How to Restore an Axe

Although axes were first used as agricultural tools, they are now commonly used in hunting and military purposes. Even today, people use an axe for a variety of tasks such as chopping wood or building a shelter. Since the ax has been around since ancient times, there is no shortage of different shapes and sizes to choose from when shopping for an ax.

The “how to polish an axe head” is a tutorial on how to restore an axe. The video includes instructions on how to clean the blade, sharpen it, and polish the head.

Abraham Lincoln chopping wood with axe painting.

Note from the editor: This is a guest article by Josh Tucker.

“Give me six hours to down a tree, and the first four will be spent honing the axe.” Abraham Lincoln was the first president of the United States.

Honest Abe understood one thing: a keen axe is the manliest instrument, whether he used it as a strong metaphor to demonstrate the significance of preparedness or as his trusty weapon in a secret battle against vampires. Sharpening an axe, like other parts of manliness, needs perseverance, patience, and wisdom handed down from one’s forefathers.

This post will show you how to turn any axe into a tool worthy of the Illinois Railsplitter. I recommend that you look for an heirloom axe to repair. Boutique axes have grown in popularity during the past decade or two, because to the success of Gransfors Bruks. If you compare a Gransfors, Wetterlings, Council Tool, or any of the other high-quality axes available to a generic trunk-slapper found at your local hardware store, you’ll be blown away by the cutting prowess of even a little camping axe.

Any of those axes would be a wise purchase for a guy who spends time in the woods or even in his backyard. Or just wants to possess the second most vital tool a guy can have, after a nice sharp knife. Finding and repairing the sharp edge of an old axe gives me a lot of joy. I’m willing to bet that many of the males reading this post already possess or could easily get an axe with a substantial personal history. You’ll almost certainly find an old axe in the corner of any woodshop, tool shed, or garage you have access to.

If you can discover an axe that has sentimental value for you, consider yourself lucky and continue reading. If not, go to a flea market or a junk shop in your area. An ugly duckling axe is often found, just waiting for a gentleman to restore it to its former glory. The prices here are almost always extortionate. You can often get the raw materials for an axe that will rival a $188 Gransfors Bruks Felling Axe for less than $10.

This isn’t to argue that a high-end axe isn’t worthwhile. A Granfors Bruks hatchet and a Council Tool camp axe are among my possessions. Each instrument is really well-made. They’re a lot of fun to use. However, the procedure I’ve outlined here will also take them to the next level.

Assortment of axes on table with sheaths.

A Council Tool Velvicut Hudson Bay style canoe axe with a custom sheath, an antique falling axe with a new handle, an antique L.L. Bean canoe axe with a new handle, and a Gransfors Bruks wildlife hatchet are shown from left to right.

What to Look for When Choosing a Restored Axe

1. Is there any hope for the bit?

The most crucial factor to consider when considering whether or not to restore an antique axe is whether or not the bit is still functional. The axe’s “blade,” or the component that is or is meant to be sharp, is the bit. Axe heads should ideally be made in two sections. Because the bit is responsible for slicing the wood fibers, it must be firm enough to cut without being too fragile to chip. The remainder of the axe head should be flexible and malleable enough to absorb the shock waves produced by a firm hit on an osage stump or a vampire thorax.


A good candidate for restoration will have enough of unaltered bits to work with. I’ve taken an ancient axe and given it a vinegar wash to demonstrate why it’s a good candidate for restoration. Notice how there is enough of hard bit steel to work with, and how it provides for a continuous edge all the way from the “poll,” or hammer side of the axe, to the bit.

Hudson bay axe head with vinegar treatment.

Axe from Hudson Bay that has been treated with vinegar

A double-bit axe with a bit that is too far gone to bother with is seen below. The bit edge is too stumpy to make a continuous edge all the way through the axe, as you can see. This piece is just worn out, as should be clear. This axe isn’t worth your time or your dignity since too much hard steel has been taken from the edge.

Double bit axe head worn out rusted.

It’s a worn-out double bit.

2. How does the axe head’s pitting look?

Next, examine the axe head’s pitting. Even the pristine beauty of an axe is defeated by time. Pitting is rust that divots the surface of the axe head and gives it Manuel Noriega’s complexion. The ideal axe would be as smooth as a cue ball if you were to create one. Axe guys seek the smoothest axe head, just as swimmers like the slickest wetsuits. It enhances cutting by reducing friction.

Don’t get crazy here. Benjamin Franklin persuaded himself that a mirror-finished axe would be a good illustration of his moral energy during a frantic period of self-improvement. He hired a blacksmith to polish his axe, and the smith agreed as long as Ben was ready to turn the stone himself. Ben realized that pock-marks do actually add character to an axe after hours of selling like Fred Flintstone.

