Handle with care: restore old farming tools

Picture by Seth Smoot
Date:4 August 2012 Tags:, ,

Q I have some old farming tools that have been in my family for years, and I want to restore them. Most need wood handles that I can’t find for sale anywhere. Can you help?

A Poles of various thicknesses are available from wood merchants and hardware stores, although most are likely to be made from pine, so you’ll need to decide whether your restored tools are for display or hard work (in the case of the latter, pine probably won’t cut it). We know of people who’ve used old Boy Scout staves (you know, those poles they used to carry around on their hikes). However, these have become quite rare nowadays, and short of mugging a Scout (which remains illegal), you’ll probably battle to get hold of one.

It’s tremendously satisfying to put a tool back in working order, especially one that connects you with your ancestors. The first step in replacing a handle on an agricultural tool is pretty straightforward – you just knock off the head and the ferrule (the metal sleeve on the handle’s end) with a hammer. If the head is secured by rivets, grind off their heads and drive out the shanks using a pin punch and a ballpeen hammer. Alternatively, you can drill out a rivet: place a centre punch on the head, whack the punch with a hammer, and drill on the centre mark. If the head doesn’t come off and ride up the drill bit, shear off what remains with a sharp cold chisel.

Now you can connect the tool head to the new handle. It’s important to get the proper grain direction for handles on spades, forks, hoes and rakes (see the drawing at left). Next, drive the handle into the tang (the long metal tab) at the end of the head. To rivet on a new handle, drill through the handle, guided by the old rivet holes. Insert the rivets, place the socket on a firm surface, such as a heavy wooden block, and dome the rivet head with a ball-peen hammer.

Finally, clean off any rust on the tool head using coarse sandpaper and a wire brush. Sharpen any dull cutting surfaces with a file, then shoot a thin fi lm of spray lubricant on to the toolhead, and you’re ready to go to work.

TIP: For the strongest grain orientation, place the oval grain rings on the new handle so they are on the side, not the top or bottom.