Utilitarian Tool Restoration

When it come to restoring an old rusty tool I take a slightly different approach than what I see most folks doing on the old interwebs. I can fully appreciate a perfectly shiny, freshly painted restored hand tool. Here’s the thing, I have a thing for a good patina.It allows a tool to show its age, while still being perfectly useful. Take this English made Stanley 151 spoke shave that I finished this weekend.


You may think that it looks like crap, well It certainly doesn’t look new. To me that is the point. This tool came from one of my customers who’s uncle was a woodworker of some sort. He certainly had all of the tools anyway. The little shed that he used to work in was falling down. Literally half of the roof was gone, and one wall was leaning pretty bad. This was maybe a 10′ by 10′ shed, so once he was gone the rest of the family didn’t give the building a second though. He was gracious enough to let me look through the little building and I picked a few tools our of the wreckage. In the shape these tools were in, they weren’t worth much at all, however I do always pay a little something. I think for 3 or 4 tools I gave the guy $20.00. All in deep need of quite a bit of work.

My method for removing rust is simple and quick. Have you ever ran across those scratch pads for your die grinder? That is what I use for rust removal (Take your time they can generate a some heat. We don’t want to lose that temper). I disassemble, use the scratch pads, then were done with that part. I go no further. Where I spend most of my time is at the sharpening stones. It took a solid hour maybe longer to get the back of the iron flat. Then I set to work on the bevel. It doesn’t usually take nearly as long as the back, however plenty long enough. Once the tool is good and sharp it is usable as far as I am concerned, and that is the point isn’t it?

I know not everyone will agree with my method, and that is ok. Take your tools down to as fit of a finish as you like. Lord knows I like to see a nice shiny tool as much as the next guy, but if you are short on time like me you can get them useable simply by focusing on the important bits. You can always go back later when time allows, and continue. For me it’s more about function that form.

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Posted in woodworking
3 comments on “Utilitarian Tool Restoration
  1. You are too right. For most of my second-hand tool, a sharp blade and a smooth surface that runs on the project is what I am looking for. Some of my old tools have been very bad, and relly needed a complete do-over, then sometimes I go to town and get them up to a nearly new finish.

  2. Andrew says:

    I agree with the other Andrew. I’ve done the vinegar soaks, the scrubbing, and all sorts of other methods to get a tool to perfection…. and it hasn’t been worth the time most of the time (there was one saw that polished up nice… but promptly got dirty again).

    • Brian says:

      That’s pretty much the idea I was trying to get across. Sometimes good tools just won’t polish up easily, however they can still be useful. I really do enjoy the look of a nice patina like on the cutter of the spoke shave. It takes years to develop, and I would hate to remove it. It can act as a protectant for the steel in itself. These tools were meant to change with time, and be adaptable to the users needs as well. Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I very much enjoy reading your blog also.

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