How to Clean Your Axe of Sap and Rust

Updated on March 4, 2022 by

If you’ve ever had pine or any other sticky sap on your hands, you know just how tough it can be to get off. Water by itself won’t do it. Even soap might not be effective. Tools covered in sap – especially sap that isn’t cleaned off, and which hardens and builds up a layer over time – will gradually lose their effectiveness. Likewise, a tiny bit of rust might seem like nothing. Allow it to spread, however, and you’re putting your axe at risk of unnecessary erosion. This article will tell you how to clean your axe using a variety of methods. You can banish annoying sap and damaging rust using a few household ingredients and tools.

A well-made axe can last long after you’re gone, and still chop wood just as well as on the day that it was first made. But you do need to clean your axe to prolong its life by keeping it away from rust and removing any sticky sap and resin. Here are the ways to do that.

Cleaning Sap And Resin Off of an Axe

Paint Thinner

Paint thinner is a hydrocarbon solvent. Just like other mineral spirits, paint thinner is used to thin and remove oil and varnish finishes. It works well at removing gunk – including pine sap. If you have sap or resin on the axe head and handle, apply paint thinner. Let it soak in for a moment, then rub the offending material off.

Lighter Fluid

Slightly more volatile than paint thinner, using lighter fluid is another way to clean the sap off your axe. Many people love this solution because it’s easily accessible. Using a cotton rag, pour a bit of lighter fluid on the axe and wipe it down to remove the resin.


A more effective way of removing the gunk is to use acetone. Compared to the lighter fluid, acetone flashes off faster and emits a less toxic odor. It’s moderately expensive, but a good cleaning solvent. To use, take a cotton ball or rage and wet it with some acetone. Rub the wet cotton on the axe head or handle that is smeared with sap or resin. It should come off quick.

Cleaning Rust Off of an Axe

Soak in White Vinegar

Put the axe (or axehead) into a plastic or metal container. Make sure that the height of the container is enough to submerge the axe head. Pour the white vinegar in until it covers the axehead entirely.

Set the container aside in a safe place. Leave the axe soaking for about 24 to 36 hours (this depends on the severity of the rusting). After a few hours, you’ll notice that bits of rust are coming off. This is due to the acetic acid found in the vinegar. If possible, remove the axehead from the handle. Soaking wood in vinegar can darken the wood due to the reaction between the vinegar, metallic axehead, and wood.

Soak Axe Head in Vinegar
Clean Axe Head by Soaking in Vinegar, Source: Instructable

Use A Steel Brush or Steel Sponge

Once 24 to 36 hours have passed, get a steel brush or sponge and brush the axehead vigorously with it. The rust should come off with relative ease at this point. Don’t forget to work it into the axe eye, where the handle is fixed.

Wash With Warm Water

The scent of the vinegar is strong, so I usually remove the odor by washing the axe with warm water. Even if the smell isn’t gone after washing, it’ll work itself out.

Dry Thoroughly

After cleaning the axe, dry it thoroughly. Use a cotton or paper tower. Moisture is the reason for rusting so make sure that you dry all parts of the axehead, including the eye (if it’s just the axehead that you soaked and washed).

Use Oil To Seal the Axe Head from Moisture

To create a watertight moisture barrier and prevent the development of rust, apply oil to the whole axe head. You can use all kinds of oil for the axehead – both vegetable and mineral oils will work, although I prefer mineral oils such as gun oil or even Vaseline. You can work some linseed or olive oil into the handle, and use beeswax if you really want to seal it up.

That’s it! Your axehead is clean. Now go put it to work!

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Michael Culligan

I am a lumber worker who performs logging services for the forestry industry. I have spent years honing my skills and experience to become a well-rounded axeman. I'm exited to share my knowledge of axes and lumber tools with everyone to help.