Carving Chisel Restorations

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Project by mlk1005 posted 08-04-2018 03:39 PM 1724 views 3 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

There just isn’t anything better than a bucket full of old chisels!

I recently was able to acquire a large assortment of vintage-ish carving chisels. These were certainly not, and never would be museum pieces or particularly collectible. The entire collection had obviously spent a great deal of time sitting in water. The handles were cracked, stained, grayed from moisture, rust stained and in some cases actually rotten. The steel parts ranged from heavily caked in rust to moderately rusty in areas. The collection included many familiar names, Buck Brothers, Addis, Herring, D R Barton, Saville & Co, as well as some that were new to me, New London Co, Peugeot Freres, some unmarked. So, feeling that I had little to lose, I decided to try a couple of the things I’d read about and attempt to bring these old soldiers back to fighting condition.

So the journey begins…

For those of you that have never tried vinegar to remove rust, give it a shot. I am regretting every minute I have spent with a wire brush and steel wool. Honestly, if there had been fewer chisels to clean off, I would have gotten the wire brush out but there were so many (160+) and in such bad shape I decided to go for it. 20% vinegar and 6 to 8 hours soaking allowed me to just brush off the rust with a small wire brush in a bucket of water. I simply stood the chisels up in an old mayonnaise jar, filled it with vinegar up to just under the handles and came back in the morning. Amazing!!!

After the vinegar. Funny thing, I really wanted to dye Easter Eggs after this…...

Once the metal was cleaned up the bigger job of addressing the handles became my near obsession for a couple of months. This is where the second miracle was revealed to me. Wood bleach, oxalic acid. Never in my decades of woodworking did I feel like I had any use for this chemical. I would have sanded and stained these handles dark to cover the stains from rust and water. But with so many to work on and only one lifetime to do it in, I decided to shoot for better living through chemistry. The results were very exciting. The majority of staining was removed, the wood came back to something closer to its natural color and I was able to salvage probably 85% of the handles. Some were beyond saving and new handles were turned to fit. I have always appreciated the variety of handle styles and woods and markings that you find with antique carving tools and these had plenty of variety. A number of them had the letter “F” carved rather crudely in the handle. I found myself wishing I could meet “F” and see what kind of work he or she did with these tools. “ADP” had a couple of them as well, were they co-workers or acquaintances? Ill never know but I thought a lot about them as I worked on these.

Here are a few of the chisels ready to be bleached.

I roughed up the existing finish or what was left of it to allow the wood bleach to saturate the wood.

About this much powdered wood bleach. This little cup holds three or four ounces of water, my estimate.

I soaked the wood completely with a small rag several times over a two or three hour period. (wear chemical gloves and a respirator)

After the stains had bleached out and the wood was back to a more normal color I rinsed them thoroughly and let them dry. Then a light sanding and we are ready for varnish. Some I stained with Minwax Gunstock, others were just varnished. (See the “F” on the third handle from the left?)

After varnish they were transferred to my high tech drying rack.

The same chisels after varnish and sharpening. The rust pitting is easily visible on some but they all took a razor sharp edge. Once again, not collectors items but plenty good for my chisel rack.

A few of the handles that didn’t make the grade. I particularly like the one with the wire twisted around it. The previous owner was clearly more interested in function rather than appearances.

I am still trying out different handle styles and woods to find my favorite combination. I’m beginning to think its more a function of mood rather than form or function. The woods here include Oak, Walnut, African Blackwood, and Katalox. On some I reused the original ferrules and others were replaced with new.

Time to start carving!

If you see a pile of rusty worn out chisels in the corner at the next yard sale you go to, maybe give them a second look, they may serve you well!

-- Mark, St Louis, MO

7 comments so far

View ClaudeF's profile


1401 posts in 2989 days

#1 posted 08-04-2018 04:07 PM

Nice work on the restoration. Looks like they’ll be good for another 100 years!



View Planeman40's profile


1559 posts in 4042 days

#2 posted 08-04-2018 04:25 PM

I would rather have those than new ones! Great restoration!!!

-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View Dark_Lightning's profile (online now)


4930 posts in 4390 days

#3 posted 08-04-2018 06:01 PM

WOW! Nice work and nice chisels! I guess maybe I ought to look into some garage sales. I have most of the chisels I will ever use though, some as yet unused, as I haven’t gotten to some projects that I will use them on.

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

View rtbrmb's profile


832 posts in 3670 days

#4 posted 08-04-2018 06:52 PM

Wow-excellent work. I have restored a few chisels and planes-but nothing on this scale.

You have done a lot of work & now rewarded with an awesome set of usable, vintage chisels.

Thanks for sharing.

Bill in MI

View swirt's profile


6798 posts in 4253 days

#5 posted 08-05-2018 02:23 AM

Wow. A whole bucket of great saves. Well done.

-- Galootish log blog,

View Grumpy's profile


26812 posts in 5132 days

#6 posted 08-06-2018 07:35 AM

A great save of old tools, nice job and congratulations on your ‘Daily Top 3’ award.

-- Grumpy - "Always look on the bright side of life"- Monty Python

View mcoyfrog's profile


4757 posts in 4876 days

#7 posted 08-09-2018 05:32 PM

Neat, definitely a work of love

-- Wood and Glass they kick (well you know) Have a great day - Dug

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