Born Again Tools: Giving New Life to an Old Ax

by Todd Walker

A recent trip to the mountains of Georgia produced a good haul of old tools… namely, a new “old” True Temper Kelly Perfect ax.

Born Again Tools: Giving New Life to an Old Ax

 

Dirt Road Girl and I have a hobby of scavenging for old tools. We’re the dumpster divers of rust bins. We’ve found awesomeness in roadside shops, antiques stores, and yard sales. We almost missed this one. As we were literally exiting one shop, I caught the glint of rusty steel in my peripheral vision. Actually, it’s just a sixth sense I possess when old tools are nearby. The owner of the shop had returned from the woodpile with an ax in hand. I hit the brakes with my hand on the door knob!

“Hold on. I’m going to buy that ax!” I told DRG.

The owner handed the ax to me with a confused look and asked, “How am I going to cut kindling?”

Not my problem. This ax was in good overall condition. No deep chinks in the bit. The poll (butt) had minor mushrooming from a previous owner pounding it with a metal hammer like a splitting wedge. The hickory handle showed proper grain alignment with no cracks or splits. I began haggling.

Twenty bucks later I walked out with a rusty “old” ax!

Born Again Tools: Giving New Life to an Old Ax

Time to revive it…

Before buying old cutting tools, axes in particular, make sure the bit hasn’t been too abused. I buy old tools to use not set on shelves and collect dust. Rust and pitting are fine. That adds to the character of your tool. However, you’ll need enough metal on the bit to re-profile if necessary.

The stamp on my ax reads, “True Temper – Kelly Perfect”. Any True Temper ax with Kelly in the name was made after 1949. If you’re interested in more history on the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co., Wood Trekker has an interesting and thorough post on his site.

Born Again Tools

There are many ways to give new life to old cutting tools. For minor rust, I use sand paper, a wire brush, and my homemade Fixin’ Wax. Start sanding the tool with coarse grit and progress to higher grit. My progression was 80, 120, 220, 400, 800, 1,500 grit. Use a buffing compound to polish out sanding marks.

Other rust removal methods include:

  • White Vinegar bath – soak for a few hours or up to 24
  • Electrolysis (I’ve used this for cast iron cookware before with success)
  • Limon/lime juice soak
  • Wire brush attached to a drill motor or side grinder
  •  Molasses and water mix – takes longer (week) but effective

Once the rust is gone, you need to take steps to prevent future rust. I apply my Fixin’ Wax, a mix of bees wax, tallow, shea butter, and essential oil, to all my high carbon steel blades, wooden handles, and knife scales.

Born Again Tools: Giving New Life to an Old Ax

Born again ax

Fortunately, the haft (handle) on this Kelly ax was in excellent shape. In case you need to re-haft your ax, here’s a tutorial I did to few months ago that may help. I applied boiled linseed oil to the new handle after a light sanding to preserve the wood and prevent cracking. Breaking a handle via operator error (miss hitting while splitting/chopping) is another matter all together.

The toe of the ax needed file work. Use a quality bastard file to remove metal from the bit. After you achieve the desired profile, sharpen the bit. I’ll post an ax sharpening article soon.

I look forward to many years of service from this born again ax. If you have an old cutting tool or hand tool you’ve given new life, we’d like to here you process.

Ax Restoration: Making Old Tools Useful Again

My next new “old” tool in need of new life is a Lancaster Geared Blower – No. 40 for my blacksmith forge! Off to my shop…

Keep Doing the Stuff,

Todd

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Categories: Doing the Stuff, Gear | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “Born Again Tools: Giving New Life to an Old Ax

  1. highdesertlivin

    That’s a beauty, good score. Im currently working on a Collin’s 31/2 lb head. Its getting hard to find a good handle to to hang on. I had to do extensive rasp work on this last one to get the bit in line. Im tweaking this one w/a shorter handle to make it a canoing axe. Good post, enjoyed it.

  2. Chewylouie

    That axe head looks exactly like the one that my grandfather used to have and the one that I am currently re-handleing. Very cool!

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  4. Vogeler

    I just traded for a rusty old little hawk head that I’m gonna refinish as a thrower for my sons. The vinegar worked well but I’m gonna try the sandpaper/wire brush too. Thanks!

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