I want to talk a little about properly maintaining some of the tools you use while recreating outdoors. Whether a hickory axe handle, walnut gunstock, or birch knife handle—there is something very alluring about the look of wood on a tool. Synthetic rifle stocks and fiberglass tool handles have sadly become more and more popular as folks opt for the perceived increase in durability. There is a common misconception that wood on a shotgun or rifle stock will not last as long as a plastic one. While it can require some extra steps to maintain, there is no reason that a quality wood stock or tool handle can’t last every bit as long as a plastic one.
Oil Is Everything To Wood
One of the most important things about maintaining wood is to make sure it is oiled and sealed annually. This will keep the wood hydrated, help repel water, and increase the resistance to cracking or chipping. Standard kitchen oils like olive, coconut, or vegetable oil will hydrate the wood, but they won’t form an impenetrable surface on the outside to protect it. Ideally, you want to use a drying oil that polymerizes (forms a hard surface) on the outside of the wood. Boiled Linseed Oil is my go-to oil for wood. It’s cheap, easy to apply, and is one of the best wood protectants out there.
Application of Boiled Linseed Oil
We’ll go through the process of applying linseed oil to an axe handle, but keep in mind that this process will work on a gunstock as well.
- First you need to remove the old oil and rough up the wood just a bit. I recommend a 180 or 200 grain sandpaper. You can use a rougher sandpaper for a tackier finished product, but it won’t feel as nice in hand. Lightly sand off the surface of the wood. You want to expose the fibers under the surface, but you shouldn’t be removing much wood.
- Clean off the dust from sanding. A dry rag will work.
- Apply the Boiled Linseed Oil. Using a lint-free rag, apply the linseed to the wood. Use a circular motion to rub it into the entire surface.
- Let the wood dry. The beauty of Boiled Linseed Oil (as opposed to raw Linseed) is that it will dry quickly. When it is almost dry (anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours depending on ambient temperature and humidity), use a clean lint-free rag to wipe off any excess oil.
- Repeat. You want to apply at least 3 coats to the wood to fully protect it.
Note: Rags coated in Linseed oil are extremely flammable and may spontaneously combust if left. Wash the rag well with dish soap and water and then put it outside spread flat on cement to let it dry. You can also put rags in a sealed metal tin soaking in water until you can dispose of them properly. I can’t overstate enough how important this step is. As Linseed Oil dries and is exposed to air, the temperature increases high enough to ignite the paint thinner inside the oil. Many house and business fires have been started from piles of rags soaked in Linseed Oil.
Enjoy The Protection
Once applied, the Linseed oil will provide up to a year’s worth of protection to the wood. If you notice the wood starting to dry out you can add another coat of the oil. That’s it. Wood will always look better than plastic and you can enjoy knowing that you are using natural materials the way that outdoorsmen have for centuries.