Introduction: Solid Back Shovel Restoration

About: I am a hard working individual. I am into electronics and mechanics mainly but can get into anything if it has to do with making our lives easier or more enjoyable.

One day I received a shovel without its handle and two new handles. My mother said that my Grandma (her mom) would really like for it to be re-handled. I can remember this shovel from when I used to hang out with my grandparents when I was young. It was my Grandma's favorite shovel.

So, as usual I got a little carried away, and it has probably taken longer to complete than she expected it to.

Well, that makes two of us because it took entirely longer to finish than I expected it to. Between work and other distractions it kinda got put on the back burner at times but I've finally got it ready for use again and I hope she likes what I've done to give the shovel many more years of service.

Step 1: Assess the Situation

If you ever find yourself in this situation, you need to assess it before moving further. The shovel I got handed along with two new handles was very strange to me at first glance. I always remember her having this shovel around but I never really looked at it. You see a shovel and say,"hey, there's a shovel". You start restoring things and you start noticing things.

At first I thought someone had made this elaborate patch on the back section that had started rusting away...

Then I realized it was an older solid back style shovel originally and the entire back had rusted through completely. Rust and dirt had accumulated under the sheet metal and started to pry up the sheet metal at the weld while the rest of the metal around the rusted out hole got beat in from use.

Someone had obviously re-handled this before because there were grinder marks around the rivet holes and there were two holes. I've really only seen store bought shovels with one rivet but then again I haven't came across too many different shovels in my lifetime. I'm definitely no shovel expert but someone had definitely gone after some rivets with a grinder before. I'm assuming it was my Grandpa.

The front lip was worn cookie toothed with one side higher than the other. It is kind of a curious wear pattern that begs the question: How??

There was no way around it. This shovel has seen some things.

Step 2: Remove the Damage

There was no turning back at this point and I figured any job worth doing was worth doing to the best of my ability. I've never attempted to re-handle a shovel or larger item like this before so I was a bit intimidated. I'm pretty comfortable with metal though.

Then what you see in the pictures happened.

I began cutting around the weld with light cuts using my cut off wheel in an angle grinder. I then got underneath the rusted pieces and worked the pieces with a hammer and chisel to gently pry up them up. Then I would keep lightly cutting, chisel, cut, and so on until the pieces basically broke or fell off. I was careful to use vice grips when grabbing these pieces as they were either very hot or sharp. Once the pieces were removed, they revealed a lot of rust and rust related matter, dirt, etc.

I finished up doing a light grinding on the weld, careful not to completely remove it, but to remove the burrs and sharp edges for the next step.

Step 3: Make Template and Cut Out Replacement Piece

The whole reason I left the weld in place is so that I could make a template of what was originally there, seeing as it was almost completely rust at this point.

One decent way to make a template of something like this is to use tape. It sticks on the surface allowing you to trace the outline of what you want to replicate. This method is especially useful for replicating oddly shaped pieces like this one without the need for any measurement. If your application includes drilling holes within the cut this method can also be slick because you can mark the location of the holes as well. Once all the marking is done, just remove the tape and stick it on your donor material. It now provides exactly where to cut to and if you should have holes to drill, you can center those and punch them. When you get done you just remove the tape and continue about your business.

As for material, I eyeballed the thickness of one of the pieces removed that was still the original thickness close to the weld and did the same with a scrap piece of sheet metal that in its former life was a cleaning fan blade in a combine. I grabbed my micrometer to check, and it turns out I was .002 off. So that means my eyes are accurate to within .002 haha...not hardly. I think I just got lucky with this one.

In my case I had to add in a section on top of the template using the existing bit that went up into the handle. It was still in good shape so I just aligned it with respect to my template in the center and roughly drew around it. Once that was done it was a matter of cutting it out. I probably could've carefully cut it out really close with a jigsaw and a metal blade, but I grabbed my cutoff wheel and just roughed it out. I cleaned up the rough piece with the bench grinder and made sure both sections fit pretty closely to how they needed to on the shovel.

