Last year, I won an old, rusty double-bit axe head in a writing contest at The Sharpened Axe blog. Most people who are not interested in such things would seriously question whether this is any kind of “prize” at all. Of course, you and I know better. ;) I did a series of write-ups for TSA on how I restored the axe and have since put it to some use. The following post shows the progression of the restoration and some new pictures as well.
The head weighs four pounds and, from what I can tell, was not used much, if at all. Since these old axe heads were usually made very well, that makes it a great catch, as it’s got lots of life in it. Both bits were of the same thickness, and they were pretty thick.
To begin, I had to remove the rust to see what I had to work with. After leaving the head in a vat of vinegar for almost a week, all of the rust had come off, and only clean metal with a vinegar patina remained. You can clearly see how the vinegar made a darker patina on the tempered section of the bits.
The next step was to file the bevels/edges to get to the bare metal underneath. Looks good so far!
This was followed by sanding the bits with progressively finer sandpaper (a smooth bit prevents the axe head from sticking in wood).
Once the head itself was complete, it was time to fit a handle. I was not patient enough to make a handle myself and wait for it to dry out, so I bought a handle from a local hardware store. As double-bit axes are/were not common in Finland, I had to use the closest thing I could find, which was a pick handle made of birch. It actually turned out to be a pretty good solution. I shaped the handle with a knife, rasps and sandpaper and fitted the head onto it. I made a poplar wedge and used it and two steel wedges to secure the head in place. Since the pick handle did not quite fill the eye of the axe head, I made two wooden wedges of equal size and knocked them into the spaces from the bottom in an alternating fashion (one knock on one side, then one knock on the other, to make sure they went in evenly).
This was followed by finishing the handle with a few light coats of walnut stain and some teak oil. I soaked the top of the handle with teak oil to strengthen and harden the wood in the eye (birch tends to be soft and can deform/compress much easier than, say, hickory). The dark splotches you see are from the natural grain of the wood.
I have not done anything to change the thickness of the bits, so right now the axe is best suited for green soft woods, birch etc. (though I have used it for some seasoned-wood bucking, as you can see below). I may leave it this way, or I may thin out one of the bits in the future. Who knows. I already have a full-size felling axe with a thinner bit for seasoned wood, so I’m in no hurry to modify the double bit. The main purpose of this axe will be notching trees for felling with a saw or possibly for the entire felling task for larger trees. It’s not intended to be a bushcraft axe for every trip, because I usually just don’t need an axe of this size for camping or daytrips.
And…the money shot: