Restore a Vintage Axe

Transform your vintage axe into a restored and ready-to-use tool.


Excerpted from American Axe by Brett McLeod. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.

Anyone can whip out their credit card and buy a new axe, but “certi­fied” axe junkies face uncontrollable excitement when they spot a dark corner at the flea market ­filled with rusty, broken-handled axes. This, my friends, is the intersection of opportunity and euphoria. Once you’ve made the deal or have struck rusty gold digging at an old barn site, it’s time to start the restoration. Since the axe you start with is likely to be covered with a thick coat of rust, treat it as if you’re an archeologist, peeling back the layers of oxidation without damaging the steel (including any etchings) below. In a matter of hours, most axes can be transformed back into a work axe that’s ready for another century of use — or simply a mantel piece to be admired.

Finding Vintage Axes to Restore

Seeking out old axes and restoring them is well worth your time. It’s estimated that from 1850 to 1950, more than 10 million felling axes were produced by hundreds of different axe manufacturers. During this period, manufacturers had easy access to quality steel, and competition among forges meant the quality of axes produced remains unprecedented to this day. Relatively few high-quality felling axes are still made, but barns and basements continue to be great places to ­find a quality vintage axe just begging for a second chance.


Finding a vintage axe to restore is easy if you know what to look for. Don’t get hung up on the state of the handle. In most cases, the old handle will be brittle, cracked, or rotted near the eye, and you’ll need to replace it. Instead, focus on ­finding a salvageable axe head.

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