How to Restore an Heirloom Axe

by A Manly Guest Contributor on July 17, 2012 · 72 comments

in Manly Skills, Projects, Toolmanship

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Josh Tucker.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
–Abraham Lincoln

Whether Honest Abe used his axe as a potent metaphor to illustrate the primacy of preparation or as his trusted weapon in a covert campaign against vampires, he knew one thing…a sharp axe is the manliest tool. And, like all aspects of manliness, sharpening an axe requires persistence, patience, and knowledge passed down from one’s predecessors.

This article will teach you how to customize any axe into a tool fit for the Illinois Railsplitter himself. I encourage you to try to find an heirloom axe to restore. With the success of Gransfors Bruks, boutique axes have mushroomed in popularity over the last decade or so. If you are lucky enough to compare a Gransfors, a Wetterlings, a Council Tool, or any of the other available high quality axes to the generic trunk-slapper available at your nearby hardware store, you will be amazed at the cutting ability of even a small camping axe.

Any of those axes are a fine investment for a man who spends time in the woods, or even just the suburban yard. Or just wants to own the second most important tool, after a good sharp knife, that a man can have. But I find special pleasure in finding and restoring the keen edge of an antique axe. I would wager that a significant portion of men reading this article either already own or could easily procure an axe with a meaningful personal history. If you poke around whatever woodshop, tool shed, or garage you have access to, you are likely to find an antique axe in the corner somewhere.

If you can find an axe that means something to you, then thank your fortune and keep reading. If not, check out your local flea market or junk store. You can often find an ugly duckling axe just waiting for a gentleman to restore to its true beauty. The prices here are usually borderline larceny. For less than $10, you can frequently find the source material for an axe that will rival a $188 Gransfors Bruks Felling Axe.

This is not to say that a boutique axe is not worth the money. I own both a Granfors Bruks hatchet and a Council Tool camp axe. Each are remarkably well-made tools. They are joys to use. However, the process that I outline here will take them to another level, too.

From left to right – a Council Tool Velvicut Hudson Bay style canoe axe with a custom sheath, an antique felling axe with a new handle, an antique L.L. Bean canoe axe with a new handle, and a Gransfors Bruks wildlife hatchet.

Things to Look for When Selecting an Axe to Restore

1. Is there still life in the bit?

The most important consideration in deciding if an antique axe is a candidate for restoration is to make sure there is life in the bit. The bit is the “blade” of the axe, the part that either is or is supposed to be sharp. Preferably, axe heads are manufactured in two parts. The bit is the part that slices the wood fibers and, consequently, must be hard enough to cut without being too brittle to chip. The rest of the axe head should be soft and pliable enough to absorb the shock waves emanating from a solid strike to an osage stump or a vampire thorax.

A worthy candidate for restoration will include plenty of unmolested bit with which to work. I have taken an antique axe and treated it with a vinegar bath to show you a great candidate for restoration. Notice how there is plenty of the hard bit steel to work with and notice how it allows for a continuous edge from the “poll,” the hammer side of the axe, all the way to the bit.

Hudson Bay axe with vinegar treatment

Below is an example of a double-bit axe whose bit is too far gone to bother with. Notice how the bit edge is too stumpy to create a consistent edge all the way through the axe. It should be obvious that this bit is simply worn out. Too much hard steel has been removed from the edge to make this axe worth the investment of your time and your pride.

Double bit that is worn out

2. What’s the pitting like on the axe head?

Next look to the pitting of the axe head. Time conquers all, even the perfect beauty of an axe. Pitting is built up rust that divots the surface of the axe head and gives it the complexion of Manuel Noriega. If you were to design the perfect axe, that axe would be as smooth as a cue ball. Just like swimmers prefer the slickest wetsuits, axe men prefer the smoothest axe head. It reduces friction and improves cutting.

Do not go nuts here. During a manic bout of self-improvement, Benjamin Franklin convinced himself that a mirror-finished axe would make a fine example of his moral vigor. He paid a blacksmith to shine his axe and the smith agreed so long as Ben was willing to turn the stone with his own leg power. After hours of peddling like Fred Flintstone, Ben decided that pock-marks do indeed give an axe a bit of character.

If Ben Franklin wielded a speckled axe then there is no shame in you doing so, too.

