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Hopefully some of y'all caught the "Rocky and Bullwinkle" reference, if not, I blame society... This is a cautionary tale of what not to do when you're refinishing/re-halfting a vintage axe head.

Before we get too far into it, let me give you a little backstory if I may? If I don't may, go ahead and skip on to step one, your prerogative.

So after completing my first Axe restoration/modification: https://www.instructables.com/id/AxHatchet-Restorat...


I found myself bitten squarely by the "axe bug" and I was determined to find myself some rusty gold and try my hand at a full restoration, knob to bit. After about a week or so of cruising the bay (ebay) I managed to come by a lot of three vintage heads under 20.00USD shipped and took a chance.

One was out of contention straight away, the poll was mushroomed all to H-E-(Double hockey sticks) and the eye was deformed something fierce, leaving me with two heads upon which to work my magic.

One was a little roofers axe, nothing to write home about, but in decent enough shape to fool around with for a spell. The other had a little some-um, some-um that caught my eye and whispered, "Hey fella, let's you and me have some fun."

Three guesses which head I chose to take on home to momma.

Step 1: "In the Beginning There Was Rust"

So, this step is really where the parade of errors marshaled before the dawn. See, just as every journey begins with a single step, one great bungling mess begins with one poor decision, compounded by another and so on and so fourth...

First, I'd never tackled rust that was this pervasive! I mean, if it were frosting you'd of been liable to get diabetes just looking at it, type 2 for sure...

Secondly: There was paint (more likely powder-coat) on the cheeks beneath the rusted bits.

Third: I'd bought it on-line... *Remember what I said about the problems beginning in this step, scratch that... Buying vintage sight (relatively) un-seen was my first mistake the rest were just gravy...

Fourth: There was a 1-2mm chip in the bit that I couldn't see in the photos...

"Caveat Emptor" Loosely translated: "I am a moron"

Despite not having the proper tools on hand: Bastard file, sandblaster, belt sander, something delightfully caustic with which to strip this little beastie down to bare metal etc. I was determined that patience. perseverance and good ol' fashion elbow-grease would see me through... Yeah, not so much...

Pro tip: Honest evaluation of a project with clearly defined goals helps but knowing when to say when is important too.

Step 2: Gloves Would Have Been a Wise Choice. Would Have Been...

So I took the two heads I'd decided were worth the effort (in retrospect, clearly not...) and gave them a vinegar bath. *Evidently distilled white vinegar breaks down rust, who knew? Well, a lot people actually, but was news to me. Moving on...

I used a 2 liter pop bottle I gave the ol' Antoinette as I didn't want to suffuse any of my good buckets with vinegar smell. Worked fine, allowing me to fully immerse both heads without incident. I left the concoction out on the porch to marinate for a few days, and took a wire brush to them there after. You can see just how much of the rust came away, score.

After the brushing came the scraping, sanding and buffing which took forever! I really should have worn gloves, but I was excited to get things started, really started. I mean, hands on and all that. I was too impatient and wound up with bleeding cuticles and hands that smelled of fish & crisps... Not my finest hour.

What's worse, I thought to tackle the chip in the blade with sandpaper, sandpaper! I don't know what I was thinking, but trust me; get a bastard file. Took me two nights of sanding away before I gave up and bought one. Probably the best 8.00USD I ever spent! Granted the project was a flop, but it got me to the end result that much faster so I view it as a good investment regardless.

Using the file I was able to get the chip mostly under control (again, me being lazy) I knew where the chip had been and if I tried I knew that I could find that spot again and again because I hadn't taken the time to properly see to it's demise. Instead, I labeled it "good enough" and soldiered on...

Authors note: Evidently my own self-worth wasn't up to snuff durring this particular project. After all, I wasn't making this for anyone else... and yet I settled for good enough? Bottom line: never settle.

Step 3: Eh.... Might As Well.

Since I'd already taken the head this far and, knowing that I could never get the blade geometry where I would want it, having half-@$$-ed it with the chip in the bit I decided to haft it. Why? I don't know, just seemed like the thing to do at the time...

Of course, I checked out my local big box stores to no avail. All they had in stock were handles for 4-5lbs heads and splitting mauls. What's a boy to do? Ebay, of course! To hell with grain orientation or heartwood incursion. Why not take a shot in the dark? As you might have guessed, Epic fail!

The handle arrived promptly from a reputable manufacture right here in the good ol' US of A (Tennessee more specifically). A tennessee hickory handle for under 20.00USD shipped, yes please. Besides, so what if it's not perfect, neither am I, right? (obviously wrong, for I am awesome... Sometimes...)

