Cleaning wooden handles

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Forum topic by Jeffjr02 posted 09-15-2015 04:36 AM 1131 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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134 posts in 1205 days

09-15-2015 04:36 AM

Topic tags/keywords: cleaning wood handled tools wood handles

I have looked all over and am having a hard time finding a specific discussion on cleaning old wooden handles.

For old wooden handled tools, how do you clean the years of crap off them without damaging the finish? Specifically something like these:

I have seen a few suggestions of mineral spirits, but I don’t know the rhyme or reason. Would acetone, or turpentine be bad? Maybe just a good degreasing household cleaner?

Before anyone freaks, I don’t think that ratcheting screwdriver needs cleaned. I love the patina on it. But it’s the only picture I have to represent similar wood handled tools I have.

11 replies so far

View TheFridge's profile (online now)


10512 posts in 1663 days

#1 posted 09-15-2015 05:22 AM

I know some have used murphys oil soap. Most would prob strip it and sand it smooth and refinish it.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

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134 posts in 1205 days

#2 posted 09-15-2015 06:59 AM

Thanks fridge. Could I reasonable sand and refinish that ice pick without ruining the painted text? Secondly how do I figure out what the finish is in order to Match? Is there a way to tell by feel or something? It was my grandfather’s, and the company is no longer in business as far as I know. So I’d like to clean first and only refinish as a last resort. It’s not like I have use for an ice pick in my kitchen fridge.

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421 posts in 2593 days

#3 posted 09-15-2015 07:14 AM

Try wiping with lemon oil and a rag. removes dirt not patina.

-- ... Never Apologise For Being Right ...

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1142 posts in 3027 days

#4 posted 09-17-2015 03:43 AM

I’ve always had good luck cleaning with denatured alcohol, it will melt most shellac finishes, if you’re just looking to remove grease and grime I’d recommend TSP, Tri Sodium Phosphate. You can get it in the painting department and it’s wicked effective on cleaning grease & grime

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

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5937 posts in 2443 days

#5 posted 09-17-2015 03:47 AM

Acetone is my favorite cleaner.

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134 posts in 1205 days

#6 posted 09-17-2015 01:11 PM

So lemon oil, Acetone and TSP won’t harm the finish? That’s basically what I’m looking for. I want to keep the patina and finish as much as possible but just remove the stuck on shit. I might shine up the metal, but that’s simple.

Thanks guys.

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Don W

18990 posts in 2745 days

#7 posted 09-17-2015 01:40 PM

I’d start with lemon oil. It won’t hurt anything.
If you need something stronger, then try mineral spirits or turpentine (acetone probably as well, but I never tried it) mixed 50/50 with blo.
Still stronger go with the spirits, turp or acetone straight.

Once it’s clean wipe it with lemon oil, BLO or tru-oil. Lemon oil is just an oil and will help replenish it, but doesn’t really protect it. Tru-oil is more of a finish and will help protect it. It can be built up in coats to get the finished desired. (you can also replace tru-oil with your favorite oil finish like clear tung oil or clear Danish oil if preferred)

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

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387 posts in 1267 days

#8 posted 09-17-2015 07:29 PM

I would strongly warn you against using acetone if you’re trying to preserve that printing on the ice pick

View Tim's profile


3812 posts in 2138 days

#9 posted 09-18-2015 01:10 AM

Just about anything you clean it with is going to remove some amount of the patina. It’s tough to get just the stuff you want off and leave what you want to keep.
Murphy’s oil soap is just about the mildest. It removes almost nothing. Some people say you should never use a water based cleaner like that on valuable items, but mostly it just seems very mild.

Some other options:
-Mendota’s plane polish I saw an LJ use it’s an equal mix of BLO, Murphy’s, and Paste Wax.
I suspect the things in it that do the cleaning are mostly the solvents in the BLO and paste wax. But overall it’s pretty mild.

-Turtle wax rubbing compound in the red can.

-Gojo or other citrus and pumice hand cleaner

These last two will definitely clean much more aggressively and I agree acetone or other solvents could take off the printing. Acetone is what’s in nail polish remover.

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134 posts in 1205 days

#10 posted 09-18-2015 03:08 PM

Thanks Johnny and Tim. I tried some Old English lemon oil last night and it didn’t really do anything….Worked somewhat on my plane knob and tote but not that ice pick.

I polished up the steel pick, now I just need to figure out the handle. I did notice that the general area with the letters still has a gloss on top, splotchy but it’s there. To me this says that the protective coating is largely wore off anyways, so now it’s just essentially an (oiled?) piece of wood. Maybe I should just put a new coating on it and be done…

Just a final question. Looking at the two pieces I included of photos of: What do you believe the finish is on them? That’s where I’m lacking especially is understanding what a finish is by looking/feeling it.

View Johnny7's profile


387 posts in 1267 days

#11 posted 09-19-2015 02:17 PM


The included link HERE was one I chose at random, but it’s as good as any at describing the technique of discerning finish type by destruction.

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