Care for your tools

I am a big proponent of taking good care of one's tools. Take care of your tools and they will take care of you. For the purposes of the tools Northwest Axe Company is producing, we are generally talking about taking care of three types of materials: metal, wood, and leather. Each one of these requires a different kind of attention, and there are many time-tested, honored, and proven ways to go about taking good care of these materials. First and foremost, neglect and leaving tools in the elements are two major factors in deterioration of materials. Keep your tools inside if at all possible, and in a dry area. If you have a garage or workspace, great. If not, a closet will suffice. The main idea is to not let your tools sit out and go through cycles of wet and dry as this will accelerate the aging of the materials. I know, it's not rocket science, but I thought I'd state it all the same. Secondly, I recommend taking tools out to maintain them every so often, even if they have not been in use recently. Pick up that old item, dust it off, clean it, repeat the care process for it, and put it back. You'll gain satisfaction in knowing that when you are ready to use it again, it will be in great shape for you to do so. Again, there are a number of ways you can protect all of these materials, and here I'll share how I like to take care of mine. 

© Maria Bianco

Metal: In terms of axes, hatchets, and hammers, we are generally talking about steel. The main "enemy" here is rust, corrosion that can occur in ferrous metals such as iron and steel. Throughout history, paint has often been used to inhibit rust by keeping the surface "sealed" and therefore dry. In the case of the refurbished tools we sell at Northwest Axe Company, we do not use paint, but rather choose to clean them regularly and keep a light coat of wax on the surface of the metal. For this I typically use the same product I use as a leather preservative, Obenauf's Heavy Duty LP. This product is not only 100% natural, but is also comprised of a mixture of conditioning agents including a majority percent of beeswax. I have found a quick, thin, regular application of this product to the surface of steel to be an effective inhibitor of rust.

Wood: In terms of axes, hatchets, and hammers, we are generally talking about hickory. Hickory makes fine handles for striking tools due to it's great combination of flexibility and strength. When taken care of, a hickory handle can last a long time. When neglected or left to the elements, hickory, like any wood, can become brittle and be more likely to break. A well-oiled handle will help to keep the wood from drying out, and will also help keep debris and moisture at the surface, rather than allow it to penetrate into the fibers of the wood. As with hickory being the traditional benchmark for wooden handles for these tools, linseed oil is the traditional recommended oil for treatment of hickory. Applying a couple of thin coats, wiping off any excess, and carefully discarding your oil soaked rags will help prolong the life of your wood. Many oils would work for this job, but I have learned to love the look and smell of linseed oil, so it is my choice for oiling my hickory handles.

Leather: Dry leather will eventually crack and break. If the surface of the leather is not maintained, it will become dry and hardened. Conditioning leather products is vitally important in extending the life of your leather goods. There are many products for conditioning leather, but I typically choose to use Obenauf's Heavy Duty LP as I've been impressed by it's all natural yet effective results. It's actually a joy to work this stuff into leather, and not only can you see it's benefits almost immediately, the supple feel of the leather improves with use. And your hands are left soft and smelling good, at least for a short while.

The byproduct of all of this care is that you'll not only extend the quality and life of your tools, but you'll also have nice looking tools. Excellent functioning and nice looking tools, along with tidy workspaces, tend to make for more efficient and productive work. 

© Maria Bianco

Recommended Reading

Robert C. Birkby 
The Boy Scout Handbook 
Boy scouts of America 1990

Percy W. Blandford 
Country Craft Tools 
Algrove Publishing

Dudley Cook 
Keeping Warm with an Ax, A Woodcutter's Manual 
Universe Books 1981

Charles A. Hevrin 
The Axe and Man 
Memphis 1997

Günter Heine 
Axe Shapes Cornered 
The Tools and Trades History Society
Tools & Trades, volume 10

Kent 1997

Torgney Jansson 
Water cobled grinding of edge tools 
Tormek, Lindesberg 1993

Henry J. Kauffman 
American Axes 
Stephen Greene Press 1972

Allan Klenman 
Axe Makers of North America 
Currie's Forestgraphics Ltd 1990

Leonard Lee 
The Complete Guide to Sharpening 
The Taunton Press 1995

B. Allan Mackie 
Building With Logs 
Firefly Books 1997

R. A. Salaman 
Dictionary of Woodworking Tools 
The Taunton Press 1990

Robert Scharff 
Firewood and your chain saw 
Reston Publishing Company, 1981

Eric Sloane 
A Museum of Early American Tools 
Ballantine Books 1973

Wille Sundqvist 
Swedish Carving Techniques 
The Taunton Press 1990

Bernie Weisgerber & Brian Vachowski 
An Ax to Grind, A Practical Ax Manual 
USDA Forest Serice 1999

Glossary of forest terms 
Swedish Centre of Technical Terminology 1969

Gränsfors Bruks AB 
Safe Wood Cutters Guide 1992 
Ancient Norther European Axes 
2002

Sven-Gunnar Håkansson
From Log To Log House
Blue Moon Press