Cleaning a Berg Chisel Decal and Handle

This Berg chisel handle looked pretty rough when it arrived. It was covered with something hard and sticky, plus it had bits of straw embedded into it.


This is how it looked after I removed the gunk, cleaned the decal and steel hoop, and removed the old shellac. The handle is in great condition and it will look almost new with a few fresh coats of orange shellac. Note that the original orange shellac gave the blue decal a greenish tinge. This will likely recur if orange shellac is reapplied.


Cleaning was easy. I carefully removed the top layer of the sticky stuff with a single-edge razor blade used as a scraper. I then cleaned the remainder off of the label with qtips moistened with isopropyl alcohol. (Methyl hydrate also works well). This type of Berg decal cleans up well with alcohol and is not damaged by it.

I cleaned the rest of the shellac off of the handle and steel hoop with alcohol and a small, stiff-bristled artist brush. I wiped the dissolved shellac off from time-to-time with a paper towel.


The small paintbrush and alcohol gives fairly precise control over shellac removal. It also works with small repairs if the shellac is still in good condition. The alcohol dissolves the shellac and allows it to re-amalgamate and then re-harden. In this instance I decided to remove all of the old shellac. The photo below shows the handle with most of the shellac removed.


Here is another “before and after” comparison.


This approach to cleaning and removing shellac works on many Berg chisels, plus other Swedish brand chisels as well. However, alcohol will not soften or remove the finish on a varnished Berg chisel handle. This varnish finish shown in the photo below is durable and has a ‘plastic’ feel to it. This finish is typically found on later Berg chisel handles, those made just before and during the time Berg introduced plastic handles.


Alcohol is not suitable for cleaning all Berg decals. I do not recommend cleaning the old Berg paper and foil labels (see below) at all. They are too fragile.


Also, never use alcohol on the blue Berg Shark-O-Lite decals. It will dissolve the decal instantly. Below is a chisel that was used as a test. The tattered edge of the decal on this handle wiped off with one swipe of an alcohol-soaked qtip.


I always test waterslide style chisel decals by applying alcohol to a very small area on a partial decal or decal fragment. I usually leave intact or mostly-intact decals alone.

As I mentioned earlier, I do not attempt to clean paper and foil decals with alcohol (or anything else).

One other thing that I should also mention. If you are cleaning blued steel hoops on chisel handles with citric acid or Evaporust they will likely remove the bluing along with the rust.

If you have other tips and techniques that have worked well for you, please feel free to post them in the Comments section below.


2 comments on “Cleaning a Berg Chisel Decal and Handle
  1. Randall Nelson says:

    Another mistake to avoid- never wipe a Shark-O-Lite plastic handle with an oily rag! It will remove the blue decal or the white embossed lettering. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.

  2. RussS says:


    Interesting post and a fine job refurbishing that chisel. I would not have though one could get it so clean.

    I have some Berg chisels in fine condition but with a smooshed end. So far I’m not satisfied with my repair attempts. There’s enough wood there but it’s hard to shape it symmetrically with handtools. Any ideas?

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