I'm in my thirties but stories from my childhood still resonate... "My side of the mountain," and "Hatchet" to be more specific. Having had read those books in the prime of my yester-years I've always wanted an axe (or hatchet) of my very own. Of course I live in an urban/suburban environment so never bit the bullet until a few weeks back because what in the heck am I going to do with an axe? Well, restore it of course! Who buys new these days?
In this instrucatable we're going to take a "rustic" Ebay find and turn it into a robust bushcraft axe that'll withstand the test of time. I've only recently gotten into the restorations of vintage tools (this being my first) Hope you enjoy my journey!
Step 1: If It Aint Broke....
Thankfully I was able to find some decent swedish steel with a good haft (or handle) with which to start. Took some doing but if you take you time and do your research you can always find whatever it is you're looking for in this day and age.
When this axe finally arrived via priority mail I was delighted to find that the poll (the back) wasn't beaten to all get out and that the blade of the axe wasn't gnarled or nicked, score!
The pro's; Great steel, hand forged made in sweden, hickory handle with great grain orientation (parallel to the orientation to the blade) with no heart wood.
The issues: Wicked dry/coarse handle, Rust on the head, cutting angle too wide for fine detail work, just a little too long to fit in my day pack and the grip was just a little too narrow for my hand to fit properly.
Step 2: Tools of the Trade
Here's a list of the tools I needed to get things just the way I wanted them in the end. It may not be too interesting but here's what I used quick and dirty.
Sand paper; For this project I used two grits 100 medium and 600 wet/dry
Hand saw: To kill the swell on the pommel of the haft. *Optional*
Dual grit synthetic stone; Purchased from the dollar store. Yes, the dollar store!
Copper brushes; Another dollar store purchase
Copper Cup brush: Huge time saver!!! Great investment. Guess where I got it...
Paracord: In to woods, in the city it doesn't much matter. You can never have too much cordage *Optional*
8" bastard file: Had to buy this after the first sharpening. Epic fail!
Self fusing silicone tape: Great way to get a good cord wrap on a smooth surface *Optional*
Boiled linseed oil: One of the few items I didn't own.... Damn I hate spending money!
Superglue: superglue and paracord, try it, you'll like it, maybe... *Optional*
Old english wood stain: Stain, one of those items you always buy more of then you need for the project at the time and end up with a stockpile of random colors *Optional*
Coconut oil; if you don't know about coconut oil you better ask somebody! I used this as honing oil and it worked like a charm.
Old leather belt; needed a strop and it's what I've got. *Optional*
Felt tip pen: Makes sharpening angles pretty much idiot proof
Paper towles: for clean up and to keep things neat.
Masking tape: used this to make sure the area i was working on was the only area i was working on. *Optional*
Fix'en wax: Amazing stuff. work into everything to promote longevity and wear resistance including you! *Optional. However Recomended*
Step 3: Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow *Optional*
The first and by far easiest step in this resto was the elimination of the swell on the bottom of the haft. Now, it should be noted that this didn't have to come off. It wasn't damaged in any way. I just didn't like the look of it and getting rid of it made it a much easier fit in my pack. Win, win.
Here I just took my nifty little Milwaukee folder and lopped off the end nearest the lanyard hole as I could comfortably get. In order to get a nice even cut in line with the blade I supported the bit with a cloth so that the handle was level when sawing. Took a little while to get through but that's to be expected of a quality hardwood.
Once I lopped the end off I re-drilled the lanyard hole, using the same method to keep the blade level, I squared off held my breath and went for it. Came out a little off center from where I thought I was drilling but without a vise or a drill press I think I did alright.
I sanded it off, rounded my edges and called it good.
Step 4: Just Can't Get the Hang of It...
Thankfully the handle of this axe wasn't too dinged up or loose. All I really had to do was give it a good sanding, a little stain for color and treat it with linseed oil.
I used the 100 grit to start, mainly to get the branding off and knock down the grain a bit because this handle was rough! After that I wiped it down with some moist (not sopping wet) paper towels and went to work with the 600 wet/dry. Here I really took some time to make sure that I got it as smooth as I could before taking it to the next step. I could have used a grit in between to make life easier, but I don't own one, so i used what I had.
After a good and thorough sanding and cleaning I was left with a light smooth hickory handle that, while smooth as a rose petal was absolutely bone dry.
From here I exercised my google-fu but couldn't find a decent answer to the query of which comes first the linseed oil or the stain. I choose latter. (Now with the stain be sure that what you're using (if you choose to use a stain) is stain only and not a stain/polyurethane duo otherwise you'll muck things up for the linseed oil.) I applied two coats "Wax on, wax off" and let it set over night.