Step 4: Form the Piece to Fit

So this process went as sort of a trial and error. I don't have any special sheet metal forming tools so I used a pin that I clamped in my vice and a hammer. All I did was study how the pieces fit initially and tried my best to replicate what that looked like in the new piece. It was difficult because of all the curving going in different ways but I finally managed to get there (I made some notes on the pictures in this step for clarification on the bends so be sure to check those out).

Now that I had my piece cut out, I cleaned it up and also ground the existing weld off the shovel so that I could begin forming and fitting.

I started with section extending into the handle because it had the most complicated bends to achieve. First it was bent side to side, rounded with the the handle. It was also bent into the handle section meaning along the side to side bend, it also curved upward. Then it was bent in transition to the body of the piece. I worked on all those bends in that order using the pin I clamped in the vice as a buck. Working slowly I also checked fitment often.

Once I had that section done, it was a matter of working the body of the piece out. This piece was, in essence, a dome shape. From the transition, it curved down to the shovel on all sides. Initially, I made hasty bends to get a close fit but later on I realized that just made my job harder. I ended up working in the gap of the vice jaws to beat a dome shape into the piece. This part was a bit tricky because I was basically working in reverse to what I wanted. I wanted to bend the sides down to the shovel, but instead, I was working the middle upward, which caused the sides to curve downward. Its confusing and difficult to describe, but the pictures should help. When doing something like this, you want to focus on the piece as a whole or at the very least in whole sections. If you just hammer without a plan it can get frustrating quickly.

Towards the end of it, I made slight adjustments to the edges and made sure it all fit nicely. As I stated in one of the notes in the pictures, I designed a less than needed bend into the transition so that it would create about an 1/8" gap in the area where the body of the patch meets the shovel. My thinking was that when I clamped it down to weld it, it would exert pressure to keep the section that extends into the handle tight to that handle area and out of the way of the handle itself when installed. The second and third to last picture in this step shows the final fitment of the piece after I cleaned up the scratches from hammering off of it with a 60 grit flapper wheel.

Step 5: Clean the Parts Up

After I had the replacement piece formed, I decided that I needed to protect the inside from continuing to rust. I did a quick light pass with a grinder then stuck it in the sand blast cabinet to get all the rust pits clean.

The blast cabinet just wasn't doing it so I had to work harder with a grinder, hammer and chisel, steel brush, etc. to get all the rust out of there. Then it went back into the blast cabinet again. This process repeated itself about 3 or 4 times before I finally got it down to bare metal or really close to acceptable. I also took this time as an opportunity to straighten out the cookie toothed cutting edge to make it look more symmetrical.

Now watch, she won't like the way it works now haha.

Finally after all that, there were some deep grinder marks from the previous re-handle/rust removal, so I smoothed them all out with a 60 grit flapper wheel.

Step 6: Weld Through Primer

Now clean, I gave the parts a coating of weld through primer on the inside of what was to be welded. This was because I was unsure if I could get paint down in there after it was all welded together.

Step 7: Fit to Handle

I took this opportunity, before welding the replacement piece to the shovel, to fit one of the handles I was given to the shovel because I could see in the back of it and how far it was extending inside the shovel.

One of the handles was a hoe handle that was straight. The other handle had the curve that would follow the shovel correctly, but I'm assuming it was made for a full size shovel because it was way too large to fit the shovel I had.

I decided to make it fit by chiseling it down to the diameter I needed. This would also create a shoulder that the top of the shovel could fit flush against when fully seated in the taper.

I measured out the length I needed to make the reduction in diameter then marked it with tape. I then just worked around the handle using a chisel and light cuts to basically whittle it down to size. After I got close, I snuck up on the final size using a bastard file. This took some patience and more trial and error fitment.

If you'll notice in the first picture the shovel handle area is stretched out so that the gap tapers from the spade to the widest gap at the top of the handle section. I made my handle area fit this snugly while it was stretched out, then later I closed it up in the vice so that when the final seating was done, it would have to squeeze on very tightly. I'm not sure if this gap should be tight when seated on the handle or if a gap left is okay as long as its tight. I've seen them both ways I'm just not sure which way is proper.