3. What shape is the handle in?

Finally, examine the handle. This is the least important consideration. A brittle or loose handle is easily remedied by replacing the handle. If the handle feels sturdy in the axe head and the head does not slip around on the handle, examine further. If the handle is wood, look at the grain of the wood. Ideally, the grain will be narrow and running in the same direction as the axe head. Some authorities report that the straighter the grain of the handle, the stronger it is.

Swell of the GB hatchet

Swell of CT canoe axe

Sharpening Your Axe

I would advise that you stick with any handle that is snugly affixed to the axe head. If the head wiggles even a bit, however, it is a potential danger and should be replaced.

Once you have a suitable axe on which to do-do some sharpening voodoo, the first step is to gather your tools.

You will need:

  • A double-cut mill bastard file. 8 or 10 inches is a good size. If you are refinishing a hatchet, a smaller file is appropriate.
  • A dust mask for sanding and sturdy gloves
  • Linseed oil
  • 3 sheets each of course, medium, and fine grit sandpaper. 80, 220, and 400 is a good selection. If your local hardware store has wet/dry automotive sandpaper, get it.
  • A bucket or other waterproof vessel that will hold the axe head. You want something that is as small as possible while still being large enough to accommodate the axe head. You also want it to be sturdy enough to be freestanding while holding liquid.
  • A basic C-clamp large enough to secure the head of the axe to a countertop or bench.
  • Two rags or some paper towels

Many men will have some of these supplies lying around the house. If you do need to pick up material from the local hardware store, I have purposefully kept this list as spartan as possible. The most important items are a good file and a clamp to secure the axe head. You can do a creditable job using only these two items.

Step 1: Soak the Axe Head in Linseed Oil

With your tools gathered, you can now begin. If your axe has a wooden handle, I recommend that you place it upside down in a bucket or other vessel and pour in enough linseed oil to cover the axe head. This step is not necessary so long as your axe handle is firmly secured in the head. It is, however, beneficial in any instance. The wood inside the eye will soak up the linseed oil and swell, creating a tight bond between the head and handle.

If you can, let the axe soak in the linseed oil bath for at least a day or two and as long as a week. Please remember that linseed oil is flammable and not pleasant to clean up. Be careful of fires, be they a flame or a spouse angry at the mess you made in the garage.

After you are done soaking the axe, let it dry for at least a day and as long as three or four days.

Step 2: Sand the Axe Head

After it dries, you can sand the axehead if you want. You will need to sand any rust off. Other than that, however, the choice of sanding the head is largely a matter of aesthetics. Theoretically, a smoother axe is a better performing axe, but in practice, I do not think it makes a tremendous difference.

If you want to sand it, start with your coarsest sandpaper. I find that folding a sheet of sandpaper and then ripping it into small squares of 3″ by 3″ is the easiest way to do this. Sand the axe face in one direction only, going back and forth horizontally from the poll (the hammer end of the axe) to close to the bit (the edge). Work your way from the coarsest sandpaper you have up to the finest until you like the results.

Sandpaper selection

This will create a bit of a mess. Be sure to wear a dust mask so you do not breathe in any steel or rust particles. Also, put a drop cloth down if you are doing this in your living room, like I am here, lest you want to face the wrath of girlfriend and her vacuum.

Step 4: Sharpen

NOW you are ready to put an edge on the axe that would delight the Great Emancipator. Here goes.

First, find a counter or a workbench and lay the poll close to the edge. You want to let the bit of the axe extend as far as possible into empty space so that you can file the edge easily. Now clamp the poll end tightly to the counter. Try to snug it tightly enough that the axe will not wiggle.

Axe clamped to the counter

First envision in your mind what you are going to do. Most men think that sharpening an axe or knife is all about fiddling with the leading edge. There is a clinical term for this opinion: Dead Wrong.

The geometry behind the edge is the key to a surgical edge on either a knife or an axe. With an axe, you want to create a consistent bevel from the cutting edge into the axe head, on as narrow an angle as possible. The narrower the V, the deeper the axe will cut.

I like to hold my file at about a 10 degree angle. When you double this, you will get a 20 degree bevel on the axe. This is a little narrower than is usually recommended, but I have an extra step beyond the usual.

Filing the axe

Focus on creating a straight line from a point about 1 to 1 1/2 inches back on the face of the axe all the way to the bit. You can see the transition in these photos.

Beginning bevel

Transition bevel

Finished bevel

Check out this video made by the U.S. Forest Service if my description and photos require further clarification.

