Restoring a Vintage Hand Axe Restoring a Vintage Hand Axe

What You'll Need
Steel Wool
Machine Oil
Flat Metal File
Vise
Hammer
Metal Wedge or Shim

A hand axe, sometimes referred to as a camping axe, is about 2/3 the size of an ordinary axe. As little as 50 years ago, they were commonly used around the home to clear fence lines, chop wood for the fireplace or stove, or strip branches from small to medium sized logs. A vintage hand axe was usually made to last for years and if you have the good fortune of owning one, restoring it to good condition is probably easier than you thought.

Step 1 - Evaluating the Damage

Examine the hand axe carefully. Check the handle for splintering or cracks, as well as other damage to the wood. Check the axe head for cracks or splits in the sides of the head, on either side of the eye. Examine the blade for missing chips or cups. If the axe head is cracked or badly chipped, replacing the head may be required. Minor chips can be files out. If the damage is too extensive, replacing the axe may be a better option, despite the vintage value of the hand axe.

Step 2 - Replacing Axe Handles

Whether for a hand axe or a broad axe, the process of changing the handle is nearly identical. If applicable, remove the wedge from the handle and then drive the handle down through the bottom of the axe head. Insert a new handle, and tap it upwards with the axehead until it is firmly seated, and then lock it in place by inserting a wedge into the split on top of the handle, and driving it in tight. Always purchase axe handles with a grain that runs parallel to the axe blade. Cross grained handles are more likely to break off during use.

Step 3 - Sharpening Vintage Hand Axe Blades

It is important to keep a sharp edge on any type of chopping axe. Small chips can be removed by slightly filing down the blade. To do this, put the axe head into a vise, and tighten it down so that the blade is held in place, pointing upwards. Use a flat metal file, and make complete passes over the edge of the blade from heel to toe (the heel is the top corner of the blade, and the toe is the bottom corner). Keep the file at a slight angle to the angle of the blade when filing. Turn the axe around and do the same for the other side. Repeat the process as needed.

Step 4 - Cleaning and Storage

Cleaning a vintage hand axe can be done with steel wool. Remove any rust, dirt or debris, and polish the metal surface with circular motions. The handle can be smoothed out with steel wool to remove any slight blemishes, or sanded smooth using a fine grit sand paper. Coat the axe head with a light application of machine oil before storage to prevent rust.

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