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  • Refinishing Antique Machinists' Toolchest

    I recently acquired an old, antique machinists' toolchest. It is made out of oak, and is very dirty/stained/etc. - apparently used in a very dirty environment. All original hardware is in good shape - just some rust that can be sanded off with a wire wheel on the grinder.
    I'm a DIYer/WW that took shop classes in high school - but I'd like some recommendations for restoring and refinishing this toolchest.
    Any thoughts on the best way to restore the wood? Scraping/Sanding? Bleaching?
    Then refinishing - currently the piece is stained very dark, almost mahogany/walnut in color... I'm thinking I'd like to use a lighter stain.

    Thanks for any input on this,

    Chris

  • #2
    Re: Refinishing Antique Machinists' Toolchest

    Since you're going to probably strip it anyway....

    Dip a green scrubbie pad into warm soapy water and start scrubbing to get the grease and grime off first. Don't get the pad too wet, just enough to provide some lubricant to assist scrubbing. When you're done, wipe it off real good with paper towels.

    Let the piece dry for a day or so, then sand. If there's still a lot of the stain left, use a stripper to complete the removal. The stripper won't remove all of the stain, you'll probably be left with something a good bit lighter, but still a tad darker than unstained oak. At this point, you can leave it as is and sand with a high grit sandpaper (220 or so), then start your finish coats.

    Or, you could darken it with more stain. Chances are you will get a blotchy result from the old stain and other defects that have gotten into the wood over the years.
    I put it all back together better than before. There\'s lots of leftover parts.

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    • #3
      Re: Refinishing Antique Machinists' Toolchest

      Thanks VASandy,

      Would it be bad to use a degreaser to get the grime off first? Is there a way to bleach out the old stain, so that if I stain it again it won't be blotchy?

      Thanks

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Refinishing Antique Machinists' Toolchest

        A degreaser would probably work. As I was thinking about this project, and some I've done like it, I was wondering if the little hand-scrubby towels with degreaser in them would be a good idea. You can buy them at auto-parts stores. They have some grit on them, and the degreaser's already there. It'd be a good way to start, I think.

        The combination of degreaser, stripper, and sanding will most likely do all you need. You may have to use the stripper more than once. I hesitate to use bleach as it will raise the grain so much, you won't be able to sand it enough to smooth it out.
        I put it all back together better than before. There\'s lots of leftover parts.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Refinishing Antique Machinists' Toolchest

          You might want to contact the #1 company that still makes high qualtity wood machinists chests and ask them for ideas. If anyone knows the right way to restore your's it would be this company.

          http://www.gerstnerusa.com/ (Once the home page opens, then click on Contact Us). I wish you luck with your project and bet soon you'll own something to really be proud of.

          There are some tips on restoring-refinishing here.
          http://www.gerstnerusa.com/refinish.html

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Refinishing Antique Machinists' Toolchest

            I vote for VA Sandy's idea; clean the piece with some elbow grease and a not so strong detergent that won't hurt the finish.

            If you are looking to keep this for its historical value, refinishing it will most likely reduce its value. If you're not worried about it's potential value (which depending on its history could be substantial), then have at it.

            But...it might be worth inquiring with a few antique dealers before you do anything that can't be reversed. You could be stripping away hundreds or thousands of dollars.

            Is this some like the current (but older) Gerstner tool chests? Do you have a photo or make or dimensions/number of drawers? What about a guess as to age?
            Last edited by Bob D.; 05-23-2007, 07:30 PM.
            "It's a table saw, do you know where your fingers are?" Bob D. 2006

            https://www.youtube.com/user/PowerToolInstitute

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Refinishing Antique Machinists' Toolchest

              Thanks for all the info.

              It is a Gerstner chest. In pencil on the back of one of the drawers reads, "Bought 1941".

              I know this is a quality item, antique, etc. - but I don't plan on getting rid of it. I also understand that by refinishing it I may be taking away the value of the chest - but I really want to get it back to its original beauty.
              Quick note - I got it at a yard sale for $50 bucks. The seller had no idea what they had!

