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Help with finish options for axe handles please

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Forum topic by Rocksteady2R posted 01-15-2015 06:34 PM 2454 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Rocksteady2R

17 posts in 689 days


01-15-2015 06:34 PM

a) I just found this site a while ago, and man am I excited. I’m a half step more expereienced than a neophyte, so I’m excited to learn what i can here. Thanks in advance.

b) I’m currently refurbing some axes and hatchets. I’ve bought some hickory handles and have cut them down to fit their chosen heads. The heads came finished with a varnish or shellac of some sort. I’‘ve sanded that down and off because I heard a couple of things, and mostly because I wanted to. Now I’m trying to refinish them.

c) I have linseed oil, caranuba wax, beeswax and turpentine. As I’ve been researching this, those are the ingredients I see most often recommended, which is excellent. My question really boils down to how many times I apply, and what the effects of sanding between layers really are, and how necessary that sanding is. I read one guy that said he does one coat a day for forty days with a sanding grit change every 10 days from 600 up to like 2000. I want good looking, but that seems excessive. another guy says he doesn’t sand between coats, but he does 3 layers and a day or two between two layers, and finishes with wax. Another recipe on here actually combines the wax into the rubdown mix.

I’m hoping ya’ll can give me the real skinny. What’s a good looking but reasonable method to get me a reasonable outcome. It doesn’t need to shine, these are axes I mean to use. I can put in some time, for sure, to make these right, but 40 days in a row is highly unlikely.

anyhow, thanks for the input. Much appreciated!


12 replies so far

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BinghamtonEd

2281 posts in 1830 days


#1 posted 01-15-2015 06:45 PM

If you’re going to be using these, I’d stay away from sanding too fine or using wax, or anything else that would make the grip slicker. I’d probably sand to 180 and put on a couple coats of Tung oil and move on. They’re tools, not centerpieces, the sanding/oil would be mainly for a bit of protection/sealing.

Edit : Sounds like the guy who did a coat per day for 40 days has too much time on his hands, and not enough woodworking to do.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

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7Footer

2541 posts in 1409 days


#2 posted 01-15-2015 06:59 PM

I’ve seen a lot of good videos from Cody (Wranglerstar on YouTube), he does everything from making his own axe handles, hanging, refinishing, etc…. Here's a list of of some of his videos about axes and handles and such… Cody usually goes with a straight BLO finish… And it’s just up to you how often you apply it, after you find a grip and feel that you really like, just stay with that. 40 coats seems quite excessive though, a plain BLO finish gives your hand a really nice feel of the wood. Agree with Ed though, I don’t think you want to go too high on the sanding grit, 180 or 220 is plenty, if you go much further the handle might become slippery.

Also if you’re looking for some more handles, here’s a site that has dirt cheap handles and they’re pretty good quality, my co-worker has ordered several times from them and has been very happy with the products. Their website isn’t the easiest to sift through, but there are some great deals on it, I think that most of the handles are unfinished too.
House Handle Co

And pics, post some pics of your progress!

Welcome to LJ’s!

-- http://www.youtube.com/nrk411

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gfadvm

14940 posts in 2151 days


#3 posted 01-16-2015 01:40 AM

I would just do the linseed oil and resand/reoil if they start to dry out later.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

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Rick M

7909 posts in 1841 days


#4 posted 01-16-2015 05:54 AM


... one guy that said he does one coat a day for forty days with a sanding grit change every 10 days …
- Rocksteady2R

That’s one of those finishing myths from milsurp gunstock guys. Sand off the varnish and apply one coat of linseed oil. Done. No wax. You can thin the linseed with turpentine if you want, doesn’t make much difference. Varnish on a tool handle causes blisters, that’s why you sand it off. The oil is minimal protection but it’s enough.

-- http://thewoodknack.blogspot.com/

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bobasaurus

2658 posts in 2645 days


#5 posted 01-16-2015 06:45 AM

I use BLO/danish oil for tool handles, or shellac and wax if I want them shinier.

-- Allen, Colorado

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Rocksteady2R

17 posts in 689 days


#6 posted 01-16-2015 04:49 PM

Thanks guys.. It seems the key is to not get too complicated with it.

Besides, I guess that if i don’t like a result, I can always apply some fire and start fresh.

Thanks!

View jpayne's profile

jpayne

3 posts in 704 days


#7 posted 01-16-2015 05:08 PM

I have been restoring axes and hatchets for several years now. There are good resources, manuals, videos, etc. out there and most will show similar methods.

My favorite axe restoration/maintenance information comes from the forestry service and builds on over 100 years of real-world experience. I don’t have the link at hand, but if you search US Forestry Service and Axes, you’ll come across it.

I have tried several different methods but always come back to this:

1. Sand or scrape the wax (if there is any) off the handle. Sand the handles down with nothing finer than 220 as it’s unnecessary.

2. Get it smooth to the touch and then wet it with water. Don’t dunk it in the water, just rub the water around until it’s covered. This will raise the grain. Let it set for a couple hours or overnight until it is completely dry. If you have a dehumidifier, you can sit it in front of it and it will expedite the process.

