Painting an axe makes it easier to find in the forest. A bright lick of paint is also a great way to restore an axe before hanging on a wall. While there are plenty of experienced axe users who’ll tell you to avoid painting an axe, others swear that it’s perfectly fine.

You’ll find that it’s not a big challenge to paint an axe. But if you’re looking for a durable finish then keep reading, we’ve pulled together the essential guide to painting an axe head. Grab your paint and let’s get started.

What you’ll need to paint an axe head

Cleaning products: If your axe head has any signs of dirt, sap, or rust then try a scrubbing brush. For more cleaning power, try WD40 with steel wool or a wire wheel.

Sandpaper: To give the paint a better hold, use sandpaper to rough up the metal’s surface. Start with 100 grit then finish with 220 grit to smooth the surface, ensuring no scratches show through the paint.

Spray Paint: Choose a good quality spray paint like Rust-Oleum, avoiding cheap brands that won’t last long before flaking off.

Painter’s tape: Areas you don’t want to paint will need to be taped off. Blue painter’s tape works well as it provides a cleaner result.  

Acetone: You’ll need to remove any oil and grease from the head to give the paint a good chance of holding. Acetone, or nail polish remover, does a great job of removing it. Otherwise, if you have a degreaser lying around the shed, it’ll do the trick too. 

Steps to paint an axe head

1. Clean the axe head

Getting the axe head into good condition before painting is a big part of the job if they’re old or haven’t been maintained. WD40 combined with steel wool will often do a good job of removing sap and dirt. 

Painting over rust is a bad move as it’ll eat into the steel. Try using steel wool or a wire wheel. Thick rust and persistent paint can be easily removed with a bench grinder or angle grinder. Sandpaper works, but it’ll take a little longer.

Axes with a patina can be left on or removed, so long as there’s no rust.

Once the axe is clean, remove any grease with acetone or degreaser, then rough up the surface a little with light sandpapering. Use 100 grit before finishing with a 220 grit paper.  

For axes without a haft attached, check the eye and make sure it’s clean too. You may need to roll up sandpaper to get into those hard-to-reach spots.

2. Mask the axe

You should never paint the bit of an axe head as any underlying cracks, chips, or other damage will be hidden. You’ll also find that during chopping, the blade will bind with the wood which isn’t ideal.  

Applying tape to the blade will give a neat, even finish. We suggest leaving anywhere between 2-4” of axe bit unpainted.

Also, apply tape to the eye and handle. You could also use plastic wrap if you don’t have tape, but the finish line won’t be as straight.

3. Position the axe

For a nice even coating on all sides, use wire or string to hang the axe. You can thread it through the lanyard hole in the handle if it has one or clamp the handle in a vice. 

For anyone painting the head without a handle, string it through the eye or simply hang it on a stick. It’s okay to lay the head on newspaper for painting, but keep in mind you’ll have to apply one side at a time. 

4. Paint the axe

Shake the spray paint can vigorously to get the best possible, consistent layer of paint. Holding the can roughly 12” from the axe head, apply several light coats of paint. You’ll want to pause between each layer, giving it time to dry.

Applying thick layers will cause pools or running which you don’t want. 5-6 very light layers in a better option. Wait 20-30 minutes between each coat.

Spraying inside the eye is optional and only requires 1-2 coats. 

After the final coat has been applied, allow the axe head to sit for at least two days so that it completely hardens. Now, it’s ready to hand or start swinging!

An axe head with the paint wearing off
Paint quickly wears off axe heads with regular use.

Tips for painting an axe head

  • You can spray paint the axe head without cleaning and sanding it, but it won’t last as long and the quality of the finish won’t be as good.
  • If you intend to use the axe, rather than displaying it, the paint will need retouching or re-applying regularly.
  • After cleaning the axe head and de-greasing it, you’re best to wear gloves to avoid any contamination or hold the axe head by the taped sections.
  • If you’re painting the axe for show, apply a primer first. This step isn’t necessary for axes that’ll get used as a working tool.
  • Popular colors for painting axe heads include John Deere green Caterpillar yellow, or firetruck red.
  • Never paint the bit of an axe as it will hide damage and cause the blade to stick and bind (gaul) to wood.
Various painted axes in a vertical collage

Commonly asked questions

Should I use gloss or matte paint?

Although you can use either type of paint, you’ll find that gloss is the stronger option, but it’ll wear off with use.

Is painting an axe head the best way to prevent rust?

Most people paint an axe for appearance rather than rust prevention. Although paint will protect metal from rust, it’s better to sand off any rust and then apply oil. Check out how to stop axe rust here.

Should I warm the axe before painting?

It is recommended to heat an axe to around 100°F before applying the first coat of paint. If you’re painting the axe head on the ground and can’t apply an entire layer at the same time, skip this step.

You can heat an axe head without its handle in the oven for a few minutes. An axe with a handle attached shouldn’t be placed in an oven; instead, leave it in the sun or skip the heating step. 

Summing up

Painting an axe head is a good way to add some personal flair to your tools and makes them easier to locate. Keep in mind that paint won’t stay on an axe head long-term if you’re going to use it. You’ll need to reapply regularly if you’re using it frequently.

Always choose quality paint that’ll take the abuse that comes with a high-impact tool like an axe. The cheaper brands will crack and chip off after a few sessions out in the bush.  

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