Also, please wear sturdy gloves while you are doing this. I am not doing so in the photos and, frankly, that is dumb.

This may or may not take awhile. If it does, just know that it is the most important step.

After you have corrected the bit geometry on both sides, you are ready to set the keen edge. Paradoxically, you will be blunting the cutting edge of the axe. Put your file at about an angle between 15 and 20 degrees and file just the cutting edge on both sides of the axe. By doing this you will create a thicker cutting edge which is a little bit less sharp than the 20 degree edge you had before.

Brawny edge taken from above

By putting a steeper angle on the cutting edge, you make the bit resilient to chipping and nicks. The axe will require less sharpening and will perform better on the hardwoods that are found in much of North America. Remember, this is not a scalpel. It is a steel wedge that you will be slamming into knotty wood. Hone accordingly.

Step 5: Sand the Axe Handle

If your axe handle is fiberglass, you are done. If, however, it is wood – and it should be wood — then you are ready for the last aspect of doctoring your axe. You will want to sand the handle in the same fashion you did with the axe head. Using small squares of sandpaper, start with your coarsest grit and work up to your finest. I find that this is highly rewarding. I like throwing off sawdust and really learning the shape of the handle with my hands.

After working up to your finest grit, liberally wet a paper towel or rag and rub down the handle. This will clean off all the sawdust that clings to the handle. But even better, this will raise up burrs on the wood as the handle dries. Once dry, work the handle over again with your finest sandpaper. By doing this, you will save yourself from blisters when the sweat from your hands wets the handle later.

Burrs on axe handle

You can repeat this step if you want to make the handle shockingly smooth. It is a matter of preference. Some people like a bit of texture on the swell (the knob at the end of the handle) and will now use their coarsest paper to rough it up a bit. I prefer a silky smooth handle and find that the swell itself gives me enough control over the axe that I do not have any problems with my grip.

Step 6: Rub the Axe with Oil

Now for the last step. Take a clean, dry rag or paper towel and wipe down the axe head and handle. Now apply linseed oil to the rag and rub down the entire axe. If you do not have linseed oil, just about any non-petroleum oil you have laying around will work. Canola, safflower, olive, etc. will all be fine. The important thing here is that the steel and especially the wood soak up oil so they will repel water and protect the integrity of the axe.

Oiling the axe

You could even heat up some lard or bacon fat and use that if you wanted the porcine dream of axes.

Let the oil dry. It isn’t a bad idea to put several coats on the handle. You will probably be so proud of your axe that you will find yourself repeatedly picking it up for no real good reason. Or maybe that is just me. In any case, you will want the handle to soak up at much oil as possible.

Finished axe

So there you have it. I hope that this article inspires you to get and use a quality axe, whether you decide to restore one or purchase any of the great options available now. There is something primal about using an axe and the difference between a sharp axe and the axes most men have used is truly startling.

Stay manly and stay safe.

 

{ 72 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Prepper Website July 17, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Good article. I’m curious, have you ever used a sharpening puck? I saw one the other day.

Thanks,
Todd

2 Jemini Sint July 17, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Also, please wear shoes while handling axes. That there is just painful to watch for anyone with the slightest hint of spider sense.

3 Christopher Battles July 17, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Thank you Josh for this detailed article. I am putting it on my Pinterest for when the time comes.

K, bye

4 Josh Tucker July 17, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Prepper,

I have used a puck. I really like them to use in keeping a workable edge on an axe or machete in the field.

For shaping the blade, however, only a good file will do.

5 Josh Tucker July 17, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Jemini,

Unfortunately I am a terrible example of safety when dealing with tools. It is inexcusable an should not be repeated by anyone.

Wear boots, gents.

6 Peter July 17, 2012 at 9:31 pm

“This, milord, is my family’s axe. We have owned it for almost nine hundred years, see. Of course, sometimes it needed a new blade. And sometimes it has required a new handle, new designs on the metalwork, a little refreshing of the ornamentation . . . but is this not the nine hundred-year-old axe of my family? And because it has changed gently over time, it is still a pretty good axe, y’know. Pretty good.”
– Terry Pratchett, The Fifth Elephant

7 Josh McDonald July 17, 2012 at 10:00 pm

I feel manlier for having read that.

8 Mike July 18, 2012 at 2:04 am

Nice article. Makes me want to go resharpen my ax…
One word of warning about linseed oil. As it drys out it generates heat. So a wadded up rag or pile of rags can spontaneously burst into flames. A lot of woodworkers spread out there rags on a concrete surface to dry so the heat won’t build up.

