Step 1 - Pick an axe worthy of restoration
The vintage axes that Brant & Cochran chooses for restoration may be from different manufacturers and be different styles but they all have the same characteristics: (i) the bit is not chipped or cracked, (ii) it has not lost its original contour through over sharpening, (iii) the steel at the edge is an acceptable hardness, (iv) the eye of the axe is not cracked or deformed and the walls of the eye are uniform, (v) the poll of the axe is not severely mushroomed from misuse, and (vi) there is only surface rust or corrosion on the axe.
Step 2 - Remove the axe handle
If the vintage axe came with an old handle it is removed. In rare instances we keep the original handle in the axe, but it has to be in pristine condition. We remove the axe handle with our band saw. We then drill several holes into the end of the handle to loosen it. Finally, we put the axe into our handle jig and use a mallet and wood drift to punch the remaining handle part out of the eye of the axe.
Step 3 - Remove rust from the axe
There are a number of ways to remove rust from old iron and steel tools. We use a sand blaster as this does not use a caustic like vinegar that needs to be disposed of and can acidify the surface. After the sand blasting process, we inspect the axe again to make sure that the rust did not conceal any other cracks or imperfections in the axe.
Step 4 - Clean axe surface with our Bader BW III
Once the axe comes out of the sand blaster we take it to our Bader BW III grinder to address any slight mushrooming of the poll. We may also smooth out the edges of the axe and shape the bit if needed. While nearing the cutting edge of the axe we are careful not to overheat the bit. We then add a patina to the axe blade to prevent any future corrosion.
Step 5 - Handle the axe
We pick a new American Hickory handle that is the appropriate length for the axe and form the end so it fits tightly into the eye of the axe. Once the handle fits snugly into the eye of the axe a wooden wedge is pounded down into the kerf cut in the end of the handle. (There are differing schools of thoughts on the need for adding a second metal wedge to the eye.) We then cut off any excess handle and wedge material from the end.
Step 6 - Hone and strop the axe
After handling the axe, we use a diamond hone to finish sharpen the axe. We know it is sharp enough when we can shave the hair off our forearms! Once the bit is sufficiently sharp we draw it against a leather strop.
Step 7 - Oil the handle and bit
We apply a thin coat of camellia oil to the axe blade to inhibit rust and corrosion and a coating of boiled linseed oil to the handle.
Step 8 - Strap on a leather sheath
The final step is to snap a new, hand-made leather sheath to the axe blade to protect the axe (and the user!).