So with the halft in hand and the head kinda sorta there I gave it a quick test fit. "Darn it all ta heck!" the diameter of the eye is greater then that of the haft (despite having double checked the measurements prior to ordering...). Well, now what? I can send it back for an additional 6.00USD and wait another few days for a replacement that may or may not work or I can make due with what I've got. I mean, nothing else about this build has been perfect...

I don't know what compelled me to do it, but I took that wedge and hammered it home despite there being at least a 2mm gap between the haft and the eye... Did wedge splay things out to the extent that it looks like a chopper? No doubt. But I know in my heart that this axe is a piece of excrement that will most assuredly fail with mild to moderate use. What's more, is that because it looks passable, it's not only a poor quality tool but a potentially dangerous one ta boot... I've been keeping it tucked away in the corner of shame till I can stomach working on it again...

Addendum: Of course, because I was so frustrated with it, I never bothered to oil it or apply any fix'n wax to stave off any new rust...

"Oh bother..."

Step 4: Lessons Learned

Actually, though this was really frustrating while I was living though it and for quite a spell there after I did come away with a few words of wisdom to share:

You cannot buy everything off ebay! There will always be the need for shops where you can hold an item in your hands and know it's worth before you bring it home.

Just because you abandon a project doesn't mean you can't pick it back up later. Be sure to ensure it's taken care of, just in case.

Always have the right tools for the job. Just because you can make something work, doesn't mean it's always worth it to do so. Consider the opportunity costs before committing to any particular course of action.

Know when to say when, and when not to. There were any number of times I could have stopped this project, and should have, but I was committed to making poor decisions...

You can't solve every problem with elbow grease.

Wear gloves!

Set realistic goals and time tables. even if you can only commit so much time at any given time make sure that the tasks you assign yourself are realistic and accomplishable. If you start to fall behind, don't worry or rush it. Reevaluate your time table and continue.

Don't settle for good enough. If you're making something for yourself it should be perfect in your eyes. Will that mean it's actually perfect? Of course not! But don't sell yourself short by settling for good enough. You deserve more.

The lessons taken from this project helped me to create this one: https://www.instructables.com/id/An-Heirloom-Apart...


Just so you know I wasn't blowing smoke, lol. I hope you enjoyed the read. I always enjoy the writing. Take from this what you will and please don't forget to vote, favorite, follow and comment. I look forward to hearing from you all, cheers!

Addendum 11/10/15: In writing this instructable; between editing it on my phone, ipad and laptop computer I've had to alter formatting, retype titles (over and over) and recheck the posted links like 15 times! making this intructable just as much an epic fail as the axe itself! Lesson learned; type on what was meant to be typed on! Take pictures with the rest, lol. Cheers ya'll and happy making!

<p>Good read and good job. I think you did ok with the tools you had. You are correct,though having the right tool is best. </p>
<p>It`s good to know someone else has the habits that I do....Keep making mistakes ,shows we are human after all.</p><p>Great read ,ta</p>
<p>It`s good to know someone else has the habits that I do....Keep making mistakes ,shows we are human after all.</p><p>Great read ,ta</p>
<p>It`s good to know someone else has the habits that I do....Keep making mistakes ,shows we are human after all.</p><p>Great read ,ta</p>
I see the short comings you mention but it's really not too bad overall. I get that your going for perfection but in a survival situation that axe would be fine. Heck if you put a better fit handle on there and a little oil to stop rust it would be a high functioning tool.<br><br>It may be a total different direction that you are trying to go but a small bench grinder with a wire wheel on one side and a grinding stone on the other may be a good investment for your hobby. It would take what you spent hours on down to mere minutes. Harbor freight has some decent cheap ones and eBay does as well. Plus auctions and estate sales often have great stuff like that also. Might even find more tools to restore there.<br><br>For the ible, nice read and good pics. I've tried to use my phone and computer to work on stuff and it has messed me up too. Just got to plow on. Good luck with the restores.
<p>hahaha! I enjoyed the read mate! We all have had projects that end up like that. </p><p>As for the ebay find, it's a good axe! Old Plumb tools are always worth the effort. </p>
Hey, I'm honored that this was featured, but it looks as though there might have been some formatting errors and such during the upload. I'll be sure and try and edit in the next few days as I'm able. In the mean time, I think you get the jist. Cheers y'all.

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Bio: For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider ... More »
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