Well, I've learned my lesson about saying I'll get around to something: every time I do it, I don't get to slow down for five or six days. Here's some late-game coverage of the last bit of work I did on the HP44 housing.
So it turns out that removing the axle wedges is WAY easier than I thought it would be; it really is just as simple as cutting 90% of the way through the welds, beating the ever-living s*** out of the wedges to crack the last bit of the weld on one side or the other, and then prying them off and cleaning up the remains. I probably should have been a bit more careful with the whole "wear some gloves while operating a tool that spins an abrasive wheel at a couple thousand RPM" thing, but I couldn't really feel much with gloves on and I was more concerned about the housing than my fingers, so, whatever.
Pictured: Besides, you can buy new fingers for like, three dollars apiece, these days.
Although it's a bit hard to see in that picture, the important part of cutting the welds is to NOT angle the cutting wheel towards the center of the axle tube any more than is necessary; if you can keep the angle of the wheel very shallow relative to the nearest surface of the tube the chance for gouging the tube itself is minimized and the weld can be cut with minimal effort. Here's a better shot of what the shallow-angled cut looks like; notice that if I'd kept cutting or accidentally gone too deep, I would have only skimmed the surface of the tube and not put a deep slice into it that would necessitate repairs.
Pictured: Also, note the crack at the base of the weld...
The crack in the picture above comes from the repeated usage of a cut-depth gauge...a device which is known as "a big-a** hammer" in the common parlance. I'm totally not kidding about that, either; I periodically stopped cutting and gave the wedge a few vicious smacks with a 3-lb. cross-peen to see if I'd cut deeply enough to break the weld instead of cutting all the way through it. Once there was a paper-thin layer of weld remaining, a crack would start to form and I knew to not cut any deeper, and the result was an unmarred axle tube. I also found out that I only had to break the weld on one side; once one side or the other is cracked and broken, the other side will give way with MUCH less cutting.
Pictured: All that's required is a large pry bar and a bit of leverage...
Pictured:...and the wedge will pop right off.
After repeating that procedure three more times I was left with a somewhat-cleaner-and-lighter housing than I'd started with. I also figured out that making the very shallow cuts to remove the wedges had the unfortunate effect of leaving a LOT of weld still attached to the housing...but a hard grinding disc and an hour or so of labor took care of the extra metal.
Pictured: And it also made a horrific mess...but, whatever.
Pictured: ""Wedges? We ain't got no wedges. We don't NEED no wedges!"
After I got through with the remains of the wedge welds, I went ahead and ground off the sheet metal brake line clips and then took a 60-grit flap wheel to all of the areas that I'd worked on; I could have skipped that part entirely but I was having a good time and didn't have anywhere else to be.
I actually got the remains of the carrier and the ring gear out, as well, but I figured I would save those pictures until I pulled the pinion gear out, which I haven't done. That's my next step, along with removing the desiccated remains of the inner axle seals; they're literally rusted/cracked apart. After all of that stuff is removed I'll take the housing to get cleaned up - not sure about how to do that, yet - and then take it to The UberMark for work on the inner C's, which I've decided to replace entirely. I found a good deal on some beeftastic ones from Crane, so I'll probably go with them. In between all of that
work, I'll get the factory front swaybar removed - yeah, I still
haven't done that - and get the AntiRock installed, and I'll also get an Annabelle picture posted because I'm starting to think that I'm going to get burned at the stake if I don't do so in short order...