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Dug up an old piece of steel

Discussion in 'Axe, Tomahawk, & Hatchet Forum' started by jprime84, May 19, 2017.

  1. jprime84

    jprime84 Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 7, 2014
    This ended up almost being a short story. Hope you find it interesting!

    My father-in-law lives in an extremely rural valley along what used to be an old logging road near Blowing Rock, NC in the Appalachian mountains. His house has been a home-site since at least 1900 or so. While doing some earth moving to build himself a carport, he unearthed several rusty findings including a few old rasps, horse shoes, and one small double bit axe head.

    I didnt take a picture of it before, but it looked like what you would think a carbon steel double bit axe head would look like buried for decades. It was the color of red NC clay, and looked more like an odd shaped rock than an axe head. It eye was filled in with some combination of dirt and petrified wood that turned to powder if you scratched at it. It was hard to tell where the dirt ended and the axe began.

    I decided to see what I could make of it. I do apologize for the lack of "in process" photos but really I just got excited with it and wanted to proceed.

    I started with a quick scrub of soap and water that got everything loose off it. There were large "flaky" pieces that could be dislodged with some tapping and prying. Again, I couldnt tell if this had once been metal, or if it was some kind of calcification of the ground minerals with the corrosion on the surface.

    Once I got most of this "flaky" stuff off, I put it in a vice and pounded out the gunk in the eye of it which just turned to chunky dusty once it fell out. I used small tooth brushes and water to clean as much as I could, but this just resulted in oily rust/clay colored water seeming to not make much progress.

    I let the whole thing sit in a tray soaked in WD40 overnight, repeated scrubbing, and then degreased with Dawn and water several times over. Eventually, I ended up with something relatively rust free, at least the larger chunks. The surface of the metal was like looking at a topographical map from high altitude.

    Next I got out a 36"x4" belt sander with a 60 grit zirconium belt that could cut the metal fast without building up too much heat. The initial reaction upon hitting the belt was just a plume of red dust, but within another second or two there was a shower of sparks and shiny smooth metal began to peek out from the higher points of elevation on the axe head.

    I worked it for a while, hoping to reprofile new edges with minimal pockets of corrosion. I actually noticed what seemed to look like a hamon line on either side. Did makers differentially heat teat axes? I was reluctant to grind too much around the lug as I knew there was only so much metal to work with.

    I eventually ended up with something that had two edges more or less, and more shiny metal than not. It still bore plenty of rust craters in its surface, however. I took a tiny fine bristle wire wheel and my dremel tool, and I was able to clear most of this out. Afterwards, I let the whole thing soak in some vinegar for about 4 hours. This applied a renewed layer of corrosion in some places, and patina in others. I gave it another mini wire wheel treatment until I could spot no sign of rust, even in the small micro craters that cover much of the axe head.

    I then decided to try and give the surface metal some resistance, and used Birchwood Casey Super Blue to force a patina that would soak down into these tiny and complex surface imperfections. This appears to have worked really well!

    I bought a piece of Tennessee hickory with excellent grain, and did my best to hang the axe. The interior of the eye was corroded so badly, that once the compromised material and corrosion was removed, I ended up with less than true hang, but at least its on there!

    The axe head itself is about 2 lbs 7 oz, and I put it on about a 28 inch handle. Next steps will be to treat the hickory with some burnished lindseed oil, and put true edges on the steel. I will add pics from here on out.

    Pic of current state to come this afternoon.
    Polynikes01 likes this.
  2. Lieblad


    Jul 24, 2015
    Glad you had fun !
    Monosteel axes will normally show hamon. Some older axes are steel insert laminated to steel or iron body.
  3. phantomknives


    Mar 31, 2016
    any pictures?
  4. jprime84

    jprime84 Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 7, 2014
    Not of the process I described, but I will get some pics on tonight of where it stands, and continue to get pics for the remainder of the project.
  5. jprime84

    jprime84 Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 7, 2014
    Here are pics of the current state. The axe is about 7 7/8 inches bit to bit, where as the larger two bit axe (belonged to my wife's grandfather) is about 10 inches bit to bit.

    You'll have to excuse the ugly hang - the eye was practically like a curved tunnel. One side had a huge bulge of metal, and the other side left a pocket where it corroded away.

    I did some test chops into an old stump after hanging, and it looks like the pockets are going to collect junk in them.
  6. 300Six


    Aug 29, 2013
    Resurrecting an oldie ought to be (and truly should be) very satisfying. But if you go to all that effort and then discover it was likely tossed due to be worn out, cracked, bent or broken, or worse yet endured a fire (no blade temper hardness left), then all of sudden 'the wind is out of the sails'. Pictures are in order!
    Great, pictures did show up. There's SFA (I hope that politically incorrect abbreviation is understood) useable left of the blade and the axe beside it pretty much shows what that oldie once looked like.
    If an old tool could talk you'd want to have an easy chair with you when that one opened it's mouth.
  7. jprime84

    jprime84 Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 7, 2014
    Wow you think it could be that worn out huh? I would have thought it would not have corroded so evenly all over - unless it was ground down and tossed by the previous owner long ago.
  8. Park Swan

    Park Swan KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Mar 15, 2016
    Super cool! That axe is begging for a Benjamin Button story...cutoff wheels, files, bucket of cold water, and 4 hours or so of sweat, could have the coolest saddle axe around :thumbsup:
  9. Moonw


    Nov 19, 2014
    I don't think he meant that about this piece, was just a general statement.

    Awesome find!
  10. deltaboy


    Jul 6, 2014
    Cool restoration.
  11. jprime84

    jprime84 Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 7, 2014
    Got it sharpened up as best I could. There were certainly parts of that edge where my file bit more than I expected, so it may be at the very end of its hardened steel.


    Still works though! Found a standing dead tree behind the house.

    ScoMa likes this.

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