On a recent metal detecting getaway in Augusta, Georgia, I stumbled across a pretty neat plumb hatchet. Okay, I’ll come clean. I wasn’t the first person to find it, as another detectorist had previously unearthed it and tossed it aside as junk. But hey, I have no shame – one man’s junk is another man’s treasure! Based on what I know about the site and the age of objects recovered throughout the day, I suspect the hatchet dates anywhere between 1860 to the early 1900s. Regardless of its age or history, I thought it had a cool look and decided to take it home for a future weekend restoration project.
Once I was able to thoroughly wash the hatchet, it was evident that it was far too corroded to be converted into a working tool. Nonetheless, I moved forward with the goal of creating an “antiqued” hatchet for display purposes. And for those that may be interested in a fun weekend DIY project, I documented the entire restoration process for you to follow and improve upon!
- Single strip of whitewood framing lumber
- Wood saw
- Sharp wood carving knife (or pocket knife)
- Medium-grade sandpaper (60 to 100 grit)
- Wire brush
- Steel Wool #0000
- Wood glue
- Cheap paint brush
- Disposable plastic grocery bags
- Aluminum foil
- Briwax (Dark Brown)
- Shoe shine brush (or shop rag)
- Metal tongs
- Plastic or glass dish large enough to hold the hatchet head
- Black Tea
- Mason jar (1 quart)
- Apple Cider Vinegar (or White Vinegar)
Step One: Rust Removal
After countless years buried beneath the soil, the hatchet was fairly rusted and corroded. To strip the rust, I chose to soak the hatchet in Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV). Now bear in mind, you can use the bottom shelf cheap stuff! I was lazy and didn’t want to make a grocery store run, so I used my wife’s top shelf variety (pictured below). She’s since forgiven me.
I placed the hatchet in a small glass baking dish and continued to add ACV until the hatchet was entirely submerged.
When I use ACV to remove rust, I check the status of the object every 12 hours. Vinegar, especially Apple Cider Vinegar, is tough stuff! It will continue to eat metal (good and bad) for as long as the object remains in the acidic bath. For this particular project, it took about 72 hours to strip the rust from the hatchet.
Once the rust was dissolved, and the remaining unstable metal flaked off with the help of a wire brush, I set the hatchet aside.
For rare or “high value” restoration projects, I would suggest using the Electrolysis method of rust removal. This method ensures that only rusted metal is removed. Once the affected metal is gone, the electrolysis doesn’t tear into “good” metal.
Tip: If this is going to be a weekend project, start the vinegar soak (and other pre-work) a few days in advance!
Step 2: Prepare wood aging mixture
To create an “aged” wooden handle, I used a simple concoction that can be reused for future projects (wood crafts, furniture, etc.). To make the solution, you’ll need a pad of cheap steel wool (#0000), a 1-quart Mason jar, and white vinegar.
Shred the steel wool pad into small pieces and place inside the jar. The steel wool should fill at least half the jar. Next, fill the jar with white vinegar and tightly seal it shut. Let the solution rest for at least 24 hours before using. As previously mentioned, it can be reused for future projects!
Step 3: Make the handle
For this particular project, I used cheap whitewood framing lumber to create the replacement handle. If I were restoring a hatchet to be used, I would use a block of Hickory.
To create the handle, I first cut the lumber to 14” in length. Starting from one end of the freshly cut block of wood, I then cut a 2” inch slit down the middle. This end will be fitted inside the hatchet during assembly, with a wide wooden wedge driven into the slot to expand the handle to the sides of the hatchet eye.
Next, I used a sharp carving knife to whittle and shape the wooden block into a comfortable handle. I finished this step with a lot of sandpaper and elbow grease!
Step 4: Wax hatchet blade
To preserve the metal hatchet, I chose to use a hot wax method that many relic hunters have used for years when treating metal objects (artillery shells). With this method, the metal object is heated and then wax is applied. The heat melts the wax which then fills every nook and cranny of the porous metal, effectively sealing the it from future corrosion.
The wax that I prefer to use is Briwax, a dark brown furniture/wood wax. To heat the hatchet, I placed it in the kitchen oven for 15 minutes at 425 degrees. While the hatchet was heating, I prepared an area with aluminum foil, an open can of Briwax, and a cheap paint brush.
After 15 minutes, I removed the hatchet from the oven with a pair of metal tongs and placed it on the aluminum foil. Once positioned, I then liberally brushed the Briwax over (and inside) the hatchet. I then set it aside to cool for about an hour.
Once the hatchet cooled down and the wax was set, I used a shoe polishing brush to knock off excess wax and to give the blade a smoother appearance.
Step 5: Attach handle to hatchet
Once I finished treating the hatchet with Briwax, I then fitted the new handle. To do this, I simply drove the wooden handle into the eye of the hatchet, completely burying the pre-cut slit into the hatchet eye. Depending on how good of a whittler you are, you may have to go back and trim more wood to ensure a snug fit.
Once the handle was securely inserted into the hatchet, I fashioned a small wooden wedge out of the leftover lumber. I then applied a solid dose of wood glue into the slit, inserted the wedge, and drove it into the handle with a hammer. When the wedge was flush with the top of the handle, I sanded it down to create a flush finish. You can also buy a hatchet wedge kit if you don’t want to fool with creating your own.
Step 6: Black Tea treatment
To start the wood aging process it’s as easy as making a cup of tea! The tannins in the tea act as a stain and help to accentuate the natural wood grain.
First, I boiled enough water to fill a coffee cup and then inserted two tea bags. While the tea was sitting, I prepared a work area with plastic grocery bags and then placed the hatchet on top of the plastic. After 5 minutes, I applied the liquid tea to the handle using a cheap paint brush.
Step 7: Vinegar wash handle
While the handle was drying from the tea application, I prepared a work area with plastic grocery bags and placed the hatchet on top of the plastic. Once the handle was dry, I took the jar of steel wool and vinegar and vigorously shook it to get a well blended mixture to work with. I then liberally applied the concoction to the handle and let dry.
Once the wood dries, it will take on the appearance of gray, weathered wood.
Tip: The more coats you apply, the darker the wood will become! Apply one coat at a time, allowing for thorough drying. This will allow you to capture the desired age you’re aiming for.
Step 8: Sand for desired aging
Once the handle dried, I then began to sand the handle in spots to accentuate a rough-and-tough weathered look. If you want to remove more “age”, gently sand the entire handle with medium-grit sandpaper. This will remove some of the gray, exposing “newer” wood. It’s up to you as to how “old” you want the wood to look.
I picked up many of these tips and tricks from others over the years and I’m always on the lookout for new ones. That said, we would love to hear (and see) some of your restoration techniques. Feel free to share in the comment section or on our Facebook page.