9 Bogdan July 18, 2012 at 3:58 am

Very informative, and excellently written. Makes it a pleasure to learn in this manner.

10 Ralf July 18, 2012 at 5:09 am

Funny. This is one item on my todo list.

The last time I used my axe which formerly belonged to my father was nearly twenty years ago when I was living in an old house with a coal oven to heat.

I used leftover wood that I chopped with that axe to start the fire in that oven. Since we moved it is lying in my basement clollecting rust.

Recently I restored an old hammer. The axe is next now.

11 M Joseph July 18, 2012 at 7:02 am

Peter’s comment reminds me of the old Vermont saying: “This is the axe passed down to me from my grandfather. Over the years, I’ve had to replace the handle and the head a few times, but it still works just as well as when he had it.”

12 Rob July 18, 2012 at 7:45 am

Dear Sir,

I am a machinist with near 20 years of experience under my manly belt. I make my living removing metal to exacting tolerances and fine finishes. I would like to congratulate you on a fine website and a column which is both accurate and well written.
-Rob from Canada

13 Tim Hardy July 18, 2012 at 8:26 am

Nice one, i like a good axe when them logs need a splitting or the hedge needs laying. Got to make some leather axe sheaths for the local Cub Scout group this week for my sins. Thats what you get when they know your business.
Best to AOM,
Tim

14 Greg July 18, 2012 at 8:30 am

Excellent article!

One thing you can do to make sure you get off the last bit of sawdust after you raise the grain of the wood is rub down with a paper towel, rag, microfiber cloth with mineral spirits on it. Pulls a good amount of remaining sawdust off and will NOT raise the grain again as it evaporates – I use this in woodworking when making cabinets, furniture, etc and want to make sure I haven’t missed any sawdust prior to staining or sealing (And in those cases, it can also show you were you may have glue marks still that you need to sand some more!)

If you don’t want to wait for the mineral spirits to dry (20 minutes or so or less on smaller projects), just a dry microfiber cloth will pull plenty of sawdust off after the final sanding stage.

Now to go dig out the axes at the family mountain house and have a look!

Thanks!

15 Andrew July 18, 2012 at 8:51 am

Great article. Safety point about linseed oil: not only is it flammable, but rags used to wipe it up can spontaneously combust if enclosed! So don’t wrap them up in a bin-liner – you might just set the house on fire!
(How come? Linseed oil reacts with oxygen, and as it does so, it releases heat. If the linseed oil is spread out, and there’s plenty of ventilation, then the heat is dispersed. If it’s constricted in scrunched up rags in a bag or a bin, the heat will build up potentially to the point of having the rag and the oil catch fire. Not good.
I used to teach painting and decorating, and this was an important safety point.)

16 Paul July 18, 2012 at 9:23 am

My fiancée’s parents have some apple wood I’ve been letting dry out so I can chop it up for winter… I think I’ll go out and get myself these tools so I can really make an impression on father-in-law-to-be when I make his axe like new!

17 Andrew Glendinning July 18, 2012 at 9:32 am

Good article, I use my grandfather’s 7LB axe and nothing I love more than coming home after a stressful week and splitting a few logs.
New axes just don’t have the same character.

18 Allan Williams July 18, 2012 at 9:56 am

Having observed the infrastructure of the axe sharpening shop, there is no wonder why landlords are such cold fish towards tenants.

19 Tim Lewallen July 18, 2012 at 10:25 am

Great article. One tip though –

You may want to reconsider the placement of your laptop computer while you are filing the head. Not only could you accidentally knock if off the counter but you could end up getting iron filings in the guts of the machine and that would not end well.

20 Vern July 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm

a fine job of explailning the the art of caring for our axe(s). Enjoyed and learned something too. Vern

21 RJ Arena July 18, 2012 at 5:32 pm

I have sharpened several axes, hatchets and mauls over the years, but I prefer Tung oil to linseed oil for the handles. I do put a coat of linseed oil on my yard tools(steel) to prep them for their off season, keeps the rust off.

