An important part of axe maintenance is oiling the handle. It protects the wood from shrinking and cracking. The absorbed oil also expands the wood, helping to keep the head securely attached to the haft.

If you’re unsure how to oil an axe handle, then keep reading. We’ve created a beginner’s guide with simple, step-by-step instructions.

What is the best way to oil an axe handle?  

To oil an axe handle you should sand it then apply a thin layer of oil and let it dry. Wipe away any excess oil and re-apply a second and third coating. For a healthy axe, oil the handle twice a year for best results or at least every 12 months.

1. Get everything ready

Before you do anything, gather up any safety gear you use when working with linseed or Tung oil. Gloves are a good starting point, although you may want safety glasses to avoid unwanted splashing in the eyes.

You’ll also need a clean rag for applying the oil. Get yourself set up outside or in a well-ventilated room. 

2. Prepare the wood

Start by removing any paint or varnish on the handle. If your axe doesn’t have any then skip this step, but many brands choose to add a varnish coating. Getting rid of varnish is a good idea as it tends to become slippery in wet conditions. You can check out our full guide on how to remove varnish from an axe handle here.

Using a sharp knife run the blade down the handle to scrape off the layer of varnish. Once it’s gone, use fine 200-grit sandpaper to sand down the whole handle. You want to smooth down the handle, expose fresh wood, and remove any rough bits. Wipe off any dust with a paper towel or clean rag.

3. Apply the oil

Once the handle is smooth and varnish-free, apply a thin coat of oil or a product of your choice. It’s a good idea to pour the oil onto a clean rag first, then apply it all over the handle.

Pay special attention to each end, which will soak up more oil. You’ll know enough oil has been applied when the wood looks darker all over.   

4. Allow the wood to dry

Place the axe on clean cardboard or towels and allow it to dry. Raw linseed takes longer to dry than the boiled version. Also, sun and wind will speed up the drying process. You can check the label on the oil for drying time directions.

5. Reapply oil 

If the handle looks like it’s almost dry on the outside, it means the oil has soaked into the haft. Using a clean paper towel, wipe off any excess oil, then apply a second coating of oil and allow to dry. Ideally, you should add at least three coats of oil. When you factor in drying time, it could take over a day to complete.

Linseed is excellent for oiling axes

Related reading:
How thick should an axe handle be?
How to store axes the right way.
How to replace an axe handle.

The benefits of oiling an axe handle

  • Oil repels water, protecting it from the elements.
  • Moisture from the oil keeps the wood from cracking or shrinking.
  • The oil causes the wood to expand a little, keeping the haft tightly connected to the axe head.
  • Oil hardens the wood due to the polymerization process, making it tougher and less likely to break. 

Commonly asked questions

What’s the best oil for an axe handle?

There are a range of products that can be used to oil an axe handle. A low-cost, tried-and-tested option is linseed oil which is commonly available in hardware stores and online. But there are other options like hemp, tung, teak, and walnut oil. Avoid oils that don’t harden when dried, like almond, olive, and coconut oil.

Is tung or linseed oil best for axe handles?

Although both types of oil are excellent for use on wood, most agree that tung is best for durability, flexibility, and a harder finish. However, tung is roughly three times the price of linseed so for those on a budget, linseed will work fine.

Is it better to oil or wax an axe handle?

Although oil and wax will both provide protection, an oil that saturates and penetrates the wood fibers is best. Oil offers better resistance from water and won’t wear off as easily as wax. For the ultimate finish, you may also want to apply oil then follow up with an outer coat of beeswax.

Summing up

Oiling an axe handle is a simple process that you only need to do once or twice a year. At the same time, you should also oil the axe head. Be sure to check out our guide on how to keep an axe from rusting. You could also check out how to sharpen an axe like an expert so that it makes easy work of any chopping job.

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