              Again, thanks for the help. Looks like good ol' elbow grease is gonna be the decision.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Refinishing Antique Machinists' Toolchest

                Imagine the history that that box and its owner(s) may have had. I like to think about that sort of thing. Perhaps he helped with construction of wartime implements or some such thing. Very cool piece you have there.

                Later,
                Chiz
                Later,
                Chiz
                https://www.ridgidforum.com/core/ima...lies/frown.pnghttps://www.ridgidforum.com/core/ima...es/redface.pnghttps://www.ridgidforum.com/core/ima...s/rolleyes.pnghttps://www.ridgidforum.com/core/ima...lies/smile.png

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                • #9
                  Re: Refinishing Antique Machinists' Toolchest

                  I'm just wondering how you are making out?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Refinishing Antique Machinists' Toolchest

                    Hi Chris, If you want a mild cleaning nothing works better than GoJo hand cleaner the active ingredient is lanolin. It`ll get the grime.

                    However if you really want to strip it. Easy off oven cleaner and steel wool while rinsing will take it down to the bare wood, active ingredient is lye and it`s hot. Be shure to protect you eyes.

                    I start out with a natural color wood stain usually there is enough pigment left in the wood to bring back the orginal color. If need be a darker , add a table spoon of walnut at a time to the mix untill a desiriable shade.

                    Early american seems to be the run of the mill color...MC

                    Last edited by machinistchest.com; 10-28-2009, 04:40 PM. Reason: Editing
                    www.machinistchest.com

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Refinishing Antique Machinists' Toolchest

                      Not a good idea to use Lye for stripping, too often that stuff just keeps cooking and ruins the wood fibers. Methylene Chloride strippers work much better with far less damage to the wood. Sounds like your case may be oil-soaked whcih is the way I have found a lot of them. Acetone, alcohol, naphtha are some products to draw the oil out. If you have some black stains around the metal parts oxalic acid dissolved in water will make them go away. Don't get too hung up on the original finish thing with that age of chest, the folks that spread that original finsih drivel are talking about 100 + year old hand-made pieces, not production pieces made 60 years ago.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Refinishing Antique Machinists' Toolchest

                        FWI-If this is indeed a Gerstner chest: Gerstner has (I hope they still do) a program where they will completely refinish this chest, with all new hardware to boot, for a nominal fee. If memory ( UH-OH) serves me correctly, they used to do these for free IF you were the original purchaser and the chest was over so many years old and you still owned it. I am a retired machinist and have seen some of their refinished units, they look better than the originals to me. Something about the wood aging in my opinion. I understand you wanting to do this project yourself, and Gerstner may sell the necessary hardware for your unit so it will look as original. Good Luck, David

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                        • #13
                          Re: Refinishing Antique Machinists' Toolchest

                          Old timer

                          Thanks for the chemical recomendation . It was oil soaked allright.

                          I have to also agree with you on the orginal finish drivel. I went against what every one was saying "Don`t refinish It`ll lose value" The chest was worthless in the condition it was in and after it was cleaned up it was priceless. I paid 80 bucks for it . I sold to a guy for $425.00 he turn around and sold it for $965.00.

                          John
                          www.machinistchest.com

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Refinishing Antique Machinists' Toolchest

                            If it is or you think it may be a genuine Gerstner chest just give them a call and ask about refinishing it and/or selling you hardware for it.

                            http://www.gerstnerusa.com/directory.htm

                            They are sure not your Chinese tool chest that was banged out on a production line using slave labor. Gerstner = A real company that takes a long time to make things right. If you ever see their new chests or their factory reconditioned ones, you'll know why it's good to do a full restoration.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Refinishing Antique Machinists' Toolchest

                              About refinishing,

                              Got a hardware customer from GA. tells me that Gerstner quoted him $1600.00 to restore his grandfathers vintage eleven drawer wooden machinist chest.Thomas decided he would save himself some cash and refinish it himself...MC
                              www.machinistchest.com

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