22 Matt B July 18, 2012 at 8:14 pm

As a boar, deer, and squirrel hunter, I’m always having to use a small hatchet or tomahawk to clear brush. That’s mostly when hunting boar, however, as you have to stalk them and find signs of where they are. I’ve actually been looking for a hatchet to restore, since I’ve restored two Gillette safety razors and my grandfather’s hawkbill, scout knife, and M5 Bayonet. And yeah, new ones don’t have the same character. Boar hunting is something I’ve come to love, and a good hatchet is crucial for getting through the underbrush. Plus, it helps with finding signs of them. Great article. I always like articles that show how to restore a basic tool from rusting to brand new.

23 Aaron Moring-D'Angier July 18, 2012 at 10:32 pm

I have very little need for an axe, sharp or otherwise, living in Chicago, but this article was really something, and brought me back to past days of working in the shop with my dad and grandfathers. Thank you for writing it.

24 kirk July 18, 2012 at 11:17 pm

Aluminum foil can be used on rusted items (like an old pen knife) and it will remove the rust without scratching the blade. Use a little water and rub the rest away..

25 Josh Tucker July 19, 2012 at 8:00 am

Kirk,

You can also soak the head in vinegar to remove much of the rust. I don’t recommend this if the axe has a handle, though.

Check out this article at the Best Made blog for an example:

http://www.bestmadeprojects.com/post/3570538031/axe-restoration-project-part-2-cleaning-after

26 cooperhill July 19, 2012 at 9:26 am

Good stuff. I use a mill bastard (though not double cut) for re-shaping an axe head. I use DMT diafolds (diamond) hones for finishing/honing. Use similar to a file (wet with water), sweep into and across the edge. Honing with progressive grits of dmts (or stones) will get the edge good and sharp. Finish off with diapaste or leather strop. Check out Nick from BMC’s posts on axe restorations . http://www.bestmadeprojects.com/post/4161013009/axe-restoration-project-part-5-sharpening-the

27 Kieran July 19, 2012 at 6:22 pm

is it possible to use a bench grinder for sharpening the edge?

28 JeffP July 19, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Great article and I’ve printed it out for my father in-law who has a bunch of old axes that have been passed down through the ages. He did suggest that consider having the blade pointed away from your body (last photo) if you trip while holding your now sharp axe.

29 Hal July 19, 2012 at 10:13 pm

I have a chainsaw (somewhere). Unless I know I’ll be doing nothing but bucking large branches all day long (like during the typical ice storm), I always reach for one of my axes. My favorite is a Snow & Nealley 2-1/4lb. I can swing that thing accurately all day long, and that counts for a lot more than an extra pound or two.

I’ll echo the vinegar recommendations for heavy rust removal. Be sure to get it cleaned and oiled up immediately afterwards, though. The acid can keep on working, even if it’s not still soaking in the bath. I found an old Kelly Tru-Temper double bit for a few bucks that was rusted quite badly. A vinegar soak, a few minutes with an angle grinder, a new handle, and a good sharpening session, and that sucker can take down trees like nobody’s business. Great article!!

30 Josh Tucker July 20, 2012 at 7:01 am

Kieran,

It possible but not advisable to use a bench grinder. Excessive heat can affect the temper of the bit and ruin the axe.

A file may take a little longer, but it is more accurate and less risky.

31 Evan M July 20, 2012 at 10:45 am

Neat to see the council tools axe in your line up. I just got their boy’s axe for car camping and they really make a good (and relatively inexpensive) product. It’s nice that you can still occasionally find well made American tools.

32 Mike July 22, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Sharpening with no gloves is not manly.

Soaking in linseed oil and curing before polishing = removing lots of cured linseed oil before hitting metal, and then polishing.

Also, for axes a convex edge (rounded) helps protect the tip of the bit, it’s not a knife, its not designed to slice, it’s designed to smash into hardwood with hundreds of psi focused on one tiny edge. Rounding the primary bevel into the secondary bevel provides much more support to the finely honed edge.

Love the budding interest in axes, though!

33 Josh Tucker July 23, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Mike,

I agree about the superiority of the convex edge. Look for an upcoming post about putting a convex edge on a bit and blade. *wink wink*

I think that learning how to shape the bevel with a file is an integral skill for anyone who uses an axe.

Do you know of a way to soak an axe head in linseed oil without getting any on the metal that will need to be removed prior to polishing?

34 Tibby Altman July 24, 2012 at 8:40 am

Josh: I am so proud of you this is an
excellent article. Aunt Tib

35 Vasko Alexander July 24, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Great post, as always.

Some men were born into a legacy, others create their own.

