Tips for Oiling Your Bushcraft Tools

oil for outdoor tools

Nicole Breighner June 06, 2017

Oil is an important consideration when caring for our tools, but what oil should you use? Lets talk about it!

Almost any outdoorsman that has spent time in the woods can tell you that their knife and axe are one of their most valued possessions.  

Any material whether it is metal (such a knife blades and axes heads) or wood (such as axe handles) needs to be cared for appropriately in order to prolong the life of the item.

So how can we do that? Well, first off, there are many items to choose from. Walk into a local outdoor retail store and you will see oils, waxes, and chemicals all claiming to be the best.

So what do we pick? Well let’s make this simple - oil, just plain oil (not mentioning what type yet) can be put on metal and wood. Oil itself will help protect and treat the materials to expand their life.  

What's The Best Oil For Bushcraft Tools?

Now, the tough part - what oil?? I can tell you from years of experience it honestly does not matter! 

I have dozens of knives and axes and I, just as many, have fell for gimmicks and secret potions. I have used gun oil, linseed oil, vegetable oil, olive oil, birch oil, tallow, lard, and even motor oil. In the end though, I have come to a few truths.

Condition your metal and wood with what you have!

Something is better than nothing and throughout all the oils listed above I can't say that one has beat out the next.  

All of the oils have stopped blades from rusting and stopped wood from cracking and drying.

Now of course, there is the old internet nonsense of "the oil is going to go rancid,” "you can't use oil that isn't food grade if you are cutting food," and "the atomic compound of viper 7000 steel molecules will break down at the .00002 percentile.”  

My answer to that is use your tools! They are tools and they are intended to be used. I'm not smothering my baked potato in motor oil or butchering a deer while I squirt gun oil onto the knife, but here is what I do - I use certain oils when I am home and certain oils in the field.  

It’s the most logical way of thinking of it. I don't want to have to carry anything extra that I don't have to when going out so I use what nature provides to me.

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What's The Best Oil To Use In The Wilderness?

When I'm in the field birch oil is my go to. I can render it from tree bark and have it for use a short time later. Second, on the list for field use, is tallow/lard.

Normally, I have bacon, sausage or red meat with me so securing some extra fat isn't a problem. Birch oil, though, is much better for use on axe handles than tallow/lard.

It seems to penetrate better and hold up better to inclement weather, but again if you don't have it, tallow/lard works fine.

What's the Best Oil To Use When You're At Home?

When I am home, I typically use boiled linseed oil on my axe handles. It is very clean and penetrates well. For my axe heads and blades I typically dip them in motor oil that I have at my shop.

It’s easy and convenient and has not yet caused me a problem. If I had to pick a second choice, it would be tallow, it works wonderful for metal!

So that’s it - easy as can be! Honestly folks, this isn't rocket science. Don't over complicate the process.

Worry about things that matter - fire building, hunting, shelter building, etc. You will be much further along and better off.

Keep you tools in great shape with our collection of outdoor gear care items!