Thursday, March 17, 2011

bmatt’s Double-Bit Axe Restoration – Part 1

Today in the News:  bmatt returns with a really cool, full-circle article.  Back in November, bmatt won this axe head right here on The Axe for writing this article, as voted on by the readers.  It took me forever to finally ship it to him.  He was very patient with me and I appreciate that!  Enjoy.  According to bmatt, double-bits are a rare thing in Finland.
Bernard Ten Bears' Link of the Day: - Great western wear- I get straw hats for my boy there.  He's never had a sunburn.

bmatt’s Double-Bit Axe Restoration – Part 1
A little while back, I received a 4 lb. double-bit axe head from MOH (Thanks again MOH!). This past week I had a chance to get started restoring it.


There are many different ways one can go about restoring an axe head, but my preference is to start by soaking it in vinegar. So far, I have processed four old axe heads this way, and it has always worked out well. I place the head in an old container of an appropriate size and pour in the vinegar until the entire head is covered (making sure the eye has no air bubbles in it). In one picture, you can see that I wrapped a bag around the container (this isn’t necessary, I just wanted to try to protect the container somewhat).


I then left it this way for about 60 hours. During this period, I changed out the vinegar once and also rubbed the head down with my hands and rinsed it with water 3 or 4 separate times. Most of the rust flaked off during the first 24 hours, but some of it can be stubborn and require rubbing by hand or scratching with a fingernail. In any case, no brushes or any other implements were needed to remove any of the rust, just vinegar, your hands and time. By the way, I have heard that this rust-removal process can be greatly accelerated by boiling the axe in vinegar. I never would have heard the end of it if I tried it in our kitchen, though. Anyway, when all the rust was finally removed, the second vinegar bath shown here certainly looked as though it had had something rusty in it, and the first bath looked even nastier (dark brown and full of rust flakes). Of course, this is exactly where we want that rust to be, i.e. off the axe head.


After removing the head from the vinegar bath, I rinsed it thoroughly in the sink. I was very pleased to see very little pitting on an axe head that looked to be in very fine shape. I don’t even think the head was ever used much at all. At this point in the process, the surface of the head is so prone to oxidation that light rust/discoloration appears in mere seconds. The brown splotches you see in the “after” pictures are a result of this rinsing and contact with the air, and not rust that was left over from before.


When I removed the head from the vinegar, it was a clean gray and black with no red rust whatsoever (After the first 24 hours, the “healthy” steel immediately underneath the flaked-off rust was a much lighter gray color than you see in the pictures. The darker gray/black is a result of prolonged exposure to the vinegar.). After rinsing and drying, I quickly gave the entire head a coating of olive oil to prevent it from rusting over completely. I use olive oil at this stage because I want something that will be easy to remove with soap and water later on. When I’m ready to do more work on the axe, I will remove the brown splotches.

That’s pretty much all I did this time around. This step lets me see what I’m dealing with underneath the rust. As you can see, there are no maker’s stampings on the head, so it probably originally came with a sticker. Mike said he found this double-bit head together with an old Collins single-bit in similar condition, so perhaps the double-bit is a Collins as well.

The way I see it, there are lots of advantages to using the vinegar bath to process old axe heads:

1) Uses common vinegar instead of harmful chemicals
2) Not much work is involved
3) It is extremely effective
4) Creates a patina on the metal, which helps prevent red rust later on
5) Gives it an “old-timey” look, which I like

The next step will be to finish restoring the head so it’ll be ready to accept a new handle, which I will cover later on. At this point in the restoration, I’m really starting to get excited about finishing the axe and using it out in the woods, and here in Finland, it could be the only one of its kind.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post in the comments section.
Killer!  Can't wait to see this on a new haft!!!!
Pax Domini Sit Semper Vobiscum,

Mike, Oscar, Hotel.....out.


  1. We always used the sharp-cornered "western" style blades, since you could use the lower corner as a pickaroon sometimes. Either style works for chopping, though. The blade looks like a new one!

  2. GS, I think this head may indeed be "new". There are no traces of wood in the eye and the edges have only minor, uniform grind marks which could have been from grinding after the drop forging. In any case, this axe still has many, many years of life in it. :)


  3. Bmatt, Great and timely article. I'm in the process of restoring a WWII Robeson Shuredge knife. The rust removal will help. Now figuring how to replace the handle and possibly reshaping the knife.

    Steve in Central CA

  4. Glad to help, Steve. Hope your knife restoration goes well!


  5. Nice piece. I'm a relic hunter/metal detectorist and have used electrolysis to restore a couple of ax heads I'v recovered. Most of the ones I find are severely encrusted with rust. Do you think the vinegar treatment would still be effecting in that type of situation?


  6. Hey Richard! I've had good luck with vinegar and REALLY rusted stuff. I just change out the baths and scrub the piece in between.

    Interestingly, today as I was working I thought about doing a piece on metal detectorists. Do you have any leads I could chase here in Colorado?

    Also, in case you didn't know, this is the old blog site. Our new site has posts three times per week with handy articles. or email me at