All old axes were new at some point. Don’t be afraid to pick up a brand new one and be the first to pass it down. Perhaps a post on selecting a good new one?

VCA

36 Sharpie July 25, 2012 at 11:42 pm

Just wondering, would linseed oil refresh dried out leather? I have an old hatchet that my grandma gave me that has a leather handle that has dried and shriveled up.

37 Icexist July 26, 2012 at 1:17 am

Partially mentioned by Greg, but the best way to get a perfect final finish on the handle is to use a dry cotton washcloth after your sandpaper. The cloth should get very warm by the time you are finished. This technique, when done right, will give you a sheen that makes your wood look waxed.

After that, I’d wet the wood as suggested, and repeat the cloth method. Then rub in (using your hands) the oil. Let it soak in a couple coats at a time. Done right, a full oiling could take from a day to a week based on the type of wood and the grain structure. To be sure that you’ve oiled it enough, water should bead on the surface and fall off without leaving any traces. If you’ve oiled it a lot and water still doesn’t bead or fall off; cover the handle with a thick coat of oil and wrap it in plastic wrap to keep the oil in and other substances out. Let it sit for a day or two, and your handle should absorb the right amount of oil.

38 Francis McLaughlin August 11, 2012 at 5:35 pm

I’ve been trying to find ways to spend more time with my dad. I showed him this article and aperently were going out to buy some oil now. Thanks!

39 Farrell August 11, 2012 at 10:23 pm

I just finished restoring one of my grandfather’s axes after reading this article. It wasn’t rusted terribly, so I used various grits of sandpaper to remove as much as possible. At first I was going to stop at 800 grit, but when I finished with 2000 grit I was able to get that awesome mirror finish. I wasn’t able to get rid of all the pitting, but I think a little pitting on a restored axe head gives it some character.

This is a great exercise in discipline and something you can be proud of when you’re done!

40 Steven September 25, 2012 at 1:58 pm

I have heard of people dunking the axe head into liquids to get them to swell however this is nixed by most woodworkers. Why? When the wood absorbs a liquid it expands and the fibers get crushed against the eye of the axe. When the wood dries it will shrink and it will shrink smaller than its original size because of the fibers being crushed.
henry david thoreau writes about dunking his axe handle into a lake to fix it to the handle. When the handle dried out, the head flew and struck Mrs. Emerson in the head. The best way to secure a head to the handle is to rehandle it with a fresh, seasoned hickory handle. The Handle should be snug but still allow for a wedge to be hammered at the end to firmly secure it. They sometimes come loose in the beginning days of being rehandled, but that can be easily cured by holding the handle so that the axe is facing the ground and tapping on the end of the handle. The inertia forces the axe up the handle wedging it further. Then finish by tapping the wedge deeper.

Another thing is that too much finish. and too smooth a handle is dangerous. I tend to leave my handles bare or sand off the manufactures poly so that I get a sure grip on the axe. After about 30 minutes of felling, your hands will sweat and you don’t want to lose your axe in the middle of the swing.

The angle of your axe bit should be closer to 37°. Build a cardstock template that you can place over the edge to check your progress. More acute angles will cut well but won’t last and more obtuse angles tend to take forever to chop.

41 Russell October 3, 2012 at 2:37 am

Interesting article, as an aside. When splitting wood on a chopping block put the rings in an old tire. the tire should be at least 3/4 the height of the rings. The tire catches the split wood often means the left over ring is still on the block for the next swing. When you have finished that ring all the bits are still on the block, easier on you back. And if you miss the ring and the axe is heading for your shin or foot the tire will catch it. Also there is no having to pull your axe out of the block. So you are using a waste product to make a manual job more efficient and safer

42 John Leeke October 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Anyone working in the woods with an axe will learn soon enough to not rub bacon fat on the handle, for the grease will eventually attract the interest of gnawing mice, rats, woodchucks or racoons.

43 Adam Haley October 20, 2012 at 9:57 pm

I have an heirloom axe, but My handle has broken, are there any good places to purchase good axe handles?

44 Chris October 22, 2012 at 10:30 am

What happened to step 3?

45 Jake October 24, 2012 at 6:21 pm

So my dad has an axe that he got from my grandfather when he passed away. The axe sat in a shed for years collecting rust and then sat in my dads garage for about 12 years….the axe is easily 50 years old based on what my dad has said. Today I went out and got all my supplies and got it looking pretty new ( I used some power tools to remove most of the rust built up). I spent probably around 7hours total on it and have it at the quality I was hoping for. Thanks for the great article! It gave me great motivation to get my mind off of a recent family death. Can’t wait to start more projects now, keep up the great website.