In this handle they make a cut so that the end can squeeze down tightly in the the neck of the handle when seated. In my handle there was a crack formed at the very end of that cut. In my shovel it doesn't require so much squeeze down in the end of the handle area so I decided to cut a shim to fit the gap exactly and glue that shim in there as a reinforcement to keep the crack from continuing any further. I cut the shim to thickness and paying attention to grain orientation, I made the length of the shim as long as the gap in the cut after I squeezed it tightly together to ensure it would still squeeze together properly. Once the glue was dry, I trimmed it to width with a hack saw and tuned the cut with a bastard file.

Doing this probably wasn't necessary, I just didn't trust it.

Step 8: Remove the Factory Coating and Sand

At this point the sticker on the handle was bugging me and so I ripped it off. The sticker left a section in the finish that was a different color than the rest of the handle in the perfect outline of said sticker. At this point I would have to seal the section I just formed for the handle and rather than live with the tanlines in the finish, I decided to remove the other finish and start over. I was confident I could get a smoother, better looking finish with my polyurethane method than what they had put on there so I started removing the stock finish with a bastard file in kind of a spoke shave fashion. It actually worked quite well but plugged every so often. I would just clean it out with a file brush and continue to work until I got sawdust. The sharp edges removed the finish quickly.

I finally got down to the wood handle and decided I could do some repair work while I was at it. I filled the staple holes at the end with sawdust and wood glue as a filler. Those holes always seem to gnaw at your palm if you leave them.

After the glue dried, I started working through the grits of sand paper 80, 100, 150, and finally 220 in preparation for the finish.

Step 9: Make Rivets Out of Pure Stuborness

I needed a break from the handle and I started thinking about how I was going to hold the shovel on there after it was seated.

Here are the guidelines and my thought process to this step:

  • I wanted to use rivets because, in my opinion, bolts just don't look professional or as clean in this application and they present a snag hazard.
  • The handle I got only came with one rivet - - I have two holes in my shovel.
  • The supplied rivet was too small in diameter (around 3/16") as compared to the holes that were made in my shovel(around 1/4" slightly larger).
  • If I were to source new "application correct" rivets they would still be too small in diameter and probably cost too much for what they really are.
  • I could actually oversize the rivets and go with a 5/16" size to clean up the holes a bit to get a tighter fit.

Since nothing was lining up for me, I just got fed up and decided to make my own rivets out of 1/4" rod. I'm not sure of the actual make up of this rod as I found it in the scrap bin, although it seemed to be a bit stronger than mild steel.

Using the first picture in this step as what I wanted as kind of a guideline, I found a buck that I could hammer against. Originally, I thought I could take the end of the rod, heat it up and then beat on the cold end into the half drilled hole in the buck and it would just form a nice little button on the end of it. That failed gloriously so I abandoned the idea. All it ended up doing was bending over the end; there needed to be more support.

Next I tried heating the rod up to cherry, and then with vice grips, stick the rod through a 1/4" hole in the buck and beat down until I formed the head of the rivet. This worked like a charm, but the vice grips kind of chewed up the rivet a bit. I figure that is just more "holdabilty" once installed. I got nice flat heads out of the process.

Once I had a rivet formed I would just cut off a section of the rod longer than I needed (around 2.5") and then on to the next. I only did the two that I needed. The last picture in this step is just a comparison of 5/16", 1/4", and 3/16" sizes next to each other, respectively. I'm pretty happy with the 1/4" size.

Step 10: Personalization

I had already made it this far and I knew I wanted to do some sort of subtle touch to make this special for my Grandma because I was already taking a long time on it when she was probably just expecting me to rehandle it as is.

I considered doing some sort of wood inlay in the handle which I'm still playing around with a cool idea for the future. At this time I don't have that great of a hardwood selection so I went a different direction. My idea was to make a band around the very top of the handle section on the shovel and punch her nickname into it with letter punches.