3. Repeat step 2 until the grain doesn’t raise anymore. Once it stops raising, sand it smooth.

4. Next, I will rub the boiled linseed oil into the handle thoroughly. (It’s recommended that you use gloves with BLO, but admittedly, I don’t use them everytime). Let it sit for a couple hours and wipe it down.

5. Repeat step 4 a couple times until you are happy with the result.

You can stop there if you want but I usually go a little further. I will turn the handle on end (once mounted) and put a puddle of BLO on the endgrain and let it soak in nicely overnight. I’ll then flip it and do the other end. If it’s going to see a lot of use I will put a thick coat of BLO and let it sit for almost a day. If you do this it will almost harden, putting a thick protective coating instead of just soaking in.

The best way is just to practice and play around with what method works for you.

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Rick M

7909 posts in 1841 days


#8 posted 01-16-2015 06:07 PM


Thanks guys.. It seems the key is to not get too complicated with it.
- Rocksteady2R

That’s it exactly. You can make it as complicated as you want but it’s just for the sake of complication, not for the user. I grew up on a farm and have hundreds of hours using tools with wood handles, axes, mauls, hatchets, rakes, scythes, hammers, shovels, etc.; never once did I worry about whether the handle was sanded to 150 or 220 or how many coats of oil were used. The only important thing is getting the varnish off the handle so your hands aren’t bleeding at the end of the day, the oil is optional, mostly for looks. Sweat and work will ‘season’ the wood, heh. Now if this is just a show piece or something for your wall, go hog wild. People spending days rubbing oil on a handle are casual users, if users at all.

-- http://thewoodknack.blogspot.com/

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jpayne

3 posts in 704 days


#9 posted 01-16-2015 07:18 PM

Thanks guys.. It seems the key is to not get too complicated with it.
- Rocksteady2R

That s it exactly. You can make it as complicated as you want but it s just for the sake of complication, not for the user. I grew up on a farm and have hundreds of hours using tools with wood handles, axes, mauls, hatchets, rakes, scythes, hammers, shovels, etc.; never once did I worry about whether the handle was sanded to 150 or 220 or how many coats of oil were used. The only important thing is getting the varnish off the handle so your hands aren t bleeding at the end of the day, the oil is optional, mostly for looks. Sweat and work will season the wood, heh. Now if this is just a show piece or something for your wall, go hog wild. People spending days rubbing oil on a handle are casual users, if users at all.

- Rick M.

There’s a lot of truth to that.

In my experience doing the extra steps aren’t so much about seasoning the wood for the long term, which will happen regardless as you stated, as it is about getting some type of protection on it for the short term. If you’re out in the woods for the first time with your freshly hafted axe and a rainstorm dumps on you, if you’ve done a little extra work (not necessarily the bazillion steps and a ton of time) it will make it easy to wipe the handle off and have it ready for use again quickly. If it’s bare wood and it gets soaked, you’re not going to be happy with the result and you’ll be re-handling it in a short time. And I would even contend if you’re going to spend time in the handling process, raising and sanding down the grain might be the most important step. This will help prevent the woods tendency to want to soak up moisture on the largest surface area (of course the endgrain is still where it will want to absorb the most).

Of course, if you can guarantee that it’s going to be dry and indoors it’s all irrelevant anyway. Rain and sun are the real enemies of wooden handled tools.

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7Footer

2541 posts in 1409 days


#10 posted 01-16-2015 07:30 PM

Jpayne… is this the US Forest Service video you’re talking about? I’d forgotten about it, but had it in my favorites, awesome video, a co-worker had sent it to me and totally got me interested in axes and hatchets, and it’s also the video that I discovered those Wonderbar sanding sponges, one of the best inventions ever!

-- http://www.youtube.com/nrk411

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jpayne

3 posts in 704 days


#11 posted 01-16-2015 07:32 PM



Jpayne… is this the US Forest Service video you re talking about? I d forgotten about it, but had it in my favorites, awesome video, a co-worker had sent it to me and totally got me interested in axes and hatchets, and it s also the video that I discovered those Wonderbar sanding sponges, one of the best inventions ever!

- 7Footer

Yeah that’s it. They have downloadable literature as well. You used to could order the manual from them.

And sanding sponges work great on round handles.

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Rick M

7909 posts in 1841 days


#12 posted 01-16-2015 10:01 PM

People overestimate linseed oil. If you are going out in rain storms, paraffin will block water completely, oil won’t. Not sure what wax would be like on the grip end, never tried it. But if lots of fussing over a handle makes you feel better about it, go for it. Heck, I’m making a new handle for a broad hatchet and it breaks the rules: American holly handle, with a knot in it, sanded and scraped down silky smooth, even burned some markings in the handle, might even put a coat of lacquer on it but I don’t care because it will be casual use only. My original point is that after you get the varnish off a store bought handle, everything after is gravy on the potatoes. :)

-- http://thewoodknack.blogspot.com/

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