Help me not rust away
November 17, 2009 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Restoring a badly rusted battleaxe and need advice

I have a centuries old (allegedly) axe head that is honestly more rust than steel, it is an aggressive rust that is causing it to flake away into nothing. I am also concerned that a previous owner may have used chemicals on it and that is why the rust is so aggressive.
How can I treat this? I do not think those commercial rust stoppers are up to this, what do museums and archaeologists use? Soaking in hot wax?
posted by Iron Rat to Technology (7 answers total)
Google has plenty to offer for rust removal techniques, but have you considered electrolysis?

And its absolutely awesome that you have a battleaxe! Any chance you do get rid of the rust, some followup pics would be much appreciated
posted by Petrot at 12:53 PM on November 17, 2009

There's no way you're going to 'get rid' of the rust - it basically is rust now, ie oxidised metal. I'd worry that a process like electrolysis, if done over-enthusiastically, will leave you with nothing. If you look at these swords in a museum - they're rusted.

If you scroll to the bottom of this page you can see the decisions that conservators come to - and judging from your picture and description you're in category 2 or 3. That page has a lot of other info on it, but I'm not sure that jumping in and having a go yourself would be the best idea - a lot of preparations that conservators use are carefully formulated to make sure that they've got exactly the 'right' acidity and so on. Is there anyone you can go to for an in-person opinion?

For the moment - do not handle with bare hands, store in acid-free tissue paper. This would be more of an issue if it was less rusty - shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted in this case, but handling steel with bare hands makes it rust very quickly.

I'm also now trying to work out where I've seen an axe like that before. It seems awfully familiar, but then I do spend far too much time in museums...
posted by Coobeastie at 1:15 PM on November 17, 2009

what do museums and archaeologists use

What do we use? Specialists in metal restoration. I did know a professor who did a lot of metal preservation; she said it was very unpleasant work. Stabilizing is easier and cheaper than restoring. Inquire at your local large city museum or historical society for local resources.
posted by cobaltnine at 1:17 PM on November 17, 2009

I've always wanted a railroad spike, and one day, I found one. It was in worse-off conditions than your battleaxe-head looks.

I did a chemical variant of the electrolysis method - soaked it in white vinegar, adding table salt (almost saturating) and let sit for a few days, agitating, adding more salt, changing vinegar, &c. Once the rust had all flaked off, I rinsed it in cool water, patted dry, and let air dry for a day.

Oiled it really well afterwards with a light parafin (it soaked up a lot of oil). Thought that I had before/after photos on my camera, but no. It's now rust free, greyish, and hasn't accumulated any more rust sitting on my bookshelf.
posted by porpoise at 1:39 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the ideas everyone, just to clarify I do not want to strip any rust, if I did this thing would be gone. It is more a stabilization and hold it together thing at this point.
posted by Iron Rat at 5:57 PM on November 17, 2009

Out of curiosity- what's the story behind the axe?
posted by arnicae at 6:15 PM on November 17, 2009

It is an ebay buy from about five years ago, I like stuff like this.
posted by Iron Rat at 7:52 PM on November 17, 2009

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