Restoring a Hewing Axe

Two things conspired to delay project on the bench; first and foremost I was in paralysis over how to size the mortise and tenons and second of all my shipment of retaining wall blocks arrived earlier than expected.  Friday I spent the entire day moving 4 tons of concrete blocks and 1 ton of base gravel from the side of the street, up a flight of stairs and into my back yard.  Needless to say I was a bit sore the rest of the weekend.
When I finally decided to get back into the shop I decided that rather than deciding on a tenon size I should fix up one of the hewing (single bevel) axes I picked up last weekend.


Both heads had been loose so I removed them from the handles and they spent 24 hours in the electrolysis bath, coming out looking pretty good.

The one on the right was obviously commercially made by the Stilleto Tool company which was the largest producer of axes on the west coast (the now specialize in titanium tools); the one on the left has no logo and looks like it’s a laminate between iron and steel so I’m thinking it might be blacksmith made.

The Stilleto’s handle was salvagable and the other needs to have a new edge profile ground so the Stilleto  gets to go first.  The handle had lost a big chip and was missing it’s wedges but otherwise was in good shape.

The other handle was a complete loss so I cut off a section, split it along the grain, and planed both the donor piece and the handle flat.  I managed to clamp the pieces together with some tight bond and left it overnight.

well it aint pretty…..

Once I managed to get the handle locked into a vise (Greg I am very jealous of your new shaving horse) I was able to use a draw knife and spoke shave to smith the two parts together then sanded with 220.  I had ordered a kit from (no hardware stores around me had them) that had two metal and one wooden wedge so I installed the wooden wedge and used a coping saw to trim off the excess before adding the metal wedge.

I had read that soaking the end in oil can tighten up old axes so the assembly went into some raw linseed oil (I’m out of boiled) and I brushed some on the handle as well.

After about an hour I wiped off most of the excess, wet sanded with 320 and let it sit in the sun.  I need to spend some more time smoothing the back with my diamond stones (the back of a hewing axe is not flat) and sharpening the edge but it doesn’t look too shabby.

notice the EX-X that is on the head is apparently also on the handle

Rust Removal via Electrolysis – An Overview

On the way home from work last night I was reading the woodworking sub-reddit and I noticed several posts about rust removal.  It seems like very few people are aware of how cheap and easy it is to use electrolysis to remove rust from tools.

Over the past few years I have used a pretty simple setup to strip the rust / paint off of my tools and I have been VERY happy with the results.  That said, I am in no way shape or form an expert on the subject so I do not know if this is appropriate for any collectable tools, but it works great for my users and involves little if any harsh chemicals or fumes.  I have never used EvapoRust but I used Navel Jelly and other similar products when I worked on the restoration team at the USS Missouri Museum and this process is safer and cheaper.  Plus there are no air-born particulates.

Electrolysis uses direct current (DC) power to transfer material from one piece of metal to another via a solution.  In our case, we are transferring Iron atoms from a sacrificial piece of metal to the tool in order to convert some of the “Red Rust” (ferric oxide) to “Black Rust” (magnetite).   The piece of metal to be cleaned is connected to the positive (red) terminal and the sacrificial piece is connected to the negative (black) terminal.  As the electricity travels through the solution, iron atoms are transferred from the sacrificial steel to the tool (along with some oxygen from the water) changing the Fe2O3 into Fe3O4.   In the process, the red rust that is not converted into black rust will come off and drop into solution.  Black rust is non-destructive (it does not flake) and it does not hold moisture like red rust so it actually helps to protect the metal from further rusting.  I’m not a chemist so take this all with a grain of salt.

The supplies you need:

-plastic container (I use a bucket or boot tray depending on what I am cleaning)

-12 volt DC power supply (I use an old laptop power supply)

-Baking Soda or Washing Soda

-Scrap Iron or steel (no stainless or galvanized)


-Alligator clips (optional)

-Scrotchbrite sanding pads for cleanup (I use the “between finish coats” grit)

Power Supply

Most of the setups I have read about online used car batteries or battery chargers but I use a laptop power supply that I was able to get one from my IT department for free since it was being sent to recycling.  While they are lower power than the typical battery charger they are smaller, sealed (i.e. water resistant), and in my case free.  The lower power simply means the parts need to stay in solution for a longer time and I have a feeling there is less chance of damaging the parts being cleaned.

