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Advanced Ice Screw Sharpening and Care

Submitted by gunked on 2005-02-01 | Last Modified on 2012-01-25

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by Jason Hurwitz

I wrote this article in '05. I've since started an ice screw sharpening business. The website is

I've had great success sharpening my own screws. I'm not kidding when I say that they work like new, if not better (I've taken alot of old and trashed screws and made them work like a brand new BD. My partners will attest to this!), after I get done with them. digital camera is gone so I rendered them in CAD. I will highly recommend for those interested in doing this properly to read this entire post before starting anything! It won't take that long!!!

I've set it up in four main sections: The First is definitions of the surfaces we'll be working on. The Second is the tools you'll need. The Third briefly discusses some the physics necessary to make a perfect screw and why this helps your chances of survival. The Last section is a step-by-step method of turning trashed screws into something that works as well as one that just came off the shelf.


To Start, let's give ourselves a couple of DEFINITIONS (I'm making these up as I go along) Some of the definitions have pictures to help explain the area in question marked in Red.

  • Point = The tip of each tooth. First part to touch the ice when screwing in.
  • Curved wall = While holding the screw in your hand with the teeth facing up, this is the curved wall that will slant down to the left; shown in red below.

  • Angled wall
  • Steep wall = This is the wall on the other side of the point (right side) that drops down at a negative angle and meets up with the angled wall on the right;shown in red below.

  • steep wall
  • Valley = We'll give this name to the area where the angled and steep wall meet towards the hanger. The opposite of the point.
  • Curved outer wall = This is what we'll call the oustide curve of the teeth. Lower down, the threads are located on this wall;shown in red below.

  • curved wall
  • 'Top' of the screw = the teeth side facing away from the inside of the screw tube. The bottom is the hanger side.
  • I'm sure you know what the'Hanger','Threads' and the 'Teeth' are already!

I hope all of this makes sense!!! It's one thing to say's another to be understood!


Second thing to discuss is what TOOLS you'll be using.

  • I use what would essentially be a dremel tool. (I highly recommend getting one of these if you're going to be doing this properly - You can probably find them in the $40 range with some searching). I'm a jeweler, so I just use my motors and handpieces.
  • You will also need various attachment for the dremel tool. For the dremel, you will need medium and fine sanding discs (7/8 to 1 1/4in. dia. discs will work well - start with the medium and work down to the fine), cutting discs ( be VERY careful with these as they will heat up metal quick and break easily), brass wire wheels (approx 1 inch in diameter - Try to get brass insead of steel as this may take away too much of the original finish when removing rust) Shown below.

  • wire wheel 2
  • A sheet or two of fine(+-400 grit) and extra-fine(+-600 grit) wet-or-dry sandpaper.
  • A medium or fine file . The shape should have at least one flat side with a sharp edge. A cross-section would look like a 'V' or a shallow 'D' This is most helpful and will help to get some of the delicate areas. Here's an example of a shallow 'D' (or half-round) file below.

  • file thread2
  • Any hard(preferably steel), flat (level) surface that won't get destroyed by placng a sharp screw on it with the points down.

  • points on surface
  • A silicone spray lubricant (any hardware or auto parts place should have this).

THEORY (Important!)

The Third thing to think about is the physics of what makes the screw goes in easily and then holds well.

It goes in easily because all 4 teeth are cutting at the same time and they're all sharp. (It also has to do with the lack of friction with the ice while the tube is being screwed in, but we'll deal with that later as it has multiple factors involved.) You will, therefore, want all of the teeth level with eachother. You will also want all of the teeth equi-distant from eachother. The most important areas to shape properly are the steep walls and the points.

The threads are also important to slightly shape. The threads have a constant V-shape (cross-section) that holds securely into the ice. If there are kinks in the threads that stick out and would add to extra cutting of the ice, then you'll want to file these down, very carefully, so that they don't. (I really hope that made sense!)

Basically, think about the screw in the ice and how it makes contact. The strongest placement will have the least amount of ice fracture surrounding the screw, so that if it were to be loaded (a fall, for instance) it has very little area to shift and, therefore, fracture less surrounding ice. The strongest placement will also have solid ice, but you can't really control the solidity of the ice, now can you?

One thing to keep in mind is that some of what I will say is fact and some of it is theory that I've added to existing tests and my basic knowledge of physics.

Use that squishy thing between your ears and question what doesn't make sense to you!


Okay...Let's Start: PUT ON SAFETY GLASSES NOW AND BE CAREFUL OF YOUR FINGERS!!! - Start slowly, gently and carefully, you'll get faster with practice! Start with one screw and bring it through the entire process. Grab your nastiest, most #ucked up screw and do a full practice run. Use a leaver(the one that's most trashed) screw! After doing this one, you'll have a better working knowledge for the rest of them. You can do all of them at the same time after the first one's done!

1- Unless you have done some seriously bad filing in the past, the points should be, more or less, equi-distant already. I'm not talking about height, I'm talking about the distant from one tooth to the next. The valleys and points should pretty much be quadri-laterally symmetrically distant (?). If not, PM me and I'll tell you how to fix this OR it might not be worth the amount of time necessary. It requires alot of cutting with a cutting disc or a fine jeweler's saw and it's a PIA!

2- If the curved wall (where the threads are) has lost it's shape due to contact with the rock, it's now time to get the original shape back to it. Use a hand file or the dremel with a sanding disc (+-7/8 inch dia.) on it. While filing or sanding this area, think about the shape of the outside of the tube as if it were one long tube with no threads or teeth on it. Just take away the surface that's sticking out (probably near the point).

sanding curved wall

I will, generally, do all of the screws at once. In other words, do Step 1 to all of them, then Step 2, ect...

