Despite what people say online you can absolutely oil your axe handle with RAW Linseed or Tung oil. The process is different from using Boiled Linseed Oil (BLO), and it takes longer to dry – but there are also some real advantages.
I still use BLO for many handles – but I find myself switching to RAW for a lot of my new axe builds and restorations.
I’m going to focus on linseed oil, but the principles are the same for Tung oil as well.
Raw vs Boiled Linseed Oils
Raw linseed oil (aka flaxseed oil), is a natural and food-safe hardening oil. Linseed oil will slowly polymerize when exposed to oxygen, creating a hard and robust finish in wood. The slow drying time allows the oil to penetrate deep into the wood before hardening.
Because of the slow dry times, more oil is needed to fully saturate the wood and build up to the surface. Only once the handle is “full” will you start to build up an exterior protective coating. This “filling up” is what takes the most time with raw linseed oil.
Boiled linseed oil (BLO) is not actually boiled but has chemical agents mixed into the linseed oil to greatly speed up the drying and polymerization process. Because the oil hardens quickly, it doesn’t have time to penetrate deeply into the wood. So it will harden near the wood’s surface, and a strong exterior coating can be built up much quicker.
Wear rubber gloves when you apply BLO, or the chemicals can absorb into your skin.
How to Choose Between Raw and Boiled
Boiled linseed oil has long been the industry standard and for good reason. It’s faster, cheaper, and effective. If you just bought a decent axe, it likely came with BLO on it already, so most users can just stick with it.
Get an excellent finish with boiled linseed oil following these instructions.
The main reasons to switch to RAW linseed oil are to avoid chemicals on your hands and tools, or if you need extra penetration.
Raw Oil Offers Versatility & Safety
Raw linseed oil should be considered if you are frequently oiling tools, furniture, and other things all around the house or shop. Having one oil you can use on all surfaces and tools regardless of use is convenient.
I feel better about getting it on my hands and working with it regularly – because I don’t need to care as much about chemical transfer to other tools or touching my face etc.
This also makes it great for knives or hunting/bushcraft axes that might be used for processing game or food prep.
Vintage Handles can Benefit from Raw Oil
I will use raw oil on dry vintage handles to better rejuvenate the wood, as RAW linseed oil will soak much deeper and more thoroughly.
I have also had vintage handles have their logos washed away when BLO was applied. It felt like the chemical agents in the oil weakened the paint (But I have nothing to back that up).
How to Oil a Handle with Raw Linseed Oil
The process is different from using boiled linseed oil, as you have to account for the saturation. It’s best if you have more time to “tend” to the handle on the first day, but this process will be an ongoing effort.
What you will need:
- Raw Linseed Oil (32oz / 1L)
- Sandpaper (100 grit + optional 200 grit)
- Lint-free cloths (Shop Towels)
Many big-box hardware stores don’t carry RAW linseed oil, so look local – but you may need to use amazon. Brand doesn’t matter.This is just a hobby, but it supports the site if you use the affiliate link above.
Step 1: Clean & Sand the Handle
Before getting started, you need to make sure your handle is prepped.
Any varnish on the handle needs to be removed before you can oil the handle. It’s not hard, and I have instructions here. Or if it’s an old handle, clean off any dirt or sap. This can often just be done by sanding.
Sanding the handle
Once the handle is clean, sand it to a smooth finish with at least 100 grit sandpaper. I typically follow up with 220 grit as well.
Alternatively, you can use a cabinet scraper to get a smooth finish, with no sanding required. I have started using these much more frequently (amazon).
Step 2: Fully Saturate the Handle
Pour or wipe the raw oil onto the wood – keeping it as thick as possible. Then wait while it gets absorbed into the wood (about 15 min).
Once the outside of the handle starts to look dry, add more oil. Repeat this process as many times as you can throughout the day, until the oil stops being absorbed. You can spread this over a few days – but it’s best to load the wood with oil on the first day.
Tip: Heat will make the oil soak up faster, so it’s best if you can do this in the sun on a warm day – or near a heat source (like a fireplace).
Rotating the Axe
It can help to pool the oil evenly on the handle if you can position the axe in different directions. I just stick the axe in a log, which allows me to alternate sides and turn it in any direction.
Soak the End Grain
Pay special attention to soaking both ends of the handle. The end grain of the wood will act like straws, pulling oil deep into the handle from either end.
Step 3. Let the Handle Dry for a Couple of Days
Once the oil stops soaking in – wipe the excess off the exterior of the handle and then let the axe sit for a day or two to continue absorbing and drying.
It will take weeks for all the oil to truly dry within the wood, but it should be mostly dry to the touch within a couple of days.
Do a Second Soak
After one good soaking the axe is oiled and can be used as needed.
However, you can (and should) try another “heavy” oiling session like on the first day- but this time will go much quicker. This will get the oil closer to the surface and give more protection from moisture and general use.
Give the axe another few days to dry – and it will be ready to put to work.
Step 4: Maintain and Build
Going forward – as you use the axe, wipe a thin layer of oil with a rag whenever you get the chance. Could be once a week, once a month, or just whenever it makes sense.
This will help build up a strong exterior coating.
Consider Axe Wax
Axe wax can be a quick way to add external protection after your handle is full of oil – and most are also natural and food safe.
If I missed something or you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment below. I do my best to respond to everyone.
About the author:
I’m just a guy who likes axes – as a tool, the craft of restoring them, and the history. I got tired of only finding crappy websites, so I set out to build a better one myself.
Jim Bell. – Owner, Creator