The modifications are simple, cut off the plug that goes into the laptop and identify which of the wires is positive and which is negative (the internal wires may already be color codes otherwise use a multi-meter).  I then connected longer color coded wires (in my case I used heavy gauge speaker wire from radio shack) and attached an alligator clips to make it easier to connect the parts being cleaned.

The Cleaner

May of the posts I read recommended using “washing soda” mixed with the water however I find baking soda is much easier to come by and since “washing soda” is simply a stronger version of baking soda you  can simply use more of the baking soda.  Typically I use around a tablespoon of baking soda per gallon of water, but I am not precise in my measurements.

Sacrificial Metal

For the process to work, the negative terminal needs to be connected to a piece of sacrificial steel or iron.  I have read that if stainless steel (or other steels containing chromium) is used the process can release toxic gases and will contaminate the water with heavy metals.  Additionally, you should avoid galvanized steel as you may end up Zinc plating your tool.  I typically use re-bar because it is cheap and easy to find but I think cast iron works faster (maybe the porous structure increases surface area?).  What is most important is the piece of metal should have a lot of surface area as this will dramatically speed up the cleaning process.

This piece(s) of metal will eventually become unusable due to the buildup of corrosion however in my experience you can use them for multiple cleanings.

The Process

Note: we are dealing with electricity and water together so be careful.  Connect everything with the power supply unplugged and if possible, use a GFI outlet.

Getting things started is simple: connect the part to be cleaned to the red wire; the sacrificial metal to the black wire and submerge both in the solution of water and baking soda, making sure the two pieces are not touching.  Now set you bucket outside and plug it in (this process can release small amounts hydrogen gas which is flammable in enclosed spaces so do this in a well ventilated area), you should see a bubbles forming on the surface for the part being cleaned or streams of bubbles reaching the surface within a few seconds.  Now sit back and wait.

How long?  That is the 64 thousand dollar question.  It is going to depend on the strength of your power supply, the level of corrosion, the strength of your cleaning solution, the surface area of your parts, etc.  I will typically check on the progress every few hours but seriously rusty parts I often leave overnight.

Note the use of a nickle plated bolt, DON’T DO THIS.


When the parts are done, they will be black in color and you should see none of the telltale texture of rust.  Once it comes out of the solution you can either leave the black magnetite in place or remove it with a fine grit sanding pad.  You then want to dry the part quickly and apply oil as flash rust can appear quickly.





Miter Saw part 2

last night I finished sharpening the saw and cleaned up the handle and screws a bit.  The handle got a light rub down with 22o sand paper before I applied a 50/50 mix of true turpentine and BLO using a sanding pad.  Once that dried I added some more BLO to the mix for a second application.  The brass screws got a rough cleaning with 4oo grit.

After a few test cuts i coated the whole plate and back with some paste wax and added some oil to the guide sleeves. A few more test cuts showed clean and accurate cuts so I decided to trim the ends of a couple of leg parts which resulted is a cutbthatvwas very much out of square. Luckily I I had left a bit extra so I think it will be okay.


Before I called it a night I added a coat of straight BLO which looked pretty nice this morning.  I’ll give it a few days to cure (in traveling for work) and then illnprobably add a coat of wax.

Miter saw restoration

You know how sometimes what should be a simple task snowballs into a bunch of work?  Well that happened to me tonight.  

I left work early (it was a holiday after all) and intended to start cutting the table leg pieces to length.  Since some of these cuts would be angles I decided to use the large miter box I had acquired on eBay a while back.  Unfortunately the saw was unbelievabley dull and my small Stanly 150 miter box is to small for the pieces so I decided to sharpen the saw.


