Club Repair: Restoring a Putter (Part 1)

December 12, 2011

Anyone who has read our blog over the last year or so understands the cycle: in the summer, LG and I do club reviews, course reviews, and other fun posts about golf. In the winter, there is no PGA (or, little, at least), and for the most part we’re sequestered indoors because of weather. As such, winter posts tend to focus around equipment modifications and customizations.

As such, even after a rough experience with my restoration of a TeI3 last year (see https://thepowerfade.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/restoring-a-tei3-long-neck/), I felt like it was time to get back at the restoration bug. I learned a great deal between then and now, and I have a few Spalding TP Mills putters to finish in various finishes. This should be a fun winter project.

I have to give a lot of credit to LaMont Mann of Mannkrafted golf (http://mannkrafted.com/) and Sunset Beach Golf Company (http://ssbeachgolf.com/) for his guidance. What a great guy and a fountain of knowledge on this stuff. LaMont, I hope this turns out like one of your beauties.

This post will be more of a journal of the restoration process. I have multiple finish types and processes to try out, and (thankfully) I have multiple putters to try it on at low cost. We’ll see which is most effective.

11/23/2011
Seen below is the first putter: a Spalding TP Mills VI putter. These putters have a great amount of character and are receptive to various refinishing options, making them prime candidates for work. Plus, they can typically be had for a reasonable price. I’ve picked up four TP Mills Spalding putters of various years.

The problem with working on these is that the standards are not very consistent from one putter to another. They literally used materials across the board–from carbon to stainless to whatever mix of metals they could put together. They had different shaft diameters (most of them non-standard in today’s world) of .191, .281, .289, and more. For example, the putter head I pulled below had a screw-on shaft!

If you’re doing this yourself, look for ones that are rusty, as they’ll take home-made finishes better. However, see below: this is a carbon steel model, so it should do well for taking the finish. How can you tell carbon from stainless? The easiest way is to take a magnet to it; if the magnet sticks, the putter’s carbon; if it doesn’t stick, it’s stainless.

11/24/2011

Here are some “before” photos. These have had a few passes with the flat file because I forgot to take true “before” photos.





In the photos below, I am trying to get marks out of the face. I have the putter secured in a vice and am making passes over it with a flat file. This will help keep the face relatively flat and will allow me to take out some of the egregious club chatter. Overall, the putter looks pretty clean, save for a few marks on the top line and the face, which I will work out over time.


11/29/2011

After spending way too much time sanding the last time, I’ve found that naval jelly takes finish–as well as rust–off of putters. This could’ve saved me a bunch of time. Of course, it wont take dings out of the putter, but it does save a step.

After putting naval jelly on, I realized that this putter is actually plated. After talking to LaMont, it’s a Melonite (sp?) coating, which is “hella hard to get off.” You can see it in the photos by looking at the face. It doesn’t seem like it was too difficult to get it off with the flat file. I’ll try a little more, but I do have some Dremmel Scotchbrite tools coming, so I may wait for those to get here to take the chrome off. I also have an old 8802-style blade that I was going to do the same thing for. We’ll see what happens. Maybe I’ll do them together with the Scotchbrite wheels.

By the way, naval jelly is some gnarly stuff. BE CAREFUL, and USE GLOVES!



11/30/2011

I’ve decided to wait for the Scotchbrite wheels to get here. For those who may not know, there is a good and a bad to there being a plating/chroming on this putter. The good side is that chrome and platings generally cannot be applied to stainless steel. Thus, that means the heads are carbon steel. Why that matters is that carbon steel is much more versatile with finishing than stainless. Carbon steel can rust; stainless cannot. This occurs because carbon steel has “free electrons” in its structure. Those electrons give it a magnetic charge, which is why a magnet will stick to carbon steel. Steel, generally, is iron with carbon in it. Stainless steel is different from carbon steel because it is not just carbonized iron but is actually a compound that includes molybdenum or another metal in it. Part of what holds the stainless steel compound together is the free electrons bonding the molybdenum to the iron. As such, stainless steel does not have free electrons and will not stick to a magnet.

