How to Sharpen Ice Tools

with Trango Athlete Nate Kenney

Over the course of normal use, your ice tool picks will naturally become dull, and they may also sustain mild damage from hitting rock. Sharpening your tools with a metal file is an easy way to keep your picks as sharp as possible and to prolong their lifespans.

What you’ll need

  • Flat bastard file (named for it’s grade of coarseness)
  • Round bastard file
  • Ice tools to sharpen

Getting Started

When looking at the pick from the front, you’ll notice a natural outward bevel coming down from the top edge (figure 1). Nate recommends working at a 45-degree angle. A more severe angle is not needed, and will require you to sharpen your tools more often.

When filing, it’s best to move the file in only one direction, rather than sawing it back and forth repeatedly, which will quickly wear out the grain on your file.

Diagram of ice axe pick highlighting top edge of pick

Basic Ice Tool Sharpening

You’ll work on sharpening one side at a time, switching the position of the tool in between.

To begin, hold the tool securely with the tip of the tool between your knees, and the pommel of the tool in your armpit (see Position 1). The pick should be facing upwards. Using the file in a single direction, sharpen the side of your pick until you have re-established a good angle.

When you’re ready to sharpen the other side of the pick, flip the tool around so the pommel is pointed downward. Brace the shaft of your tool between your knees/thighs, with the pick pointed away from you (see Position 2). Sharpen the other side of the pick.

Re-establishing a Pick Spike

Sometimes the spike at the tip of your pick will get worn down with heavier use. Keeping a sharp, spikey tooth at the front of the tool is important for making sure your tool stay can bite into the ice and stay in place.

File along the front of the pick keeping the file flat, rather than at an angle like in the basic sharpening process. You want to file this to be duller and flatter, until a solid point has been re-established (figure 2). Once you have a good point on your pick, sharpen the tip edge once more to bring back the 45-degree bevel that you sharpened previously.

Considerations for Mixed Terrain

If you are climbing only on ice with this pick, your tool should be ready to use at this point. However, if you’re climbing mixed terrain, it is usually a good idea to remove the first remaining tooth, as it could cause you to lever off holds and skate your pick.

Shave down the top of the first tooth until you eliminate the tooth (figure 3). Next, you want to restore some of the curvature between the tip of the pick and the new first tooth. Use a round file to bring the curve back.

Don’t Over-Sharpen

The thickness of all picks tapers, with the front of the pick being thinnest. If you start to sharpen too far down into your pick, you’ll get into the thicker metal. This will make it more difficult to swing your pick, and will shatter more ice with each swing. A good rule of thumb is to only ever take off one tooth when sharpening picks – after that, it’s probably time to replace the pick. Comparing the geometry of the original pick with your current pick will help give you an understanding of how much metal you’ve filed away.

Video by Alton Richardson