Garden tools and axes can be a big investment, so knowing something about restoring wooden tool handles helps you preserve them so they age gracefully.

An already worn wooden handle for an axe or garden tool, however, usually requires a bit more effort and sometimes even restoration. In this post, we line out how to restore axe handles and broken garden tools with wood handles and how to maintain and protect a new tool.

Restoring Wooden Tool Handles and Axe Handles

For restoration projects involving rough garden tools or restoring axe handles with cracks, the best way to improve their feel is to first clean them thoroughly, removing all the dirt from both wood handles and metal tool surfaces. Next, sand the wood tool handles with sandpaper or an orbital sander, making sure the entire surface is covered as you go to remove any damage.

Once you finish sanding, use a stiff brush to remove all the sanded dust and debris, give the surface a quick wipe with a rag, then grab a clean cloth or old T-shirt and apply oil like Pure Tung Oil, cut at a 1:1 ratio with Orange Oil Natural Citrus Solvent, to the entire surface. Let it soak into the porous wood tool handle, wait about 40 minutes, then add another coat. Repeat this process until the Pure Tung Oil stops absorbing into the wood, then wipe away the excess oil and let it dry completely.

Curing for wooden tool handles takes roughly 30 days in a dry place, but you can typically use them lightly 10 to 15 days after restoration. (Placing the tool in a warm place will aid the curing of the oil.) Alternatively, if you don’t want to mix your oil with a solvent or plan on leaving the axe or garden tool in a damp place or outdoors, consider using our Outdoor Defense Oil in place of our Pure Tung Oil.

Protecting Wood Axe Handles and Garden Tools

When you purchase a new tool, you want to protect and preserve it right out of the gate. The way to properly protect your wooden handle depends on what kind of finish is already on it. If you’re dealing with oiled wooden handles, then adding a bit more oil on a regular basis can help preserve them. If the axe or tool handle has a sheen or like varnish then other oil finishes typically can’t be used overtop. If your tool handle is raw wood, you can also paint it with Real Milk Paint® to jazz up your gardening tools or color-code multiples of the same item you use for different tasks. For added protection, add Pure Tung Oil to the painted surface once dry to further preserve the wood handles.

Maintaining Garden Tools with a Wooden Handle

Wooden tool handles - Axe tool handleLet’s say you find an axe, shovel or hoe at a garage sale that’s in good shape aside from a broken handle or rust on a tool head and you want to restore it and give it a new life. Products from the Real Milk Paint Co. can help by providing an eco-friendly way to finish your axe handles or garden tools project. After you fix broken handles by cutting and shaping new ones, you can readily protect and maintain your repairs by first sanding the surface with sandpaper until smooth, then adding color with Real Milk Paint® or waterproofing with Pure Tung Oil or Outdoor Defense Oil.

Best Garden Tool Restoration Products

While many people swear by boiled linseed oil when they want to restore wood handles, this finish has its downsides. First, boiled linseed oil is processed with metal solvents to speed up its drying time, so it’s not very good for you or the environment. Next, even though it dries quickly, it also wears away quickly if you touch and use the tool handles frequently. And while boiled linseed oil does provide water resistance, better options exist if that’s your goal.

Pure Tung Oil

Pure Tung Oil, also known as chinawood oil, offers complete water resistance in an eco-friendly package. This 100% pure finishing oil penetrates wood well and quickly, and since it polymerizes via oxidation, it doesn’t dry out wood with evaporation. Made with no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), Pure Tung Oil also resists marring, acid and abrasions, making it ideal for objects like shovels that see heavy-duty usage during gardening. As a bonus, Pure Tung Oil not only helps you restore, protect and maintain wooden handles, it also offers a balance of grip vs. glide. Allowing you to handle your tools with precision when needed or let them run smoothly through the hand.

“I’ve been using the regular Half and Half for a couple of years for new axe handles. Recently I’ve been trying to save old handles when I restore the axes and the Dark Half gives it the patina of an old handle after sanding. Also gives new wood a darker color that looks great. Thanks for another great option!”

Scott M.
Used Outdoor Defense Oil to seal a mallet handle after taking off the varnish (a blacksmith told me varnish on wood is what gives you blisters) it looks and feels amazing and hardly gets warm in sunlight and it’s so waterproof, easy to work with and a little goes a long way! I highly recommend real milk paint products.
Michael C.

Outdoor Defense Oil

If you plan on leaving wooden tool handles outside year-round or throughout the gardening season, consider using Outdoor Defense Oil. Made with pine oil, zinc and 100% Pure Tung Oil, Outdoor Defense Oil helps keep handles for tools smooth and well-protected without all the complications of boiled linseed oil. Another advantage of using this finishing oil for tool handles is that it absorbs quickly and requires no mixing with solvent for complete penetration of wood handles.

Real Milk Paint®

Bring some color to your gardening by using Real Milk Paint® to restore and protect tool handles. Our range of 50+ hues gives you lots of options for matching up garden tool heads in your she-shed or customizing a wooden handle on an axe in your man cave. If you have several of the same tool you use in different areas of your landscaping, using Real Milk Paint® to color-code each one can help you save time and energy when you’re out in the garden or working in your yard.

Soapstone Sealer

When trying to maintain metal axe or tool heads, it’s essential to keep rust at bay. Our Soapstone Sealer is a combination of carnauba wax and walnut oil. This powerful duo can absorb into rusted metal tools, polymerize, and slow or even stop the rust from spreading. All while giving the metal a nice polish. It is made of natural ingredients so even when your working in your garden, you can have peace of mind. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to apply RMP soapstone sealer.

Garden tool handles can last a lifetime with the proper restoration and care, saving you time and money in the long run. Products from the Real Milk Paint Co., such as those above and our clear carnauba wax paste,  can help you with this task by providing a reliable way to preserve and protect wood handles so you’re not always replacing your garden tools.