To start this process, I wrapped tape around the top to quickly measure the length of the piece of metal I would need. Later on in this step you'll probably notice that I welded on about a 3/4" section to the original piece to have enough length to get around the handle. I don't know what I messed up there but, if you're doing this step, it would be worth you're while to measure more accurately or add about an 1" to whatever measurement you get from the tape and then trim off later.

I used the tape to mark off a section of the same sheet metal (~.060) the right (wrong) length. My letter punch set has 1/4" letters so I figured I'd go with a 1/2" band. This would leave me with 1/8" gap top and bottom. Once the piece was cut out, I used a 60 grit flapper to clean the paint off, then I marked out a grid of how the letters would go to be centered left to right. I should've made the same alignment marks top and bottom as well because I got off on the "O" and "T".

Once the band was complete, I clamped it to the shovel centered up and aligned with the top and just used my hands to bend it around tightly. I probably used a hammer to coerce the very ends tight to the shovel. I then trimmed off the excess length and it was done.

Step 11: Welding (part 1) the Band

In order to weld the band on, I figured I'd drill some holes and plug weld it on for a clean look. I marked out 5 holes equally spaced around the top edge and then center punched them all.

In the drill press I ended up clamping the awkward object in a piece of tubing that got cut in half at some point in its life to form a channel. I then used a step bit because it was already chucked into the drill press. I believe I drilled out to 5/16". That size is arbitrary, you could go larger or smaller depending on how you would plan to weld it on there. I'm using my smaller welder for both welding steps. It's a 120 amp mig running .030 wire.

For the actual welding process, I would clamp the piece snugly, making sure the clamp was right over the weld area. On sheet metal it can be very easy to burn through quickly, not so much this thickness, but its always good practice to make sure your weld joint area is tight. If its not tight, it will be prone to burn through on one piece or the other, poor penetration, and unpredictable distortion. Not necessarily in that order. I find that on plug welds like these, I can push the envelope a little bit with the clamp backing up the weld and acting like a heat sink. I run a little hotter setting, which in most cases for me, ends up in a better penetrated/ smoother flow weld without so much risk of burn though. Especially on that nice nameplate I just spent time on.

In this process I would just do one, wait about a minute, then unclamp and reclamp on the next hole in an effort to "squeeze" all the gap out between the two pieces. When I got done I cleaned up the top edge with a 60 grit flapper wheel and then used a die grinder to take the welds down on the inside to flush.

Step 12: Welding (part 2) the Patch

To start this step, I simply fit my patch I formed earlier on there and proceeded to tack it all around the border. I would then let it cool until I could touch it comfortably with my bare hand and then make the next set of tacks around in the same order.

-Let it cool

-Set of tacks

-Repeat until weld fully complete

I knew I was going to grind this down flush when I was done so I wasn't so much concerned with the perfect looking welds but more about the penetration and the blend between the tacks. In this respect, once it was all welded and ground down, it would look like one continuous weld but without the crazy amount of distortion that would probably happen if you just went to town and ran a solid bead around it. The end result was a little rough around the border but I'm confident that it is on there good and solid. It really makes the spade a lot more rigid than it was after the old reinforcement patch was removed.

A final flapper wheel pass and this is basically ready for paint.

Step 13: Finish Handle

After I got things all welded up, I proceeded to start on finishing the handle. I chose a polyurethane because that's really the only finish I'm comfortable using right now and I know how its going to react and how it's going to look. It should also be really durable in this application.

I believe I ended up with 4 light coats, all with a light 220 sand in between them. It was hot in the when I applied it and I was not expecting it to dry so quickly. It still turned out okay. After this was done, the handle probably sat there for a good two weeks or so. This was nice because it gave it a chance to cure.

Step 14: Paint

When I got back to this project, I wiped down the shovel with surface cleaner and then gave it two coats of semi-gloss black.

Originally I thought I was going to leave it that but looking at my name band, I realized it kind of just blended in and it made it hard to read unless you had direct lighting.

