It took my many years to finally arrive at a very simple but effective system for oiling axe handles. I'm pleased to say that Author Dudley Cook came to the same conclusion and recommends pretty much the same as I do in The Axe Book. This is the first of a series I hope to continue of super accessible bullet point videos called 2:00 Minute Technique. The idea is to deliver very useful information in two minutes or less. Of course being rather thorough most of the time, most subjects will be covered in more depth as well, but these will be quick start guides with enough information to get to work. I'm also linking the long version of oiling tool handles where I talk about drying v.s. non drying oils and geeky stuff like that.
This system penetrates the handle deeply. How deeply I don't know as I haven't sliced open a handle to find out yet, but it has to be pretty deep considering all the oil some handles are capable of sopping up. It probably builds up especially a lot in the outer rind of the handle wood. I think of it as replacing water that was once in the living tree. As long as you use a good drying oil, like linseed, it will cure to a tough plastic like substance, the same stuff oil paints are made of. I use raw oil because it has a slower curing time allowing for deeper penetration before the oil on the surface seals off the pores. The other reason I use raw is because the product known as boiled linseed oil is not boiled linseed oil at all, but rather a compound containing solvents and toxic metals to the end of decreasing curing time. I've actually gone now to using food grade flax oil only (same as linseed oil, but food grade is usually called flax oil). The last can of "pure raw linseed oil" I got smells of solvents, so I just found the cheapest flax oil I could on amazon and ordered that.
There is concern among some that raw linseed will never cure enough and will remain sticky. I've been using it on my handles for a long time and it cures out plenty well. Whether it will cure as hard and tough by comparison to boiled I'm not sure, but it's definitely more than adequate. I can assure you of that.
I see "oil finish" recommended a lot, like Watco or Danish Oil Finish. As far as I know, they are all cut with solvents and dry quickly. If part of the liquid that soaks into your handle is solvent, then when that solvent evaporates it would seem that using these preparations would leave less total oil in your handle with each coat, penetrating or not. Personally I avoid working with solvents because they give me heartburn every damn time. Using food grade oil is great for me since I'm applying it over and over again all day, I can keep it in the house near the woodstove for faster curing and don't have to put on gloves or even wash my hands if I don't want to. I usually just wipe off the excess oil and get on with my business.
Once the handle is thoroughly penetrated the oil will not soak in anymore. If you get tired of putting oil on, or don't want to use so much oil, I think you could stop for a while and let the oil cure a bit before continuing. Eventually, you can start to build up coats as a surface finish one thin layer at a time. Just apply the layers very thinnly and allow to cure to the touch before adding another. Building up a surface finish is not a necessary step, but it looks nice and insures the handle is completely sealed. I tend to just add a thin coat once or twice a year when I have an oily rag. Polish comes with use. There is probably a way to fake it by buffing etc. I wouldn't know. I'd feel like a dumbass sitting around trying to make my tools look like I use them when I could just be using a tool instead.
This system takes a lot of oil and a lot of time and may be overkill for some of your handles, but give it a try on something and I think you'll like it. The knife handle below is deeply saturated and turned out awesome. Repeated oilings took that porous, soft birch handle and made it into something altogether different.
And here is the long version.