edge of a broadhead has a feel to it with a file. The nearer to the ferrule you get with the file (the file is fairly parallel to the top of the head), the less it feels like you are cutting. The closer to the edge you get (file is working more perpendicular to the head), the more it feels like the file is cutting. Hold an old broadhead in your hands and rotate it up or down to see what I mean. Use the ferrule as an indicator. If you are taking the finish off the top of the head, you are holding the file too parallel to the head and need to increase the angle of the file in regards to the broadhead.
  4. Don’t push too hard. Grinding a broadhead’s edge fresh out of the package is the only time you should have to apply pressure while filing. It is time to lighten up once you’ve achieved a bur (the edge will have a serrated feel to it). Once you’ve achieved that bur you want to alternate both sides of the head with a very light pressure. The final strokes should be nothing but the weight of the file on the head. Once you’ve achieved that level of sharpness it is time to move to a strop.
  5. Stropping tips. To make sure you have the correct angle without a KME, choke up on the arrow until you are as close to the head as possible, position the head on the strop perpendicular, place your index finger near the edge and apply light pressure as you run the blade down the strop long ways. Flip and repeat to get all sides. The pressure principles apply here as well — moderately light to extremely light pressure. 
  6. Cardboard works. Dr. Ashby tells us that a mirror finish makes for better penetration and I believe him. A flat, clean piece of cardboard will help you achieve that finish. All you have to do is apply the stropping principles discussed above to the cardboard. I use priority mail boxes. You can actually see the discarded pieces of steel and leather coming off the edge. A few passes should be sufficient. You’ll notice a difference!
  7. Practice on old heads. Broadheads are expensive these days. Don’t massacre a brand new pack learning to use a file. Get your hands on some used heads and work those awhile. Every bowhunter has old castoffs laying around. I’ve gone to archery shows and bought them for $1.00 a head. These are the perfect practice candidates.

Thank you for reading and good luck! Feel free to comment below if you have any questions or Like my Facebook page.