Introduction: Carpenter's Hatchet Restoration and Customization
When I was visiting my father during the summer I came across this old carpenter's hatchet. A carpenter's hatchet is basically a combination of a hammer and a hatchet. It has a blunt end for hammering in nails, a cut-out for pulling nails and a sharp side for cutting. I could see that it was in quite a state of disrepair and asked my dad if I could have it. He agreed and I got excited as I could see the beauty in this old hatchet. I couldn't find much information online about this hatchet but was made in Japan and is drop forged, so I could tell it was a quality piece.
In this article I will show you the steps I took to take it from old and rusty to shiny and sharp!
Don't forget to check out the video above and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments below.
Below are links to tools and materials I used in this article. It is either the exact tool/supply or something very close.
- Old hatchet (or other tool that you want to restore)
- Rust remover - I used enviro rust, but it seems this is only available in Canada. I have linked Evaporust, which is similar, and you can also use white vinegar, it just takes longer.
- Rotary tool (a.k.a Dremel)
- Wood (for the handle) - I used some walnut and yellowheart, but any wood can be used.
- Belt Sander (I used my handheld belt sander clamped upside down on my bench)
- Wood finish (I used Watco Teak oil as I like way it looks on the wood, but any good finish can be used)
Note: The links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Step 1: Rust Removal
The first step of the process was to remove the surface rust. I grabbed my bottle of rust remover and put it into a container that was large enough for the hatchet's head. I let it sit overnight and the next day then took it out and all the rust was gone. It might take longer depending on how rusty your tool is.
Don't forget that most rust removal liquids are reusable, so pour that solution back into the bottle!
Also, if you want you can use white vinegar instead of rust remover, it just might take longer.
Step 2: Inspecting and Adjusting the Tang
I cut off the rubber handle and inspected the tang of the hatchet. It seemed to be in alright condition, but I could see that it wasn't perfectly straight.
For my plan I wanted a very straight tang, so I used my bench grinder to remove some material and make it nice and straight. I also took this opportunity to use the bench grinder to grind away any other imperfections in the tang that I could see.
Step 3: Filing Imperfections
In order to get all the little imperfections out I grabbed my trusty set of files. I used some smaller needle files in the nail pulling spot and a round file where the hatchet head meets the handle. Otherwise I just filed away with my straight file until everything was relatively smooth.
My main concern with filing was to remove any high spots. I constantly checked over the area I was filing to feel for high spots and especially on the edges. I just kept filing until things felt smooth to the touch.
Step 4: Wet Sanding
Wet sanding is a process to make metal shiny. Starting at 220 grit I wet sanded the hatchet head. I basically sanded until the entire surface had the same level of sheen to it, then I moved to the next higher grit. I used the following 400, 800, 1200, 2000 and then 3000.
The most important part about wet sanding is to make sure the paper does not go dry. I would also like to note that the water run off from wet sanding can discolor wood (and other material), so make sure you don't let it drip on anything valuable (don't ask me how I know)
Step 5: Polishing the Metal
This is the last step and the least abrasive: metal polish.
I spread some of metal polishing compound on the hatchet and then using the buffing tool (white fluffy disk) attached to my rotary tool I polished the metal. I used a slow speed at first to spread the compound around, then kicked it up a notch to really get the polishing to happen. I repeated this step twice to give it a nice shine.
Afterwards I pulled out a lint free microfiber cloth and gave it a quick buff and as you can see in the picture I now had a mirror finish!
Step 6: Rough Cutting the Wood for the Handle
I used the old rubber handle as a guide to set up my fence on the table saw. This allowed me to get cut the rough pieces of wood (in this case walnut) that would become the sides of the handle.
I wanted to add some exotic wood to the handle to spice things up a bit, so I grabbed a scrap of yellowheart I had leftover from another project.
I used the tang of the hatchet to set up the fence on my bandsaw and cut out two pieces that will become the parts that connect the two pieces of walnut.
I also sanded these down a bit, just to remove any saw marks. (but sanding is boring so I didn't include a photo)
Step 7: Attaching the Accent Strips
In order to attach the yellowheart accent strips, I used a combination of CA glue and wood glue. The CA glue is used to hold the material in place until the wood glue dries.
