Caring for your Axe
We are fortunate that there are some fantastic axe makers out there today, namely Hultafors and Condor. These companies have many years in the crafting and manufacture of high quality bushcraft axes and have a great reputation not only in the bushcraft community, but also in the building & forestry industry.
Once your brand new shiny axe gets delivered, it is important to familiarise yourself with the various parts of the axe and then learn how to care for it.
Parts of the axe:
The axe head is usually made from high quality steel. The steel is heated to 1200 degrees and then forged. The blacksmith will use a hammer and anvil to ensure that the blade is absolutely centred and balanced before moving on to the next stage. After the blacksmith is happy with the axe head, he will begin to sharpen the cutting edge. A rough grind is used to start with, and then finer grinds are slowly introduced. The axe head is then tempered which ensures the bit of the axe is tough and can withstand heavy use, whilst the blade retains a sharp resilient edge.
Axe handle (Helve)
The axe handle or ‘helve’ as it is better known, is usually made from hickory. This particular type of wood is ideal for axe handles as it is strong and flexible with parallel fibres. The design of the axe handles has not changed and old traditions are still embraced. The handles are designed with an ergonomic shape, this is important as it allows a comfortable, strong grip which will not slip.
Leather sheath (Mask)
The finishing piece to any axe is the leather sheath or ‘mask’ which protects the cutting edge when the axe is not in use. The leather used will be of a high quality and tanned. Tanning the leather protects and improves the natural qualities of the leather and prevents it breaking down from bacteria.
- Axe eye
- Cutting edge
- Axe blade/bit
- Axe lip, or lug, secures the axe head to the handle more stably and securely
- Axe handle
- End knob, swell knob, prevents the axe from slipping out of the hands of the user.
- Poll, butt
- Axe head
Now that various parts of the axe have been covered along with their associated terminology, it is time to discuss how to care for your axe to ensure you get many years of use from your investment.
Caring for the axe head is important, if left untreated it will rust and this in turn will affect the longevity of the axe as well as the aesthetics. Most axes will have a tough life and at times will be left out in cold and wet conditions, this is what forms the rust on the axe head. To protect the axe from moisture, you simply need to apply oil every now and again. Any oil will do, most will find 3in1 oil in the garage or shed. A good suggestion is to use quick drying gun oil which can be purchased online. Simply apply a thin layer of oil over the axe head using a cloth or paintbrush. Allow to fully dry before attaching the mask. To remove any rust that has already formed, just apply a small amount of oil and give it a good scrub with some wire wool.
The axe handle is stunning straight out of the box and the goal is to keep it that way. The hickory wood will last a long time naturally, hence it being the wood of choice for most manufacturers. You can increase the longevity and appearance with some regular maintenance. The best product to use is boiled linseed oil. This can be bought at most DIY shops or online from eBay or Amazon. Do make sure it is boiled linseed oil you purchase, not raw linseed oil.
Before starting, make sure the axe handle is clean and free from dirt. Once ready, simply apply a generous layer of oil all over the handle with a cloth, rag or paintbrush. Wait a few minutes and then wipe away any excess with a clean rag or cloth. This will leave a thin protective layer of oil on the handle. Over time as you repeat this process, the layers will continue to build up. The end result is a thick protective coating which will prolong the life of the helve.
The mask will require occasional protection to prevent any shape loss, increase the water resilience and also improve appearance. As well as extending the life of the mask, you are also safeguarding against any potential injuries – the mask protects the cutting edge which should always be kept extremely sharp, ready for use. If this is exposed, it is quite likely an injury could happen. An axe is a brilliant cutting tool, but must be respected at all times as serious injuries can and do occur.
To protect the leather, there are a plethora of products available and it is always advisable to do your own research (DYOR) before making any purchases. I would recommend using beeswax as this can also be utilised for many other tasks i.e. cooking, candles & lip balm. Apply the wax to the leather using a cloth – do not apply the wax directly onto the leather. Rub the wax in thoroughly, taking some time to do so. Allow the wax to fully dry before taking another soft cloth and buffing the wax. This will give a great shine and a rich finish to the mask.
Check our our superb range of quality bushcraft axes.
It is always recommended to seek professional instruction on how to safely use your axe before carrying out tasks such as limbing, felling or splitting. Many people have lost limbs and sustained other serious injuries due to poor technique and lack of knowledge. If you can find an axe course local to your location, it may well be worth booking yourself on to it so you can build a strong, comprehensive foundation. We often find ourselves in the woods, miles away from help if something were to happen. Safety is always paramount.