46 Brandon October 31, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Making an axe the old way (not my video, just found it on YouTube):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=_IMe15BBPxg

47 Messmer November 1, 2012 at 3:51 pm

When I need to sharpen an axe, I use a 600 diamond sharpener. Could sharpen mostly anithing. Just avoid to use on really soft metal.

48 bryan mcintyre November 14, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Linseed oil is expensive. So, when soaking the head get an upright plastic bucket just large enough to handle the head, stand the axe upright then fill the bucket to just over the axe head with rocks/pebbles, then add the linseed oil. When done soaking simply pour the oil back into the can for the next use. Saves the oil and usually — for me at least — avoids spills.

49 Paul December 5, 2012 at 10:08 am

What about painting the axe head? I’m looking into restoring a handful of our fire department axes, which are traditionally painted across the head to correspond with the apparatus to which it belongs.

Any recommendation on the type of paint to use?

50 Robert December 5, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Do you have any tips for recognizing heirloom axes while out at the antique/swap meets? I would hate to put all this work into restoring a new yet poorly maintained axe that I could just as easily buy new at Home Depot.

51 Ryan December 5, 2012 at 7:38 pm

Great article! For removing rust you don’t really need elbow grease anymore, you can use a product called Evapo-Rust. I used it to restore an old rock hammer not too long ago. It’s an environmentally friendly water based solution that uses chelation rather than acid to remove rust. Basically the solution is more attractive to the iron-oxide molecules than the steel of the object, and it dissolves, leaving the steel intact. Works in a few hours with normal rust, overnight for heavy rust. I was skeptical but it worked really well. Because of the chemical process only works on iron or steel, not copper or zinc based tools.

Paul: a few coats of any anti-rust spray paint would probably work well.

52 Gerald December 5, 2012 at 8:19 pm

” I would hate to put all this work into restoring a new yet poorly maintained axe that I could just as easily buy new at Home Depot.”

Why?
Any well maintained Axe will be better then a new one from home Depot. Even if it might be a cheap one.

53 James December 22, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Great article!
I decided to restore my grandfather’s old axe for my father for Christmas. He likes Abraham Lincoln as well so I engraved the quote at the top of the article onto the handle. Thank you.

54 Jed December 26, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Josh,
Great article! I just got an 80 year old double bit axe from my grandfather that belonged to his father. The axe is in decent condition but a portion of one side has some extensive rusting. The handle is in great shape though and I would like to keep it. Is it possible to do a vinegar soak with the axe handle on?
Regards,
Jed

55 Don Fennell January 2, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Is there a catalog or someway to Identify
and ax head’s maker and circa by stamps and markings in the head?

56 roy February 1, 2013 at 12:31 am

Great article! Restore any old axe, but remember the single edge is best balance for work! The double bit( double edged) is a cute idea but totally out of “ballance” , just try both you will understand! Like Jed I too am concerned at putting axe on shoulder with that razor edge so near your neck!! Just a wee stumble and nick you are dead, or paralized, an old bushman showed me when I was 5 that this was a tenderfoot “new chum” accident. Turn the edge OUT. I dilute the linseed oil with turps as it helps penitration of the wood rather than remaining on the surface. linseed oil turns in to a polimer (plastic) on exposure to air so if it is deep in the wood good. I have a garden seat with wood like NEW yet it is 45 yrs old & out all years.Linseed is good. BUT if you use a cotton rag it self combusts, similar to gun cotton so be careful ALWAYS use linseed rags ONCE then into the fire , not the rubbish, not the wood shed not the disposal unless you want it to burst into flames as you sleep …

57 Luke March 8, 2013 at 6:33 am

Have just finished restoring my recently deceased grandfathers hatchet, was in extremely poor condition when I started with it, very therapeutic work getting it right.

58 scabbert March 13, 2013 at 12:35 am

If you have no space to sharpen your axe other than your apartment’s kitchen countertop, you probably don’t have any real need for an axe in the first place (other than to pump up your own insecure masculine ego).

59 scabbert March 13, 2013 at 12:41 am

Gerald,
That’s only true if it dates from about mid-70′s or prior, I believe. Any more recent than that and the steel quality goes downhill fast, at which point you may as well just have something new from Home Depot.