I sprayed corners of the yellowheart accent strips with accelerator, then applied wood glue. I put the CA glue on one of the corresponding walnut sides. I pushed them together and held them for a few moments until the CA glue cured.
I then left it for a few hours for the wood glue to cure.
Now this is the important part. I attached a piece of sandpaper to my table saw (as a super flat surface) and sanded down the accent pieces until they were flush with the tang. This will ensure that there is no gap between the tang and the sides of the handle.
Step 8: Attaching the Handle Pieces
I mixed up some 5 minute epoxy and spread it all over the handle. It ended up getting a bit messy... My word of advice, make sure you have lots of disposable rags around to clean up any epoxy. Once that stuff gets onto something (like your shirt) it is almost impossible to get off!
After I got everything in place, I added some clamps and let the epoxy cure overnight.
Step 9: Cutting Out the Handle (Part 1)
Using the old rubber handle as a guide, I traced out a line for the shape of the handle.
I then went to my bandsaw and cut along the line.
It is really important to not nick the hatchet with your bandsaw blade. It would likely hurt the blade, and give you some more sanding to do on the metal part of the hatchet (and no one likes sanding!)
Step 10: Cutting Out the Handle (Part 2)
I then turned the handle on its edge and again used the old rubber handle as a guide to make a line.
I went to the bandsaw and followed the line to cut out the shape. This is a bit more tricky than the first cut as there is no longer a flat edge on the handle. So be careful and make sure you have a solid grip on the hatchet!
Step 11: Adding Tape
In order to protect that beautiful mirror finish I made earlier, I added some masking tape over the head of the hatchet. This will give some protection during the next steps of shaping the handle.
Step 12: Shaping and Sanding the Handle
I turned to my belt sander for the shaping of the handle. Basically I just kept taking material off until it felt nice in my hand. I also periodically checked to make sure I was making a symmetrical shape and made any corrections that were necessary.
I then pulled out the my flexible sanding pad and went through the grits from 80 to 220 and hand sanded the handle.
Step 13: Applying Finish
Applying finish is always my favourite step as you can really see the wood come to life!
I like to use the teak oil on a outdoor project that might see the outdoors (like a hatchet should) as it is specifically made for outdoor use. It is a very simple finish that you wipe on, let it soak in for a few minutes and then wipe off. Repeat as many times as desired. (I usually only do two coats though, because I am anxious to finish the project!)
Step 14: Sharpening the Hatchet With a Wet Stone
Sharpening is a lot like the sanding and polishing already done on this project. You are basically sanding the tip of the hatchet, so get ready to feel deja vu!
The important part about making things sharp is getting a consistent angle. You can buy special jigs for this, or just use your hands (but this takes more training and patience).
I first took my wetstone and submerged it in water. I then pulled the edge of the hatchet across the 1000 grit side (blue) of the stone many, many, many times! I personally like to use the pull stroke for sharpening as there is less change of digging in, but I have seen people that are able to sharpen in both directions.
I then switched to the 6000 grit side (white) and repeated the procedure.
There are other instructables that go into greater detail on the sharpening process. If you have questions about this step, please use the search function and take a look at those great articles.
Step 15: Stropping the Hatchet
I used my favourite strop, a leather strop attached to some nice wood made by BeaverCraft. I added some green cutting compound and pulled the blade across it 30 times on each side. The angle for stropping is not as important as when you are using a wet stone, just make sure you are using a higher angle then what you used on the wet stone.
It is also important to note that you can only use a pull stroke on a strop. A push stroke will dig into the leather and potentially ruin your strop.
Step 16: Testing the Hatchet
It is always important to test out your projects, even if it is just a restoration.
I first grabbed a bit of scrap wood and tried to see if I could get a nice thin bit of wood to come off. This worked perfectly so I tried chopping at it. This was lots of fun!
Then I used the hammer side to drive in a nail, and then pulled it out again. Success again!!
Now that the testing step is over, it was time to move on to the last step!
Step 17: Admire!
The last step in any project is to admire it. This hatchet is going to be a welcome addition to my load out for camping as I have often found the need for a hammer and an ax while wondering the woods!
I hope you enjoyed this project. If you use this article to help restore an old tool I would love to see pictures and I am more than happy to answer any questions in the comments below.
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