3- Holding the screw with the teeth facing down on your hard surface (steel block or similar) check to see if the teeth are the same height. You can do this by turning it 1/4 turn and seeing which teeth protrude a bit. It will rock back and forth and/or lean to one side if the teeth are not the same height. Using a small (7/8 inch) disc sander on your dremel, flatten the high teeth just a tiny bit on the point in the 'Top' orientation. NOTE-In doing this, you may be dulling any of the perfectly new points if there are any. This is necessary to do this right IMO.

sanding the point

4- It's now time to start sanding down the angled wall until the point goes from a flat to a point again. Do this VERY gently and don't let it get hot. This is a good time to talk about NOT letting the metal get TOO HOT. When metal get's too hot it loses it's hardness. If it's warm to the touch, STOP! You should not be sanding any particular area for longer than a few seconds. When it get's warm, rotate to the next tooth and work on that one. You'll get a rhythm going after a while. You can even start on a different screw if all of the teeth are still a little warm. Try to mantain the original angle of the angled wall. You may find yourself having to cut down quite a bit and into the valley as well. That's okay! Just try to sand down the wall evenly and angle it slightly towards the inside as that's where you want the ice to go when the screw is cutting into it. You'll be done with this step when all of the points are back and level with nice looking angled walls.

file curved 3

5- The steep walls should be the area that's touched the least over the life of the screw. If these are in the proper place and angle, all of the other walls and angles of the top of the screw should fall into place easily. However, they might need a little work.
If you've done alot of poor filing in this area in the past, they might need some major work.
This is the (with the point) the main cutting surface of the screw and diverts the crushed ice towards the center of the tube. The angle of this wall is very inportant. I'll do my best to explain what it should look like when done! While holding the screw with vertically with the top up, this wall should be slightly beyond vertical (between 5 to 10 degrees over-hanging). The angle of this surface as can be seen by looking straight down from the top of the screw (towards the teeth as if you're going to screw your face with it Rolling Eyes), should be sharper than 90 degrees.
If you were to draw a straight line in this orientation denoting the current angle of the wall, it should create a line that cuts through approx. 1/3 of the diameter of the circle of the tube in a 2 dimensional view.(Shown below right) The line itself would intersect the middle of the tooth to the immediate left of the one you're working one. I really hope that THAT made any sense at all!?!

sanding steep wall side view sanding steep wall side view

6- Now it's time to make sure that the valley is angled slightly in towards the hanger and the inside of the screw (to help push the ice in the right direction). Sand or file as is necessary to make the angled wall, the valley, and the steep wall come together in a somewhat flowing shape.

7- take a small piece of the fine grit sandpaper and take off any overhanging sharp edges that may have occured during the filing or sanding process. Remember that you want the screw to remain sharp, you're just removing excess metal that doesn't pertain to the finished shape you want. For the inside of the screw, use the fine sandpaper followed by the extra-fine sandpaper. Try not to scratch the inside of the screw as best you can. It's smoothness is key to a good screw!!!

8- Shape the threads properly. Only do this to threads that are deformed at all. It takes a very light touch to do this. It makes sense to me that it's better to take away a little than leave a little sticking out as this causes less fracturing of the ice when screwing in. Before moving on to the next step, check each screw and make sure there aren't any burs sticking out that will catch on any and every type of cloth and sling you're wearing. Hit these areas very lightly with the sandpaper while still keeping the points sharp.

file curved 3

9- Time to get the rust off. You can use the wire wheel attachment for this, or hit it with the extra-fine sandpaper. Get all of the rust off. Even get inside the tube near the teeth if there is any there very carefully. It's important to remember that any of the original manufacturing surface coating that you take off WILL increase the chance of rust in the future. For that matter, there are many screws (especially the older ones) that will lose it's surface coating with as little as one placement in very hard ice. Screws WILL RUST, and, therefore, need to be maintained properly.

wire wheel 1

10- Once all of the rust is off, you can use 3 in 1 oil and coat the screw using a q-tip, tissue, etc...

11- Do your best to store them individually. If you throw them all in a bag together, you've just wasted quite a bit of time. Mine and Yours!!! Get a hold of a chisel roll. It's a bag designed to hold chisels. You can find them online from a company called Grizzly Industrial. I'd Yahoo them and find the best price. Get 2 as you'll eventually wear through them. Don't get a cotton one. The one I found is coated canvas and holds 18 screws without a problem.

11 However, since I originally wrote this article, Black Diamond came out with the Ice ScrewUp. It holds 6 screws. There may be more out there, but my advice is to use something that completely separates the screws while in storage.

12- After every use, dry out all of your gear immediately. Try to dry all of your metal gear out overnight on a towel. Some rust is inevitable, but it can be greatly minimized! If you don't dry out your gear, they WILL rust alot!
This basic maintenance should take just ten minutes or so spread out over an hour or less.

  • Dry All Metal Gear (dump contents of pack onto a towel)
  • Let Dry (watch TV and drink a beer)
  • Lubricate Screws (maybe 5 minutes)
  • Put in Chisel Roll and Place In Your Backpack (another five minutes?)

Unless you are constantly screwing your ice screws into the rock, you should only have to do this once or twice a year. Treat them well and they may save your life someday!

Good Luck and PM me with any questions!
-Jason (gunked)


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