The Joys of Restoring Vintage Tools

The Joys of Restoring Vintage Tools

toolRestore_4Jimmy DiResta’s flea market finds, before and after.

There seems to be something of a trend these days of makers scooping up vintage tools, showing them off online, and then doing restoration videos for them. There is something special about an old tool that gets handed down to you or that you find at a flea market or garage sale, or in the trash, and that you bring back to life.

Old tools are often better made, super-cheap to acquire, and have that patina of age and memory that give them a special quality no new tool can match. And all that is often required to revive them is a little elbow grease, a white vinegar soak, some brushing, sanding, and oiling, maybe a new handle, and the tool is ready to take pride of place in your toolbox and workflow.

There’s also something oddly compelling in watching people restoring old tools. Here are a few videos that I’ve recently seen on YouTube.

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In this video, Jimmy DiResta restores four tools that he got a flea market: a pair of large tailoring sheers, two firmer chisels (used for mortising), and a fencing tool. To bring them back, he first soaks them in white vinegar, gives them a good wire brushing, then a turn on a wire wheel on the bench grinder. From there, it’s on to the belt sander to bring everything back down to the metal. Next, he turned handles for the chisels and re-enameled the handles on the sheers. That’s it! The four restored tools really do look lovely. And each only cost only a buck at the flea!

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In this video on FinnCrafted, an old Stanley Bailey No. 4 is broken down, cleaned, polished, sharpened, and re-assembled. I don’t know what it is, but I could watch videos like this all day as a weird kind of meditation.

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Nick Seller’s wife found a broken-handled ball peen hammer in the trash. So, Nick decided to clean the head and make a new handle for it. To fashion the handle, he used only simple hand tools: cross-cut saw, files, and a rotary tool.

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Watch long-time Make: contributor John Edgar Park clean up a gorgeous vintage Brown & Sharpe No. 4 combination square protractor head and blade.

toolchest011409_8Once you’ve restored all of those old tools to their former glory, you need a worthy place to store them. A beat-to-splinters old machinist’s box was bought on eBay by Flickr user Txinkman for $10 and turned into this toolbox showpiece.

dremelbox01As part of a series we did with Dremel in 2010, John Edgar Park restored this metal mechanic’s toolbox. The fact that it was made by Park Manufacturing Co. was just too good for him to pass up.

To see all of the vintage tool restoration videos you could possibly want, just do a YouTube search on “tool restoration” or similar.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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