A chisel’s physique

One of the things I’ve had to do fairly often as I started woodworking was rehab century-old tools so that I could use them.  While I’ve more or less gotten what I need, I still buy old tools occasionally to restore and resell.  One of these days I’ll have some up here on the blog, but for now I thought I’d illustrate some of the inner workings of restoring a chisel.


This is a fairly typical example of what I pick up from time to time.  Neglected and abused, it’s not useful to anyone right now.  While I usually try to avoid mushroomed sockets, this one wasn’t too bad, and would leave plenty of room for a strong handle joint.  It really irritates me to see this kind of abuse because somebody paid good money for this chisel near the turn of the century.  I imagine it was granddad’s, then dad got it and kept it (even though he didn’t use it), then junior got ahold of it and to make it work (because he didn’t know how to make sharp tools), beat it with a steel hammer until the handle snapped off and then still kept beating.  Stupid kids…get off my lawn!

This particular chisel is a Peck, Stowe, and Wilcox No. 1 Extra.  Good steel in this one.  Before we polish anything, we want to do the structural work first.  So,  I start with a grinder and start grinding off that mushrooming.  Stop short of done, because the grinder can gouge up the steel we’d rather keep.


Once I have that down to mostly even with the rest of the socket, I’ll go ahead and use a file to take off the last little bits level.  I then drawfile the whole socket until everything is nice and even.  I’m not trying to take out all the pitting.  That would be too much steel removed.  It is vintage, after all.


To remove the socket stub, you have a few different options.  I usually try to thread in a screw and pull it out whole.  In this case, I had to chip it out in pieces with drill and chisel.  The mushrooming had peened over a steel rim keeping the stub in.  Once I finally got it out, level off the top of the socket.  Also remember to take off interior mushrooming or the new handle won’t fit right.  A Dremel with a conical grinding stone is the easiest way to do it, but you can do it with a file too.


Once that’s done, I wet sand with oil, polishing up to 600 grit.  Remember, we’re not trying to take out all of the pitting.  It’s too deep to remove without making a toothpick.  In my younger days, I would have just sandblasted the whole thing and called it good.  These days, I know that if I polish the steel nicely, it will work a whole lot better, even if it takes a little longer.  It looks better too.  The shine is mostly incidental; I’m more interested in smoothness.  I will say, though, that you should avoid the wire wheel and the buffing wheel.  The wire wheel will certainly get the rust off, but it leaves a very coarse look behind.  The buffing wheel will shine the steel, but it exacerbates the pitting, and smudges the edges, leaving the chisel looking a little amorphous.  It will also smear out what’s left of the maker’s mark.  Instead I sand with a sanding block.  This is a little slower, but it leaves the facets sharp and minimises the impact of the pitting.  It also leaves the maker’s mark clear (so long as you don’t sand it out!).  The socket should be sanded with a shoeshine motion.  When it’s all done, the chisel is still pitted, but it’s a lot cleaner and smoother, and the area where we repaired the mushroomed socket is impossible to pick out.  Tomorrow we’ll fit a handle, and have an old warhorse ready to ride again.