There’s no reason why you can’t handle a speckled axe as Ben Franklin did.

3. What is the handle’s shape?

Finally, have a look at the handle. This is the least significant factor to consider. The replacement of a brittle or loose handle is a simple procedure. Examine the axe head further whether the handle feels stable in the axe head and the head does not slide around on the handle. Look at the grain of the wood if the handle is made of it. The grain should be thin and run in the same direction as the axe head in the ideal situation. The straighter the grain of the handle, according to certain sources, the stronger it is.

Vintage swell of the GB hatchet illustration.

The GB hatchet swells

Vintage swell of CT canoe axe illustration.

CT canoe axe swell

Keeping Your Axe Sharp

I recommend sticking with any handle that is securely attached to the axe head. However, if the head wiggles even slightly, it poses a risk and should be replaced.

The first step is to collect your tools after you’ve found a good axe on which to do some sharpening witchcraft.

You’ll need the following items:

  • A mill bastard file with two cuts. A suitable size is 8 or 10 inches. A smaller file is excellent for repairing a hatchet.
  • For sanding, you’ll need a dust mask and thick gloves.
  • Linseed oil is a kind of vegetable oil that comes from
  • 3 sheets of coarse, medium, and fine grit sandpaper, respectively. A nice pick includes 80, 220, and 400. Get some wet/dry automotive sandpaper from your local hardware shop.
  • A bucket or other watertight container to hold the axe head. You’ll need something that’s as compact as possible while yet being big enough to hold the axe head. It should also be strong enough to stand alone while carrying liquid.
  • A simple C-clamp big enough to hold the axe’s head to a bench or countertop.
  • 2 rags or a roll of paper towels

Many guys will have some of these items stashed away in their homes. If you do need to go to the hardware shop, I’ve tried to keep this list as short as possible. A sharp file and a clamp to secure the axe head are the most critical tools. You can perform a good job with only these two things.


Step 1: Soak the Axe Head in Linseed Oil for a few minutes.

Now that you’ve acquired your tools, you can get started. If your axe has a wooden handle, turn it upside down in a bucket or other container and pour enough linseed oil to cover the axe head. This step is optional if your axe handle is securely fastened in the head. It is, nonetheless, advantageous in all circumstances. The linseed oil will seep into the wood within the eye, causing it to expand and form a strong connection between the head and handle.

Allow the axe to soak in the linseed oil bath for at least a day or two, and up to a week if possible. Keep in mind that linseed oil is combustible and difficult to clean up. Be wary of fires, whether they’re caused by a flame or an enraged spouse over the mess you created in the garage.

Allow the axe to dry for at least a day and up to three or four days after you’ve finished soaking it.

Step 2: Sand the Head of the Axe

If you desire, you may sand the axehead once it has dried. Any rust will need to be sanded away. Other than that, sanding the head is mostly a matter of preference. A smoother axe is theoretically a higher performing axe, but in reality, I don’t believe it makes much of a difference.

Start with your coarsest sandpaper if you wish to sand it. The best method for me to accomplish this is to fold a sheet of sandpaper and then tear it into little 3′′ by 3′′ squares. Sand the axe face in just one direction, traveling back and forth horizontally from the poll (the axe’s hammer end) to the bit (the edge). Work your way up to the finest sandpaper you have until you’re happy with the results.

Vintage sandpaper selection illustration.

Selection of sandpaper

This will result in a bit of a shambles. Make sure you’re using a dust mask to avoid inhaling any steel or rust particles. Also, if you’re doing this in your living room, as I am, throw down a drop cloth to avoid the wrath of girlfriend and her vacuum.

Step 4: Hone your skills.

You’re now ready to sharpen the axe to the joy of the Great Emancipator. Let’s get started.

To begin, locate a counter or workbench and place the poll at the edge. Allow as much of the axe’s bit to protrude into unoccupied space as possible so that you may easily file the edge. Clamp the poll end to the counter firmly. Make sure it’s secure enough that the axe doesn’t wobble.

Axe head clamped down to sharpen sand blade edge.

The axe is clenched on the counter.

Make a mental picture of what you’re going to do first. The majority of men believe that sharpening an axe or knife entails messing with the cutting edge. This viewpoint is referred to be “Dead Wrong” in clinical circles.


A surgical edge on a knife or an axe is all about the geometry behind the edge. When using an axe, you want to establish a continuous bevel from the cutting edge into the axe head at the smallest angle feasible. The axe will cut deeper if the V is smaller.