The next day I took out the 600 grit and went over the handle one more time lightly to get any excess stain that might have remained from the evening prior and went at it with the linseed oil.
I have no idea how to apply this stuff properly so I'll tell you what I did. I soaked up a fair amount in a paper towel and massaged it into the wood for about and hour with the grain (don't know if that matters) while watching hulu and making lude comments while massaging my haft, lol! Must have been a very thirsty handle because it absorbed quite a lot of oil. I noticed that some of the stain coming out of the wood with the application of the linseed oil but I still wound up with a color I was happy with,
"Time to make a doughnuts," leave her to dry over night...
Step 5: Whip It, Whip It Good *Optional*
After feeling like that handle soaked up as much linseed oil as it was going to i moved on to "whipping"the handle.
The first thing I did was to go over the handle with paper towels to ensure that there wasn't any oil clinging to the surface of the wood and, in a way cheap paper towels can be like 1000+ sandpaper! If you really work it, it can give the wood a nice finish in and of itself.
Once I was sure that the handle was oil free I went to work with the self fusing silicone tape.
A note on self fusing silicone tape; This tape is awesome but you've got to make sure you buy quality on the initial purchase otherwise this stuff will rupture when you pull it taught. It fuses once you ply it over itself so take you time and be consistent.
The silicone tape makes a great foundation for the paracord wrap/whipping on the handle if you skip this step the paracord might shift in use. That's a great recipe for blisters!
With the foundation set, I went to work with the paracord. I don't like using all those fancy knots that have become synonymous paracord. Instead I chose to wrap the cord once, tightly on down the handle letting the cord bite into the silicone tape. Once I reached the haft's end I tucked the end back under the final coils of the cord and pulled it as tight as I could (teeth helped).
Once I got it nice and tight I cut off the excess and used some superglue to fix the "knot." This works beautifully though it's a little more permeant then traditional whipping to unravel, so be it! It works and means that there's no funky bumps in the handle which matters more to me then ascetics in the long run.
Step 6: Splitting the Atom!
Looking back I think I'd have done the blade work first and worked my way through to the handle " C'est la vie..."
Before I got all frisky on the bit I tool a second to wrap some paper towels around the haft to ensure steps 4-6 didn't go to waste. Now here's my few mistakes... and no i didn't take a bench grinder to it!
I. In my arrogance I thought "Look at those hacks! Using a sharpie to color in the cutting edge! I can sharpen my tools without such nonsense!" Trust, a sharpie works wonders to insure you're getting the proper angles and contours right. Also to ensure you're removing material evenly from the entirety of the cutting edge.
2. I thought that I could use only the tools I had on hand. Truth be told, I did manage to get a pretty keen edge on it with just the hand-stone/sandpaper combo. But what I really wanted was to re-profile the edge and for that you've really got to have a file! An 8" bastard (being a bastard as it's neither coarse nor fine) file is a must have for proper axe care and maintenance, I see that now.
After my initial little sharpening debacle and my not taking the advice of those with much more experience then myself. I took another swing at it. This time I colored in the factory cutting edge and began working the back of the bevel into the cheeks of the axe all the while trying to maintain a 27-30 degree angle. Took me some time but working with nice even strokes towards the blade and with everything properly colored in i was able to ensure my slow but steady progress toward (my) perfection. The whole process took me about an hour with the file and the marking pen. Slow and steady! Milage may vary. This bit was in good shape to begin with.
Once I felt that the bevel was far back enough towards the poll to allow some finer task work, but still thick enough to do some serious (seriously small) splitting. I switched to the whetstone.
Step 7: Stone Age Tools Gotta Loved 'em
So, now that my bit had been properly (in my estimation) filed to the profile it was time the sharpen it!
*Tip; if you gently/carefully run you fingers up and down the cutting edge you can feel the high spots. If you deal with them early on it makes things go that much quicker. Word to the wise.
The stone I have is a synthetic. some of them (sharpening/whetstones) need water, some oil and others still, can be used dry. Given that mine came with no instructions I figured, "What the hell, I'll use oil." I broke out my $1 special and some coconut oil from the cupboard and went to work.
*Tip; Got that sharpie handy? Same trick I used to adjust the bevel helps with sharpening too!
I dripped some oil onto the corse side of the stone first and in a circular motion began rubbing the lenght of the entire cutting edge along the stone at about a 30 degree angle till enough material had accumulated on the upward facing bevel edge for me to just catch with the tip of my fingers. Once I began to feel that burr I turned it over and repeated the process on the other side. The corse side took the most time and effort due to the file marks.
