How to Fix a Pickaxe

F.R.R. Mallory

The pickaxe is an ancient and very useful tool. It is used to break up soil and rock (using the pointed end) and to shovel and remove dirt (using the flattened end). A pickaxe comes in two pieces, a head and a handle. The head remains loose and slides onto the handle for use.

Old, well-used pickaxe.

The head on most pickaxes will sit firmly on the handle, leaving an inch or two beyond the end of the head when the head is snugly in place. Once in place, the head should not dislodge while working and slide back toward the hand or head of the person wielding it. However, sometimes the pickaxe head doesn't seat well and needs to be fixed.

    Old, splayed, handle end.
  1. Remove the pickaxe head from the handle.

  2. Lightly sand (with a rasp) any deformities at the end of the handle (the end where the head seats). Often age and wear can distort the end of the handle because a pickaxe is seated by banging the end of the handle against a concrete surface to lodge it into position. This repeated slamming of the wood against concrete will, over time, splay the wood out.

  3. Insert the end of the handle into the vise so that the handle is vertical and the narrow sides of the wood are touching the vise on either side. Protect the wood from the vise biting into the wood by lining the vise grips with rubber, leather or rags.

  4. Use the drill and drill a half-inch-deep hole on either side of the head. Use a small bit--1/8th of an inch or smaller.

  5. Remove the pickaxe handle from the vise and clean away any sawdust or chips.

  6. Place the coffee can or other container in a corner where it won't be disturbed and fill the can three inches deep of linseed oil (the drill holes should be within those three inches). Stand the pickaxe handle in the linseed oil for six to eight hours. The oil will penetrate the wood which will expand the head end of the handle. Boiled and hot linseed oil is preferred over room temperature oil as it will penetrate faster.

  7. Remove the pickaxe handle from the can and wipe the entire handle down with the remaining oil. Most tool handles can be oiled to retain the finish and smoothness. The head should have expanded enough to allow a tight fit with the head.

  8. Tip

    Keep your pickaxe handle out of the weather. In hot locations the wood on tool handles will dry out quickly and the wood will degrade. With some tools this will turn into splinters. Lubricate your handles with oils (or as recommended by the manufacturer) to improve longevity. Store wooden handled tools inside. Pour the remaining linseed oil back in a screw-tight container for future use. An alternative to linseed oil may be a product like 'Chair Loc' which is a synthetic penetrant expander that works on the same principle as the oil.


    Animals may try to lick the oil and the open can is subject to tipping over. Place something heavy in front of the can.