What all this boils down to with refinishing is how finish takes on the metal. The “free electrons” (aka electronegativity) of the metal allow it to be plated. They also allow rust to form on the metal (which is why stainless is, well, “stain-less”, where carbon steel rusts). Many finishing options (such as gun blue) are actually accelerated or controlled forms of “rusting,” or oxidizing the metal. Thus, finding out that the metal is actually carbon steel is a good thing because it means that the metal will take a gun blue or a plum brown solution well. Although some products out there will allow the darkening of stainless steel (such as Caswell’s stainless steel blackener), the process is not the same, as those products are typically are made of an acid that burns the stainless steel metal more than a controlled oxidation, as with gun bluing. Both carbon steel and stainless steel can be flamed (aka “torched,” or heated with a torch until the metal turns colors), but that process generally works better with carbon steel for the aforementioned reason–i.e., colors stick better to carbon than stainless.

However, finding out the metal is plated also means the plating must be removed. If it’s done chemically, chrome removal usually involves a process of muriatic (hydrochloric) acid, a chemical that must be heavily controlled (or, basically, it can kill you). The byproduct of removing chrome with muriatic acid is hexavalent chromium (what made Erin Brockovich famous), a substance that is regulated by each state and must be controlled and disposed of properly. Hence, it’s not really a DIY job to remove chrome or plating by chemical means. You can, however, grind the chrome/plating off, which is what I will attempt to do with the Dremmel. You technically could do it with a flat file, but it would take a long time (the reason why I haven’t completed the 8802-style restoration yet). I’m hoping these Scotchbrite Dremmel tools will speed up the process significantly.

12/2/2011

Actually, now I’m wanting to restore this 8802-style putter as well. I started it a long time ago and gave up because I couldn’t tell how much chrome I was taking off. I tried taking it off with a grinding wheel, but that was like doing surgery with a machete–way, way overkill. You can see where I overground between the face and the hosel on the heel side. I should be able to fix it, but it’s a pain. Hopefully, the Dremmel tools will help, but, now that it’s greyed up a little bit (since it’s not freshly sanded/ground), I’ve actually managed to take a lot of the chrome off. The “before” photos are a little fuzzy, but hope “current state” photos should be better. The putter is an Old Master W802 “Forged” putter. Neat piece I picked up at a golf shop in town. I thought it might be worth trying to refinish. Got into it and got busy, but it should be taken care of now.

before:


current state:

Here, you can see the large gash in the heel that was taken out by the grinder.



12/4/2011
I’ve actually now taken my focus away from the TP Mills and re-set it on the Old Master blade. The reason for this is that I had forgotten how much work I had put into the Old Master and how disappointed I was that it wasn’t working well. Discovering the Dremmel has enlightened me to how to address these types of issues. Although the steel is still VERY hard (and difficult to work with hand tools), I feel as though I can get it to a good rough shape now with the Dremmel and finish it up. However, I plan not to forget about the TP Mills as well.

Below are some photos of the processing from yesterday and today with the W802 Old Master. First, the Dremmel is a life saver. I’m using a stone wheel (not the Scotchbrite–those came in today). Be very careful with this, as you can do some bad damage. I am using very light pressure and keeping the wheel constantly moving in order to ensure that I don’t make any marks and just take the chrome off.


Once I think I’m done, I have run some water over the head and put some salt on it and left it in a wet sink. The reason for this: I’m trying to figure out if all of the chrome is off. Rusting the putter out will show me better the spots where the chrome hasn’t been removed. Note: don’t do this on a stainless steel sink, as the rust can adhere to the metal. Ceramic sinks are best but must be cleaned when you’re done.


After some light sanding with 150 grit sandpaper, you can see that the shape is now smooth and nice. I know where there are a few spots that the chrome still needs to come off, but I’m hoping I can do this with an overall sanding of the whole head. The shape is classic and timeless–a great putter head.



Note, where there was a big gash in the heel from the bench grinder, the Dremmel allowed me to make multiple passes in a small area and really smooth it out. You can’t even tell there was a problem.

I’ve started the sanding process. I’ll go 60 grit, 150 grit, 220 grit, 400 grit, 1000 grit, and then 2000 grit followed by polish. I want this thing as shiny as possible before applying the finish.

