Old tools have a near infinite lifespan so long as you’re willing to care for them. When in use, the effects of age are kept at bay. It’s only when they are shoved in the back of some drawer that rust begins to take over, turning them into what seems like trash. Don’t be fooled, though. Refurbishing old tools is exactly what’s needed to breathe life back into these treasures, no matter how degraded they look.
Workspace When you start restoring these tools, make sure you do so in an environment that is both dry and warm. The reason for this is that the metal, typically steel, remains warmer than a cooler location, causing condensation to form. With the condensation now on the metal and not being wicked away, rust forms. In that same vein, once you’re done restoring the tool, make sure you have a container made of wood or lined with a nice material that absorbs moisture to keep any further water damage minimal at most.
Disassembly The first step in any good restoration project is taking apart the tool. Because each different material requires a little different work, there’s no way to do it all at once and expect the wood and metal to come out looking fabulous. Disassembly also alerts you to any replacement parts you’ll need. Are there stripped screws? Is the wood rotten? Can the different parts even pull apart, or do you need some more muscle?
Cleaning The most important part to tackle first is the metal since this end is what does the work. For rust, that means submerging the various heads into a white vinegar solution for about four hours. Following this, a bit of steel wool works great to take off the loose bits of rust. If there are still more stubborn spots, leave the metal in vinegar overnight and wipe away the rest in the morning with the wool.
Once all the rust is gone, run the metal under water to wash away vinegar traces and dry thoroughly. For any pits or scratches, sand the exposed metal down until it is smooth. Wipe it with mineral spirits, coat it with a metal primer and paint it with a gloss. Only after all of that is done should you piece it back together or add a new handle.
Precision Work Not all tools are as general as hammers. Some, like custom carbide router bits, are used for extremely precise jobs and can’t be restored through some general process. Again, disassemble all of the parts. However, instead of soaking in vinegar, you’ll want to avoid its extreme corrosive power in favor of a wire brush, rubbing the metal down until the rust comes off. Following this, it’s all about sharpening what needs to be sharpened and then piecing it back together after covering it in a nice coat of anti-rust primer.