It's the same process with regard to the fine side of the stone; Oil, circular motions along the entire length of the cutting edge, burr, rinse repeat...
Once I felt pretty confident that the stone had done it's work I used some of the wet/dry 600 placed on the stone, saturated with coconut oil to go over the blade one more again. Same process as above though I had to wing it a little as I could no longer feel the burr.
Almost done, so close! Hang in there!
Step 8: Don't Make Me Take Off My Belt!
After the 600 grit wet/dry rubbins I broke out an old leather "fashion" belt I used to wear when I was younger and needed such fineries with which to attract a suitable mate. (Think I'm bad, google "Birds of paradise")
Anyway, I have no polishing compound but figured I'd give stropping a try for the hell of it on the unfinished side of my belt. Nothing too fancy. I just laid my belt out on a long flat surface (i.e. my deck railing and gently pulled the blade across the leather moving the cutting edge away from the belt allowing the weight of the axe head to denote the pressure applied. Here's the only time I actually kept count of my strokes.
Once done with the leather this thing came out sharp enough to dry shave! Not that my wife will let me...
Step 9: Shiny
After I got my edge where I was ecstatic with it, I went ahead and covered it in masking tape... After all, no reason to go wasting my efforts from steps 7-9. With the new cutting edge razor sharp this was as much for cosmetics as it was for safety
Now, with the handle and the cutting edge protected I went to work on the "character" of the the axe.
Thankfully the head wasn't so bad off that I had to resort to any of the harsh/time consuming methods of rust removal i.e. white vinegar, electrolysis etc. I was able to get most everything off the axe bit I thought ought not be there with a copper wire cup-brush and my power drill. Took me less then 5 minutes. Whatever rust i wasn't able to tackle with the cup-brush I took on with a small copper hand brush and went to town. Couldn't imagine I'd do much damage (i didn't).
After the brushing I wiped the whole bit down with some isopropyl alcohol (50%) not wanting to use water. After that I was done, sorta... wait and see...
Step 10: Bad Cow!
Okay... I'm sorta of a handy type fella but I met my match trying like hell to craft a sheath/mask for my new hatchet/axe/whatever... I won't bore you, or embarrass myself with the details suffusive to say it did not come out looking good.
Long story short; Ebay.
Took some doing but I found a mask I was happy with and the approximate dimensions suited (or rather seemed to suite) my new axe. I ordered in a heart beat coming off my abysmal failure with a custom sheath... Victory!
Of course when it got here... to small. Not by much mind you, but enough. So now what? Well, research "stretching leather" of course!
After a few forums I decided to give it a try. Worst case, I loose a few bucks. Best case, I have a completed project. After so many darn steps you bet I was chomping at the bit!
Anyway, I soaked the leather and bagged the axe in a plastic bag, rammed it in there nice and snug, played with it for a spell to make sure none of the rivets (not brass btw, damn) scathed the blade and left it over night. The next day, "volia," perfect fit! Oh, but if the only the story ended there...
Turned out that I'd done too astounding of a job with the sharpening and the axe blade penetrated the plastic, meaning that the bit remained exposed to wet leather for... I don't really know, 24-30 hours... Not good. Thankfully after about an hour with the wet/dry and the 600 grit I was able to make her like right again and left the mask to fully dry out before replacing the axe. Fool me once!
Step 11: Finishing Touches...
Now that the bit and haft are squared away the last thing I care to do is ensure that all that hard work lasts the ages, or at least until my next camping trip.
There are a number of ways to treat the bit, from Vaseline to EVOO (That's extra virgin olive oil for those non-Rachel Ray fans.) What you ultimately choose to use will be based mostly on personal preference and availability. Just remember whatever you should choose to use, the concept is to leave a film on the bit to keep the metal from oxidizing. Rust bad!
Treating the haft has it's options too. Boiled linseed oil is the golden standard. The old adage is; once a day for a week, once a month for a year and once a year there after. Personally I don't have that kind of fortitude.
Depending on your mask that may need a bit of care as well if it's to last through the ages.
For this project after doing a spot of research I wound up making a purchase... I know, I know but hear me out! What I wound up getting was this stuff called fix'en wax sold by the Pathfinder school LLC. You can of course make this stuff yourself but for the time and energy you'd have to invest... I chose to just buy the stuff. The great thing about this gunk is that you can use it to treat just about everything. Applied to the haft it seals it to keep the moisture out. Applied to the leather it both moisturizes and makes it water repleant. Applied to the blade it seal out the oxygen. It's muliti-purpose and works like a charm!