Axe Restoration: Part 3, Post-Cleaning Examination
All of the three axe heads shown above have received 12 hour vinegar baths and a light sanding with a 120 grit block. Each have their pros and cons with regards to restoration. On the far right is the Michigan pattern we started with. The center head is a dayton pattern we’ve had lying around for a while. On the far right is a jersey head we recently picked up on ebay.
In addition to breaking down rust, vinegar adds a patina to steel. Different types and hardnesses of steel will take on different patinas. For instance the hardened steel at the bit end of the head tends to take on a darker patina than the softer steel of the rest of the head. Where these two hardnesses meet there is usually a difference in tonality. The line created by this tonal shift is called the hamon line. Additional time in a vinegar bath after cleaning will usually reveal the hamon line fairly clearly. The photos above show the hamon lines highlighted in white. Of these three heads only the dayton and the jersey show well defined hamon lines (the dayton shows two no less!). The hamon line on one side of the michigan head runs parallel and about 2 inches from the bit, but only covers the heel (bottom of the bit) on the other side. This may be evidence of an improperly hardened bit, or just a general lack of quality. For this reason I’ve decided not to continue much further on the restoration of this head. After some more sanding and polishing, and hanging it with a new helve it will make a fine show piece but it would not be first on my list as a hard working axe.
The dayton head cleaned up fabulously in the vinegar bath and barely required any sanding to remove corrosion. After pulling it from the bath a few good swipes with the fingers was all that was needed to remove the rust and reveal the bare steel. Unfortunately the poll of this head is terribly mushroomed. Originally this head was passed over for restoration because of the poll damage but the cleanliness and quality of the steel now warrants a full restoration. This could be a very nice axe. In the last shot you’ll notice some damage along the top of the head. In this photo it’s interesting to note that the steel stops mushrooming at the hamon line, and instead begins to chip. This is because steel becomes more brittle during the hardening process and prone to chipping. This head is also stamped as a “Zenith Cold Test” from Marshall Wells who was a distributor and manufacturer of hardware from Duluth, MN, but they were not known to make axes. It’s most likely that this is a contract axe made by another manufacturer (online speculation points to a Kelly Champion) and then sold through Marshall Wells with their own name on it. The last photo shows the double hamon line quite clearly.
Lastly, the jersey head on the right is badly pitted due to rust and corrosion. Most of the pitting is localized to the top inch and a half of the head which leads me to believe that it may have been left in standing water for some amount of time. This head is heavier than the other two, weighing about 4 pounds. While it needs quite a bit more surface work than the other two, this head is definitely on the list for restoration. It may have been neglected but it sure wasn’t used a whole lot. The poll shows only a few small dents and the bit looks like it may not have been altered beyond its factory condition. With some more aggressive sanding and polishing this axe could be restored practically to like-new condition. Stay tuned!