This sanding takes FOREVER (cue The Sandlot). I like to take it in a stage of several days. While I’m watching football or reading for work, I sit with the sandpaper and club head, wearing down the ridges and smoothing out the valleys. It’s pretty mindless, but if you keep at it, you can incrementally make it look better. Another (faster) alternative is to sand using a sandpaper attachment for a Dremmel. This method is fine, but you can end up screwing things up very quickly if you make a mistake. An even faster method is a belt sander (if you have one) or a wheel for a bench grinder. I don’t have these things, and I’m not going to spend the money if I’m not doing it professionally. Hopefully, my method will give the aspiring finishers out there an idea of how they can do this on a budget.

12/5/2011

After some progressive hand sanding with various grits, you can see some of the potential that this thing has. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s starting to get done. The sanding also shows some of the errors (rippling on the face, deep scratches on the flange), so it helps me know how and where to highlight. Next step will be to put it in a vice and Dremmel sand/hand sand it until all the chrome is gone and the surfaces are smooth and shiny.




12/8/2011

I’ve been wanting to get this done as much as possible, and I finally made it happen. I even changed the title of the thread from “Restoring a TP Mills Putter” to “Restoring a Putter.” I’ll now do this in parts. Today, I’m showing torching. For the TP Mills, I have some black oxide and some plum brown as well to play around with. This is going to be even more fun than I thought.

Today, I decided it was time to go for it. I had plenty of sandpaper for hand sanding ready to go. Most of the ripples and dings were out, and I decided that it would probably look OK if I finished it tonight. And, if I didn’t like it, I knew how to take it off.

I chose to torch this putter. I’ve done cold blue application before, and I was aware of what that entailed. I wanted to try something new this time. LaMont gave me a great primer on how to torch, so I thought this was a good thing to do.

The first step is to get the putter as shiny as possible. I didn’t accomplish as polished a look as I really wanted, but I’m not upset about that. Better polishing leads to better finishing in general, and I will probably try for a clearer finish later, but I wanted to have something I could call a “finished product.”

Below is the result of progressive grits of sandpaper from 1000 grit up to 2000 grit. As you can see, the major dings/ripples aren’t going to come out. It’s only finish sanding to get it as close to polished as possible. I am wearing gloves because the sweat from my hands was actually making marks on the surface of the putter, and I wanted it as clean as possible for torching.



Particularly in this photo, you can see how well the chunk on the heel has smoothed over with (1) a Dremmel and (2) progressive sanding.

At this point, I’m ready to start the torching. Because the metal will be getting VERY hot, you need to hold it with something. In this case, I have a set of Vice Grips. I’m fortunate that this is a shaft-over-hosel model so that I can hold here without worrying about damaging the finish–this part of the putter will be inside the shaft anyway.

My tool of choice is a Bernz-O-Matic propane torch. Although it may take longer than acetylene or other torches, it’s a great torch for a beginner. It doesn’t get the head so hot that you can’t see the changes in the finish. Instead, even though it takes awhile (I was actually wondering at one point whether it was going to happen for me), once the colors start changing they change really quickly, so it’s good to have lower heat to be able to control it.

Before torching, I clean with acetone to make sure all the surface grime is off.

At this point, I’m ready to torch. I found the video below, which gives some instructions on how to do this. The major point is to keep the heat moving so you end up with a fairly even coloring. From there, it’s just patience and persistence.

Following torching, I’ve quenched it in a bath of motor oil. This is not necessary, but I was hoping it would help preserve the finish a bit. Torching provides no anti-corrosion protection, so I can’t see oil quenching as being detrimental.

Finally, the big reveal. Is it perfect? No, but it does look pretty darn good. And, if I ever become unhappy, I can just throw some naval jelly on it and redo. Looking back at what I started with last year, I wasn’t hoping for this much work. However, I can honestly say I’m happy with the result below. All total, the entire weight loss for this process was only 4 grams.


Looking at the neck, you can see the progression of colors better. You can see the nearly raw metal at the top of the neck, some goldish looking color, then a short period of reddish brown hue, then iridescent purple, then deep blue, and finally blue-green. It would be great to do this entire putter in that iridescent purple, but that will take a little better touch.

