We are fortunate here in the U.S. to still have quantities of available antique hickory shafts at very inexpensive prices. At a recent GCS trade show, I spent an hour or more in the parking lot picking through hundreds of common clubs at $9 each for shafts that can be reused in my restoration business. I have no doubt though that the day is coming when antique shafts are more expensive or can't be found at all. And so I think it is up to each hickory golfer to appreciate the wonderful resource that they have in their own bags.
The shaft is the engine of the golf club and should be properly maintained. If your clubs look dry or scaley they obviously need help. But even if you don't know how your shafts are finished, take them through this refinishing process and they will surely last a great deal longer than they would without proper care.
First, for best results, do this in coordination with changing your grip. It can be done with the grips on but is best with grips off so you can refinish the entire shaft.
Start with 60 grit sandpaper and that will make light work of removing the old finish. Don't worry about the color just make sure that anything shiny is removed. Then sand lightly with 150 grit sandpaper. And finally finish up with 0000 steel wool giving them a good buffing.
Next we are going to apply 3 or 4 coats of boiled linseed oil. Apply this with your fingers rubbing it into the wood. You should allow 4-5 hours drying time between coats depending on the humidity. If you can dry them outside in the sun you can often cut the drying time in half. These shafts are 80-100 years old and the natural moisture that was present when they were new is long gone! So linseed oil will rehydrate the shafts to a like new condition.
Following the oil, clear shellac is the best primer for your finish. It goes on easily with a brush or cellulose sponge and dries in less than an hour. Other finishes will not work well over the oil so this is an important step. Once the shellac has sealed in the oil then 2 coats of exterior polyurethane can be applied with your fingers to complete the finish.
Now your clubs are ready for sun, wind, and rain and even getting banged against each other. After you go through this process once with a shaft you will never need to do it again. Put on a fresh coat of polyurethane once or twice a year and they will be good to last another 100 years!