After taking the handle off I realized the back had been tapped down unevenly, resulting in a 1/4 less saw plate between the teeth and the back at the toe when compared to the heel and the middle had been tapped down even more.  I resolved to remove the back and remove as much rust from the plate as I could.


  After struggling to remove the back for 55 minutes I filled the back with wd40 and 3in1 And took a few hour break to have dinner and put the kiddo to bed (the stiches fron the surgery have been bothering him).  After returning to the garage it took another 45 minutes to wrestle the back off and my workbench tail vise is a bit dirty with oil now.

After sanding away as much rust as I could, it was time to joint the teeth.  This took quite a while because as with most miter saws, this one had a substantial dip in the middle.  I then shaped the teeth (keeping the saw perpendicular to the plate) until the flats were removed and then reinstalled the back.  This time the distance between the teeth and the back is consistent along the length of the plate.


Tomorrow I will sharpen the teeth, adding the fleam this time, and do some work on the handle. 


Wooden Smothing Plane – H.G. Stilley

Some of you may remember the rotten tool chest I found on the side of the road a few weeks back and the smoothing plane I found inside.  Well this week my elbow was giving me some trouble so rather than milling up the maple for my leg vise I decided to get it up and running.  Here is the starting point:


After taking everything apart it looked like the components were mostly intact so I started following the process the Slightly Confused Woodworker used on his English plane but instead of using a plane to flatten the sole I used heavy grit sandpaper glued to a marble slab (I encountered some serious tear-out when I tried to use my sharpest plane).  The sole needed a fair bit of flattening.


The blade and cap iron got a bath in my electrolysis setup and came out looking pretty nice.  A previous owner had take the time to flatten the back of the blade so it really only needed polishing, but the chipped edge was going to require some grinding.


While I was waiting for the BLO to cure, I decided to look up the maker H.G. Stilley since he was a local.  There was little online other than he moved to San Francisco during the gold rush and that his planes were rare. I also found an old posting from a collector near Carmel, California looking for any planes made by this maker so I emailed him a picture to see if he had any info.

What I was able to find online:

  • Born in Delaware
  • Moved to SF during the gold rush and at one point lived a few blocks from my office
  • Census records show him living in SF, Oakland, and the gold fields
  • Was a member of the Yerba Buena society of Odd People (S.F. has always bee a bit different, look up Emperor Norton sometime)
  • Lived to the age of 85

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After asking me a few questions he ended up offering some money for the plane so he could add it to his collection so unfortunately I will not get to finish the restoration and actually get to use it, but it will be going to someone who appreciates it.

IMG_0926 IMG_0928

It still needs a coat of wax and to be sharpened but it looks pretty go to me.

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Upgraded Electrolysis Setup

Given that I have several tools that will be needing rust removal I decided it was finally time to upgrade my electrolysis setup to use rebar.

I started with some small poplar strips I had laying around from some previous project and built two parts of a hexgon which are bolted together (this wil make it to the hexagon can fit in the bucket for storage).

  The flats got 1/2 inch holes in the middle which held the rebar and pipe ground clamps hold the rebar in place.  I only had 4 pieces of rebar but the plan is to eventually have 6. 

The bade and chip breaker from the coffin smoother I found got suspended from a 1/2 inch dowel with notches and into the usual bath.


After about 4 hours in the bath the blade looked pretty good.


One man’s trash

While walking home from the bus stop last night I noticed an old English style tool box next to a pile of refuse, in front of the “creepy” house in the neighborhood.  The lid hinges were mostly rusted through and I noticed a saw in the saw till so I picked it up and brought it home (I left a note in case it was not trash).  This was easier said than done since part of the bottom fell out when I picked it up.

This box had either been exposed to the elements for some time or was stored somewhere wet as the wood has serious water stains and rot.

Opening it up found a removable saw till (which used to have a lid) at the top and a removable too caddy with a handle.

At the bottom were subdivided compartments.  Overall the contents was junk, literally; but there was a badly rusted Union 45 rabbet plane and a neat little coffin smoother.

The saw saw straight but the blade is very rusted and the handle looks water damaged.