Somebody sent this Nils 8″ auger blade back to us and declared that it won’t cut.

Every ice season, we have a few – very few- Nils ice auger cutting heads that may have an issue in cutting ice.  Whenever possible, I take the time to find out if there actually is something wrong with the head or not.

Ice Auger Blade Sharpening

This particular head came in with a bit of the paint knocked off the “tips” of the blades, which is normal.   When you turn the blade in the ice, there are a lot of forces working on the metal and some of the paint can chip off.  I looked at that and carefully removed the yellow cover so I could closely inspect the edge of the blade for signs of the edge being removed.

The cutting edge of any tool is the business end of said tool.  Everything behind the very front of the edge is pretty much irrelevant with regards to cutting the ice.  The edge of a sharp auger is a ridge of metal that is half of a human hair wide in a sharp tool like an ice auger.  That edge in a razor blade is maybe 1/50th the thickness of a human hair.   All any cutting edge does is apply pressure to a particular material in a small enough area to get between the structure of the material and break it apart.  A cut in you finger looks smooth when you have the unfortunate event with a sharp, high-quality-steel knife.  A high quality steel razor cuts an even smoother line between the binding structures of your skin.  A sharp ice auger blade edge, while it can slice your wrist off if you fall on it and apply the necessary pressure, has what we call a “razor sharp edge”.  However, if you run your thumb over the edge lightly (and perpendicular) you will feel the ridges in your thumb print as they slide over that fine edge one at a time.  That’s how people tell how sharp an edge is.  Now, if you do the same action to a razor blade, the ridges in your thumb print will feel deeper and you do NOT want to slip sideways by even the slightest amount, or you will separate the structures in your skin.  We call that a cut.

To cut ice, the blades need to be sharp and they are arguably “razor” sharp.  More importantly, the blades need to be sharpened only on the top edge leaving a flat, uncurled-up bottom edge to meet the ice.  A knife is sharpened on both sides of the blade to make a fine edge in the middle of the metal blade stock.  This allows for easier cutting in a variety of materials and angles.  Wood chisels, planer blades and ice auger blades are only sharpened on one side to fine edge ending up on one side of the blade stock.  That translates into bevel on one side that culminates in an offset edge.  The very second a piece of grit, or a fish hook frozen in the ice or a small pebble from a car tire track meets this sharp edge and slides along it, it removes that edge and turns the blade into a “ski”.  Then, you  have to push harder on the auger to force the dull edge to break off ice into shavings. You’ll also see the shaving get finer as the blade is not cutting easily  This exact issue occurs on jointers, hand-planes, wood chisels, and chainsaws.  Dull ice auger blades means a lot of energy expended and no hole.  Dull chainsaw chains and wood chisels means you push too hard, burn far more gas, and could really injure yourself as a dull blade under great pressure will cut a more jagged piece off your hide.

Ice Auger Blade Sharpening

To visually inspect, when looking at your ice auger blades, hold them upside down and rock them in light.  If it appears as though the edge “drops off” at an infinitesimally small point – smaller than half a human hair – the blade is most likely quite sharp.  If there appears to be even extremely thin, silvery line at the very edge of the blade, those blades are dull.  They’ll still cut your hand off but will require more force to do so.  Don’t tell your buddy to “go long” and throw one to him.  Plus, you may see the rounding silvery line in only parts of the blade.  This screws it up, too as those regions will not cut ice and the blade then spins around in circles.

So, that is what I looked for in the Nils cutting head that our guy said wouldn’t cut.  And, nope – there was no silvery line along either edge.  From a sharpness standpoint, I could see no problems.  The next thing that could affect the head is user stupidity.   I’d say “user error” but the fact of the matter is that it is pure “stupidity”.   If I had a dime all the times that someone took a perfectly good and thoroughly iced up auger and pounded on the ice like a pile driver.  Didja ever think that you might bend something?  The next moment in unbridled ice fishing stupidity would be to use any hand auger like a cane.  Jam the blades into the ice in front of you and then swing the auger up straight and then over while walking along.  It’s not a cane and probably the dumbest thing one could use while walking on ice using it as a stabilizer, but don’t let that stop them!  There are vids on Youtube with guys who jam a Nils Power Point into the ice at an angle and walk up to it and drill, over and over.  Eventually, all that incessant levering cracks that Power Point right off and there you sit, wondering what’s suddenly wrong with your spinning auger.   Put it in the sled.  It’s not a walking stick.  If it is a non-Power Point Nils cutting head, you run the risk of jamming one blade into the ice and prying it up.  Bend one side of that head, even a little,  by doing dumb stuff, and it will not cut.  You won’t even be able to see the bending because even I can’t see the bending, but Frank DeLuca,  the Nils sharpening guru will.  He straightens and tweaks Nils all the time using what must be a well-worn jig because he does a ton of Nils heads for our customers.

Ice Auger Blade Sharpening

To determine ultimately if this supposed, non-working blade was as reported, I stuck it on one of the last Nils 8″ auger shafts we had in stock at the time (in Feb 2015) and went down to the lake.  This is what I found:

Nothing wrong with that blade.  It cut just fine.  I think the guy was wobbling the shaft and not remembering to turn both arms equally.  They won’t cut if you do that.

Ice Auger Blade Sharpening

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