In June I purchased four vintage Plumb hatchets on eBay for $143 (~$35/per). One only needed sharpening, but the other three had loose and broken handles. They seem to be a range of different ages. The one I restored in this project is the one with surface rust and paint on the bottom.
The first step I like to do is a white vinegar bath. It's cheap and if you have time it'll work. Once the vinegar goes cloudy after two or so days take them out and wipe off the slime that's accumulated with a green scrubbie pad. This exposes new surfaces for the second bath. Once that was done it was ready for the wire wheel.
At the local hackerspace I used our very cool Bridgeport drill press with a wire wheel (like this one) and some sandpaper to bring it down to bare metal. There was some mushrooming on the poll and the top which I took down with a file. If I didn't do this there's the possibility pieces could chip off with use. Finally there were a few chips on the edge which I removed with the file; first flat against it and then restoring some edge.
At this point I have a few options. I could paint the head, use some finer grit sandpaper and oil for a shiny finish or create a consistent patina. I have two other heads to experiment with, so for this I went with a traditional looking patina. This consisted of leaving it (you guessed it) for a few days in vinegar.
The handle I got from Ace Hardware. I did have to pick through a few to get proper grain orientation but otherwise it was well made.
Unfortunately I was not paying close enough attention and the wedge broke half way while setting it and the head "jumped" a few millimeters. I managed to put the remainder of the wedge and an anchor in after that. It's frustrating, but the head is rock solid so I'll just have to live with it.
After that I used a few coats of linseed oil finished off the handle and soaking it helped secure the head.
Every axe needs a sheath so I dug out my leather working tools. Admittedly I am a complete novice in this space but I muddled through. First I made a paper template that wraps around and has a flap. I (lightly) tack glued that to the cow leather. I cut it out using my Cold Steel Code 4 knife, which is my daily carry. Seriously though, that knife can take a fantastic edge and keep it.
Last step was to add a latch. Erika had some magnetic snaps laying around so I decided to give it a try. I can't speak to their durability compared to, say, a heavy snap or leather ties but I it's an experiment. Looking at the main photo, I think it turned out well. The edge was restored razor sharp, the sheath fits snug but not tight and it's ready for some chopping.
Update 12 Dec 2014: I couldn't leave well enough alone and decided the back of the sheath needed some flourish. Like the geek I am, I decided to write my name in Quenya Elvish. At the hackspace we've been experimenting with our newly acquired Epilog laser cutter with different materials. At some higher power levels the laser scorches leather so the tape is there to help prevent that. It came out a little light so I touched it up with a soldering iron at home.