“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
A camping axe can be a big investment and if you are thinking about buying one then click on the link how to choose a camping axe. If you’re buying a Wettlings or Gransfors Bruks chopper you’re probably paying at least £70 so you want to make sure that it lasts. As with anything made from wood or steel your camp axe needs to be protected from the elements; the number one enemy being moisture, which can damage the axe head and wooden handle.
Most new camping axes will be supplied with a protective finish, normally wax or linseed oil on the wooden handle and oil on the axe head itself. Over time this will wear away and needs to be reapplied or you face the merciless problem of rust. The picture on the right demonstrates the tell tale signs of rust, but it’s very easy to treat your trusty survival hatchet and bring it a new lease of life.
The best way I’ve found is to use oil normally reserved for protecting my Beretta shotgun. Sparingly add a few drops of the gun oil to the axe head and use a small piece of rag to ensure it is completely covered. The oil dries swiftly so it doesn’t leave marks on the sheath or your rucksack. If you can’t get hold of gun oil just use Vaseline instead it’s probably cheaper and just as effective.
If there’s some rust already present, apply some oil and use wire wool to remove it. Wipe clean then apply oil to the whole axe head as above.
The wooden handle of your camping axe is vulnerable to moisture with the area around the eye most susceptible to rot so it’s important to develop a protective layer, a force field against rancidity if you will. This also has the benefit of ensuring the wood won’t dry out and shrink.
A great cheap way of doing this is to use household olive oil. Just apply a layer and let the wood absorb it, then repeat the process. To finish apply a thin layer of bees wax.
Other powerful people advocate using linseed oil. I don’t use this method but it’s supposed to be very effective. Firstly wipe the handle to remove any dirt. Then boil the linseed oil before applying to the handle (obviously not when it’s really hot, that would be anti-feist!) If you don’t boil the oil it won’t dry and you will be left with a slippery handle, not a good idea when chopping!
There is a big warning that comes with using linseed oil, it has the potential to cause fire so you will need to dispose of the oil soaked rags carefully. Some people burn them, whilst others leave them outside to dry out before binning them.
If you’re not intending to use your camp axe for a while it’s best to oil it and remember to never store it wet. You’re knocking on the doors of tragedy and handing him an invite to cause you pain if you do that. Look after your camping axe well and it will last you forever and you can hand it to the next generation of feisty bushcrafters. Finally keep your axe sharp. It’s easier to maintain the shape of the axe blade if you grind it regularly. The subject of axe sharpening will be covered in a separate article in the future.