60 Micheal double March 14, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Thank you very much for the great artical. I especially enjoyed the humor (Manual Noriega and the bit about picking up the axe multiple times).

61 Wrath March 29, 2013 at 11:29 pm

I once found a hatchet whilst camping. Someone had been using it to poke their fire (which had been build haphazardly at best). You could imagine my excitement at a new project. The handle was almost entirely burnt and the head was in terrible condition. I meticulously sanded the handle with sand paper (not a sander, just with my hands and some sand paper). I then spent days varnishing it. Then it was time to tackle the head. Some steel wool and blue paint made short work of that task. The hatchet some jerkoff left for dead in a campfire is now one of the best hatchets I’ve ever owned.

62 steve May 16, 2013 at 10:23 pm

nice information I have seen ebooks on this subject that sell for more than $20 and this is free. Off to sharpen my axe now.

63 Bob Rynes May 31, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Fantastic article, very well demonstrated in every way. I just purchased a tomahawk and the edge is poor to say the least. Can’t wait to put what I’ve learned to use.
Many thanks,
Bob R. Maryland, USA

64 Matt June 10, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Followed your steps and ended up transforming a $2 yard sale find into a beauty. Super gratifying — thank you!

65 j July 18, 2013 at 10:33 pm

hell yes i pick up my axe just because it feels good. good to see men doing manly Sh$t

66 james September 14, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Will someone tell me if it is raw linseed oil that I want to use or boiled linseed oil???

Thanks in advance

67 Russell Maycumber September 28, 2013 at 5:48 am

Great article. Good info. Are you sharpening the axe head on your aunties kitchen bar, cause that art in the background is well…not very manly. I mean manly in the sense that a real man probably has surrounded himself with creative people and works hard enough to support his bohemian friends. Buy some real art and leave the generic neutral wine and cheese prints for lonely Target trolls with nothing better to do on a Friday night than to impulse buy down the candle and pillow aisle. Thanks for the axe tips.

68 Kevin October 7, 2013 at 12:27 am

Thanks so much for the well-written and helpful article. I’m currently holding my breath while the hand-forged hatchet I recently commissioned a friend-of-a-friend blacksmith to make for me makes its way through the US postal system. I’ll bookmark this article so that I can maintain it the right way.

To certain others who have commented here, in no particular order: Men who scour articles about axe restoration and maintenance for opportunities to throw other men’s decor choices under the bus for a lack of manliness … do not exude much manliness; those who criticize other men for utilizing kitchen counters for the purpose of sharpening axe blades hold a very tenuous grasp on the entire concept of manliness and should probably shut their stupid talk-holes.

That is all.

69 Craig December 9, 2013 at 11:35 am

I’ve done some looking around and have not had a lot of luck finding a decent enough head to put much time into. I’d like to get a Council or Gransfors Bruks but I’m having a tough time finding one. Any ideas of where to find them along the Wasatch Front?

70 Randolph December 10, 2013 at 10:06 am

I restored a hatchet and axe I found laying around my mothers garage a while back. I would be really careful about sanding down and restoring an axe handle, in my opinion a new handle would be a good investment.
What I did to restore mine is I took them completely apart. Bead blasted all the metal. Rough sharpened it with a flapper wheel on an angle grinder. I have heard a lot of urban legends about sharpening with a grinder. The bottom line is DO NOT GET THE METAL HOT and you will not mess up the temper. I finished it with an oil stone, a puck works well. I replaced the wood handle on the axe, and I put new bonded leather on the metal handle of the hatchet. I actually primed and painted the hatchet matt black. Most of the paint has worn off, I just did it for fun. It is a working hatchet, and not a show piece. Bottom line is there are many ways to remove material to effectively sharpen. Just keep safe and make sure your workplace holding is sturdy.
FYI, I am a machinist by trade and have been rebuilding industrial equipment for the last five years, and worked in tool and die prior.

71 Chris December 30, 2013 at 4:05 pm

“A covert campaign against vampires”?

*ROARS with laughter*

72 John K. Benfield, III April 4, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Just starting in the world of real Axes, so please forgive me for my question!
For the Gransfor Bruk felling axes-I would imagine that their axes do not need any further work by the owner-beveling, sharpening, etc.
Any help would be appreciated,

John K. Benfield, III

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