Care for your Camp Axe
Credit: Kevin Callan

My New Year’s resolution was to take better care of my camp gear.

I shouldn’t admit this — but I’m the worst when it comes to taking care of camp gadgets. I love purchasing them and using them. However, when it comes to keeping things looking their best, I definitely fall short. Take my axes for example. Following my latest winter trip, I left both my Gransfors Bruks axes — a small splitting maul and a forester axe — in the basement without wiping them down with a dry cloth. They both rusted.

I probably would have left them alone for my next trip. After all, they’d still cut wood with or without a coating of rust. One of my trip partners, however, is a fanatic when it comes to keeping things clean and shinny. So, to eliminate the barrage of condemnations of not caring for my axes, I decided to clean them up prior to the trip.

Google “removing surface rust” and you’ll get an extensive list of toxic chemicals, organic potions and oddball treatments. Too many, actually — and they all claim to be the best one for the job, ranging from a weird form of electrolysis to rubbing the rust off with a salted potato. I gathered some of the top choices and spent the weekend experimenting like a pre-teen geek would do with a new chemistry set.

Here’s what worked best:

Baking Soda: This product is used for almost anything. You can brush your teeth with it, battle stinky odours in the fridge or your underarms, cure heartburn, use as a shampoo — or take rust off your axe head. Add water to make a paste and scrub it with an old toothbrush.

Potato: Slice the spud in half and dip the ends in salt, dish soap or baking soda. Apply the soaked end to the surface rust and rub. Continue to slice and apply the salt, dish soap or baking soda until the rust is removed. It’s thought that the potato contains oxalic acid, which works at removing the rust. However, some experts claim that’s not the case at all. I’m not sure who to believe, but it works.

Vinegar: Rust comes in many different forms, but the most common is a build-up of iron oxides — when the metal is exposed to moisture and becomes oxidized. The vinegar reacts with the rust to dissolve it off the metal.

Salt & Lime: This method works similar to vinegar. Coat the axe head with salt and then juice a lime — or lemon — over top. Let it set for two to three hours before trying to scrub the rust off.

Chemicals: There are many brands out there that work well. CLR is one of the most common. Such chemicals are typically made of phosphoric or oxalic acid, which can be harmful to your skin — so make sure to wear rubber gloves.

WD-40: This is generally used for water displacement. Basically, it takes the squeak out of things and does an OK job at lubricating things. Not sure why then it works so well at removing surface rust — but it was one of the best items I experimented with.

Coca-Cola: It just doesn’t seem right to use this refreshing drink to remove rust from your axe head — but it works amazingly well. Now, I’m not sure I want to drink it anymore. It worked just as well as all the other chemicals.

Scrubbers: I used a variety of products to scrub the rust off once I coated or soaked the axe head. Steel wool worked, but I preferred using copper wool since it didn’t scratch the surface of the metal as much. A scouring pad didn’t work that well but my barbecue brush did. However, the most effective, by a long shot, was aluminum foil. It was amazing how this worked. A simple spray of WD-40 or a quick rub down with a sliced potato, followed by working the surface with a ball of tinfoil, removed the rust completely in a matter of minutes.

Final Touches: I cleaned up the axes’ wooden handles by lightly sanding them with fine sandpaper and then applying a think coat of Linseed Oil. Make sure you don’t use too much or it will get sticky and give you blisters on your hands. Also, make sure to dispose of the cloth soaked in Linseed Oil outside. This solvent is combustible and you could easily start a fire by tossing it in your kitchen trashcan.

Watch the Video Here:

Kevin Callan teaches camp-axe care

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