For the photos below, I’ve cleaned with extra fine (0000) steel wool to try to even out some of the bumps. Still not perfect, but it looks great.






I’ll be refinishing other putters soon, so stay tuned!

12/11/2011:

I decided to redo this putter since there were some places that dings/dents were showing through the finish. I used 60 grit, then 220 grit, then 1000 grit, then 2000 to prep it. Torched and quenched in motor oil. This time, I didn’t let the color turn past the iridescent purple, whereas last time it got past it into a light turquoise blue. This time, I’m stunned: this worked out tremendously.




12/12/2011
Finally, the last photos of this putter. It’s been a great journey putting this one together. Off to work on the next one–finishing the VI. We’ll see it in the next post.







and here are some better photos with natural lighting. Notice how the finish shows through in natural light. Just amazing.



2/6/2012:

I just discovered a few more “before” photos that I didn’t realize I had. Man, how far this thing came. Enjoy.














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14 Responses to “Club Repair: Restoring a Putter (Part 1)”

  1. LaMont Says:

    When the 3M wheels show up, you’ll be amazed at the time they will save and the finish work that will be cut in half.
    Looks great!!


  2. good idea im gonna try it

  3. lmno Says:

    hi, nice work,

    i’m curious if you dry or wet sanded it? and if you wet sanded, it did you use water or wd40 (or some other oil) to wet the sand paper?

    many thanks

    • JK Says:

      it’s not critical to wet sand, but it usually helps you get a little bit shinier finish. do it as a last step for the finest grit sandpaper you’re using with soapy water. i can see oil being a problem if you tried to sand it.

      also, you shouldn’t do anything once the finish is applied. all of the sanding is done pre-finishing.

      thanks!

  4. Jeremy Headrick Says:

    Wow I know this is old but the last pictures from 12/12/2011 where you stated you redid the putter….you only torched it to achieve that color? I want that purple color on my putters but can’t find anyone that knows what I am talking about.

    • JK Says:

      Yes, it’s just torching. It takes a good polishing and getting all the dirt off with alcohol or acetone first, but it’s very doable with just a simple propane torch and a lot of patience.

  5. Jim Says:

    Well, this thread is pretty old so I won’t hold my breath on a reply to this but…

    (and this might be a really stupid question)

    Is there “special” sand paper for this job, or can I just walk into HD and get the various grits mentioned? (i.e. is there “stainless steel sandpaper” or “wood sand paper” or all they all the same.

    Thanks

    Jim
    30 handicap when it comes to putter refinishing 😉

  6. josh Says:

    I’m curious, is the torching effect permanent? one shot and if you don’t like it too bad? or is there a way to revert the coloring and get it back to the original satin steel look?

    • JK Says:

      completely re-doable. but you have to go through the process to take it off, which is the same sanding/polishing/etc that you just did. you might not want to do it again.

  7. daniel Says:

    Did you ever complete the TPM?

  8. Vishal M Says:

    I have a ping anser 2 w/ a satin finish that I want to change to a stainless steel shiny & polished look. Where on the sand paper grit should I start to polish (I’ll go 60 grit, 150 grit, 220 grit, 400 grit, 1000 grit, and then 2000 grit followed by polish.) and what’s the best way to get off the satin finish. Guessing the sand paper may not be effective to begin with?

    Thanks,
    VM

    • JK Says:

      if the putter isn’t beat up, you don’t need to start with rough grit. the rough grit is only if you want to hide the imperfections. satin finish is usually just a bead blasted finish and should polish off pretty easily. just know that the polished look is hard to keep looking clean and nice without some type of finish (black ox, gun blue, plum brown, or torching with oil sealing). and it can glare a bit in the sun. but it does look pretty hot when done right.

      good luck!

      • Vishal M Says:

        Thanks JK! Yep made right determination (luckily) and started with the 400 Grit and went to town on it. Love the results so far. The one thing I can’t seem to get rid of is slight black pits on the steel. Will the finer grit get to this ? Any recommendations on polish to use after I’m done sanding it?

        Thanks!
        VM


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