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Make Your Point: How to Sharpen Ice Axes and Crampons

by Kristian Whittaker |

Much like a relationship, climbing gear requires upkeep in order to avoid serious bodily harm. When you’re climbing, the points of your crampons and ice axes are often the only things keeping you anchored to the mountain and making sure they are in good shape is paramount. 

How sharp is too sharp?

The optimal sharpness of your crampons and ice axes depends on the kind of climbing you’re doing. If you’re hugging a frozen waterfall with two Black Diamond Vipers, you’re going to want much finer points than if you’re rest-stepping up the rocks of Disappointment Cleaver on Rainier. The sharpening technique will be the same, but keep in mind the end goal when honing your spikes. 

Sharpening Ice Axes

Tools Needed

  • Your ice axe(s) or tool(s)
  • Medium cut file
  • A vice grip (optional but very helpful)


Place your ice axe in the vice, with the pick facing up. If you don’t have a vice, place the axe on a flat surface (or brace it on your legs) and make sure it’s secure. See all those little ridges in the pick? Those are there for a reason, so you’re going to want to file each of those points back to original sharpness. Use even, single-direction strokes and try to follow the original angles of the serrations. Focus mostly on the tip of the pick, as this is the most important part. 

And you’re done! If you’re sharpening a general mountaineering axe as opposed to an ice tool, there’s really no need to sharpen the point at the bottom of the shaft. It’s designed to be driven into snow as opposed to ice, and its anchoring ability comes from the whole shaft being sunk into the slope, not just the point. Plus, too sharp of a point could mean a painful thigh puncture during ice axe arrests. 

Sharpening Crampons

Tools Needed

  • Your crampons
  • Medium cut file
  • A vice grip (optional but very helpful)
  • Wooden Blocks


Place your crampons carefully in the vice with the spikes pointing to one side, and use the wooden block as a barrier between the spikes and the vice wall. Be sure not to clamp down too hard, as you could bend the shape of the crampon. Using the same even, smooth strokes you used on your ice axe, sharpen the front spikes and the secondary spikes (the ones directly behind the front spikes) to the desired sharpness, following the existing bevels. 

Unless the rest of your spikes are blunted to the point of uselessness, you can leave them be as well. Front and secondary spikes are the ones bearing most of your weight on steep slopes, and are the most important to upkeep. 

Questions about what/how to sharpen? Ask away in the comments below!

Until next time,

Happy Climbing!

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