Axes. Saws. Pliers. Screwdrivers. Each and every single non-electric tool in use today can trace its roots back hundreds of years. The hammer, for instance, has been traced back over two hundred million years. These seemingly rudimentary inventions were so useful when they came about that they remain useful today. Even the shapes have undergone relatively little alteration. Because of this, there remain nestled in old boxes and stashes at flea markets antique tools far faded from their former glory. Covered in rust and loosely attached to their remaining handle, these items are treasures for those that know how to refurbish them to what they once were.

Hammer and hand-saw


Before transforming an old tool into its original state, you need to know what the old tool looked like. In times past, the library was the best place to discover what you’ve added to your collection. Simply find a book of old saws or what have you and search for the matching picture. Nowadays, there are online compendiums dedicated to people helping each other discover what brand and model they have laid down in their garage. Once you determine the tool’s identity, make notes of how it was put together and what parts came with it initially. What screws were used? What type of wood made up the handle? These are important questions to note if you plan on a full restoration. This will also help you identify if a part is missing or if something was changed out.


Unfortunately, metal rusts. This is especially true of antiques. Since most have been around for well over 100 years, time has had its way with the metal, causing chemical reactions that allow the rust to slowly eat away at the tool. Hopefully you picked an old tool that wasn’t turning to dust in your hand when you picked it up. If so, the metal needs to be replaced. Otherwise, it can be scrubbed away with a variety of chemicals. Vinegar or a baking soda and water paste are two very popular methods. Simply scrub the solution on the metal with a toothbrush and work the rust right off. If it still refuses to shirk its mortal coil, pick out a quality rust removing chemical and follow its directions. Once the metal is finally clean, do not forget to apply a primer. This will keep it further protected from outside moisture.


Now that it finally looks shiny and new again, you need to make sure the sharp edges are sharp so it can still be considered useful. Files of varying sizes are an integral part of this process as they allow you to slowly put the tool back in working order with decisive swipes. This also keeps you from accidentally going too far too fast. Before taking the file to the metal, understand how the tool’s blades were originally designed. This has everything to do with its intended purpose. When saw sharpening, for instance, the teeth are beveled and angled at a certain degree. All of these variations require a different approach with the file if you truly want to refurbish it properly.


Finally, it’s time to take a look at the handle. Like the rust situation, it’s best if you’ve found a grip that is relatively free from any major wear and tear. If not, it’s time to head to market to find the exact same handle but in better condition. Otherwise, take a look at the material. If it’s plastic, you can shine it up with some rubbing alcohol. Wood, however, requires a bit more finesse. Carefully take out the bolts or screws keeping it attached. Use a toothpick or card scraper to then clear off external grime. Next, gently sand away the stubborn dirt and close all cracks and breaks with a small amount of glue. Once that’s dried, rub boiled linseed oil all over with a rag until the wood stops absorbing it. Finish the wood off with your favorite finish and reattach it to the now completely refurbished antique tool.

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