I then proceeded to add a lot more stress to myself and masked the whole thing off in order to spray the letters white. The idea I had going here was that I could spray the white, remove the masking tape, then gently wipe off the excess with thinner and all that would be left is the letters. That basically failed. The fibers of the cloth must've gotten into the letters, or the paint hadn't dried enough. It ended up pulling half of the paint out of the letters and some of the black paint around the edges of the letters.

Very quickly, I put some tape down on the bench and gave myself a palette of white and black touch up paint by spraying very closely to the surface. I grabbed a small touch up brush and was able to fix the white letters and some of the black that got pulled off with the thinner. Only drawback is it looks very flat on the black areas around the letters.

I'm going to chalk it up to that's the look that I was going for. After all, if it looks too nice, she probably won't want to use it.

Step 15: Merge the Two

After letting the paint dry, I grabbed the two items and placed them together.

The second picture is where it got tight by hand. I seated the shovel by placing a few towels down on the ground and while holding the shovel, hitting the handle downward against the concrete floor on the towels. This took quite a bit of effort, but when it was done the shovel was firmly seated and tight.

The last picture is it finally together.

Step 16: Rivets

Honestly it's probably on there tight enough it will never come off, but I want it to stay on there so time to use those rivets I made.

I drilled the holes out by just eyeballing where the bit should pop out of the other side with a cordless hand drill. When I got halfway through the first hole it dawned on me that I should stop and begin drilling from the other side. This will assure that the two holes line up perfectly and that there will be no tear out. It did work pretty good.

Once the holes were drilled I popped the rivets in there for a test fit. Here I could mark them and cut them to length. Each one was different so I marked them in place with about 3/16" extra that I could peen over to seat the rivets. I then cut them off with a cutoff wheel in the vice.

Now that the rivets where the correct length, I could place them in the shovel and peen them over. To do this I used a hardened pin in the vice as the buck so that it only came in contact with the head of the rivet. Then I just went after it with a hammer until it looked like it was peened over evenly and it was seated tightly. I did the lower one first, then the upper one. The upper one I had to get creative and use a punch because it was so close to the band I didn't want to slip and damage the paint. Once they were both in, I flipped it over and made sure the heads were down tight as well.

Sidebar--I'm not sure on the proper shovel protocol. Does anyone know if the gap on the backside of the handle seating area is supposed to be tight together? Or any gap ranging from tight to closed so long as the shovel is seated tightly? It's got me curious because I've seen them both ways, but it would seem like it wouldn't matter so long as the shovel is super tight to the handle evenly along the seating area. Once the rivets are set, ideally the wedge can't back off so it is on there until something gets loose from wear and tear.

Step 17: Paint Part Two

Once the rivets were set, I masked off around the exposed area and gave them a shot of the semi-gloss black.

Make sure you have a pile of sawdust from drilling the rivet holes close to where you're masking. Just kidding. Don't do that, I can't believe I did but the pictures don't lie.

After that I carefully removed the masking tape and set it aside to dry. Then I got rid of the sawdust off the bench.

Step 18: Wet Sanding and Final Wax

The shovel was basically done but it had a few nibs in the polyurethane. I waited until now to deal with wet sanding it because I anticipated the handle might get roughed up in the shovel seating process and I could fix those defects now.

Luckily either the polyurethane is really, really tough, or the towel method actually worked well because it didn't have hardly any damage.

My process that I have gravitated towards over the last few projects is to wet sand with 600 until you can't feel any obvious nibs in the surface. The solution that I use is just dish soap and water and I keep the paper wet at all times.

Once that's done, I switch over to the 1000 grit. This is the same process only slightly less time sanding. On this grit I make sure I only spend equal time over the whole surface taking out the 600 grit scratches.

I then wipe the whole thing down with a damp towel and dry it off. The first picture in this step is after that whole process is done. It is pretty de-glossed.

After that, I grab some paste wax and apply it with some fine steel wool. I make sure to rub it in really good and spend the same amount of time on the whole surface. I let the wax dry and then buff off the excess with a dry towel. The second picture in the step are after this is done. I really like that section in the handle.

The last three pictures are of the finished product. I hope she likes it!

Thanks for checking this out!

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