An Axe Out of the Woods

photo of the axe Found in the woods

I enjoy restoring old tools. It’s fun to buy a new tool and investigate the abilities it brings, but there’s something about finding an old tool, removing the corrosion and dirt, and repairing and sharpening that are especially satisfying. Maybe the the tool will confer the skills of it’s former owner onto the restorer. A sword from the stone.

Digging through the piles of junk in the garden shed, I found the pieces of an old Scout axe. I don’t know how it got there or where it came from, but it was intriguing. I had recently watched a Wranglerstar YouTube series on “The World’s Tiniest Axe” and enjoyed the step-by-step restoration of a Marbles No. 5 Pocket 1. Mr. Wranglerstar is something of an “axe-whisperer,” and I learned a lot. Maybe I could try my new knowledge on this old tool.

photo of the axe head B.P. (before polishing)
B.P. (before polishing)

The axe handle had rotted off, and the head showed clear signs of abuse like it had been used to dig trenches. White streaks of caleche were mixed with patches of rust. It was hard to tell what the original paint color was, and the edge was certainly gone. Still, it was a useful size and had some heft — just the right addition to my woodsman’s toolset. Good for bucking “cedar” posts and the like.

It was going to need a new handle. Making my own handle as Mr. Wranglerstar had done was appealing, but I didn’t have a source of hickory and little experience shaping handles. A trip to Amazon revealed a 14-inch Scout Axe handle (Seymore 368-08) for around $8 including Prime shipping. The reviews were mostly good, and the price was hard to beat, so I ordered.

photo of axe A.P. (after polishing)
A.P. (after polishing)

Time to clean up the head. Firing up my granddad’s old Stanley bench grinder, I used the wire wheel to remove the dirt and surface rust. This revealed a couple of surprises. First, the outside edges of the axe were roughly finished with rows of straight gouges running from face-to-face on the axe.

photo of 2 1/4 pound embossing
2 1/4 pound

Second, there was lettering on one cheek near the butt: “2 1/4” and “1”. Probably an inexpensive 2 1/4 pound axe. I decided to dress the rough edges and got out my file. An hour or so of work, and  it looked a lot better. The metal was pitted from the rust, one side worse than the other, but I wanted to make as useable a tool as I could.

photo of Shaping the hickory handle
Shaping the hickory handle

The axe handle arrived a couple of days later. Amazon reviews had complained of defective wood grain, so I looked it over carefully. The grain was fine. It was very close to the right size, but intended to replace a variety of sizes, so shaping was required. This was a chance to try out the Stanley spokeshave I had gotten a few weeks before. I hadn’t used a spokeshave before, but slowly the handle took shape. Hickorywood is very hard, and requires effort. It was also clear that the spokeshave, while sharp, could use a touch up. Factory edges are rarely ready to use. Finally, I could fit the handle into the eye. We were ready for assembly.

photo of axe and wooden wedge
And a wooden wedge

The handle included a wooden wedge, and fit the eye perfectly. Following Mr. Wranglerstar’s advice, I coated it with linseed oil. I then treated the newly-shaved handle end with linseed oil and tapped it into the head. Amazingly, this is done by holding the axe head down and tapping down on the knob at the other end of the handle. Next, inserting the wedge into the slit protruding from the eye, I tapped the wedge home. It didn’t go all the way in, and a fine saw cut it off flush. A liberal application of linseed oil on the head end and the small gaps around the eye. More oil was applied as it soaked in. The wood swelled to completely fill the eye. Finally, I wiped the excess oil into the handle. The hickory grain really stood out. Next step: Sharpening.

photo of the axe After the linseed oil application
After the linseed oil

 

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