I prefer to hold my file at a 10 degree angle while I’m working. When you double this by two, you’ll have a 20-degree bevel on your axe. This is a bit narrower than most people suggest, but I’ve taken an additional step.

Filing antique axe sharpening blade.

The axe is being filed.

Concentrate on drawing a straight line from a point on the axe’s face approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inches back to the bit. In these photographs, you can observe the transformation.

Vintage beginning bevel illustration.

Bevel at the start

Vintage transition bevel illustration.

Bevel at the transition

Vintage finished bevel illustration.

Bevel is complete.

Also, if you’re doing this, make sure you’re wearing thick gloves. In the images, I’m not doing so, and that’s stupid.

This might take a long time. If it does, remember that this is the most crucial stage.

You’re ready to set the sharp edge once you’ve rectified the bit geometry on both sides. Surprisingly, you’ll be blunting the axe’s cutting edge. File only the cutting edge on both sides of the axe at an angle of 15 to 20 degrees using your file. You’ll end up with a thicker cutting edge that’s a touch less sharp than the 20-degree edge you started with.

Vintage brawny edge taken from above illustration.

From above, a brawny edge

The bit is more resistant to chipping and nicks when the cutting edge has a steeper angle. The axe will need less honing and will work better on hardwoods found across North America. Keep in mind that this is not a scalpel. You’ll be hammering a steel wedge into knotty wood with it. Hone your skills appropriately.

Step 5: Sand the Handle of the Axe

You’re done if your axe handle is made of fiberglass. If, on the other hand, it’s wood – and it should be – you’re ready to go on to the next stage of axe care. In the same way that you sanded the axe head, you’ll want to sand the handle. Start with the coarsest grit and work your way up to the finest using little pieces of sandpaper. This is quite satisfying to me. I like tossing sawdust and using my hands to study the contour of the handle.

Wet a paper towel or cloth and rub down the handle once you’ve worked your way up to the finest grit. This will remove all of the sawdust that has accumulated on the handle. But, even better, when the handle dries, it will rise up burrs on the wood. After the handle has dried, sand it down again with your finest sandpaper. This will prevent blisters from forming when the perspiration from your hands wets the handle later.

Vintage burrs on axe handle illustration.

Axe handle with burrs

If you want the handle to be startlingly smooth, repeat this process. It’s a personal preference. Some folks want a little roughness on the swell (the knob at the end of the handle) and will now roughen it up with their coarsest paper. I like a silky smooth handle, and I feel that the swell offers me enough control over the axe that my grip isn’t an issue.


Step 6: Apply oil to the axe.

Now it’s time for the last step. Wipe off the axe head and handle with a clean, dry cloth or paper towel. Apply linseed oil on a cloth and massage it all over the axe. If you don’t have any linseed oil on hand, any other non-petroleum oil will suffice. Canola, safflower, olive, and other oils will work just well. The crucial point is that the steel and, particularly, the wood absorb oil, repelling water and protecting the axe’s integrity.

Vintage oiling the axe illustration.

lubricating the axe

If you wanted the porcine dream of axes, you could even heat up some lard or bacon grease and use that.

Allow the oil to dry. Applying numerous coatings to the handle is a good idea. You’ll most likely be so enamored with your axe that you’ll find yourself taking it up for no apparent reason. Or maybe it’s just me. You’ll want the handle to soak up as much oil as possible in any event.

Vintage man holding axe at his shoulder illustration.

Axe is complete.

That’s all there is to it. I hope this essay has inspired you to obtain and utilize a good axe, whether you decide to repair one or buy one of the many excellent alternatives now available. Using an axe has a primordial quality to it, and the contrast between a sharp axe and the axes most men have used is astounding.

Maintain a macho demeanor while being secure.




The “how to sharpen an axe” is a topic that many people are interested in. This article will teach you how to restore your ax, as well as other methods of sharpening it.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you get rust off an axe?

A: To remove rust from an axe, you should first use a piece of sandpaper to buff the surface of the metal. After this has been done and dried thoroughly, fill a bowl with water and baking soda in it. Place your rusty axe into the mixture for about 15 minutes before using a cloth to wipe away any leftover residue once it dries again fully.

How do you sharpen an old axe?

A: You can sharpen an old axe by using a whetstone. This is a popular method to sharpening and maintaining axes for woodcutters, hunters, and others who need reliable tools that are not only durable but also effective in the field.

How do you polish an old hatchet?

A: You polish a hatchet by using your hands to remove dirt and debris, as well as any rust that is present. This can be done with sandpaper or steel wool.

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