Old Rusty Heater Resurrected





Introduction: Old Rusty Heater Resurrected

About: I enjoy taking a pile of junk and making something unusual out of it. I like wheeled vehicles, and currently own two motorcycles, two electric bikes that I've built, and an electric scooter pushed by a soc...

I bought an old rusty electric heater at a flea market because I liked its vintage style.  The blower motor was frozen and the heating coils and wiring looked dangerous, but the cabinet was sound, although it had a lot of surface rust inside and out.  This instructable walks through the steps I took resurrecting this old heater.

Step 1: How It All Began

I forgot to take a photo of the heater before I began, but from the disassembled cabinet you can see the condition this old heater was in.  The cabinet parts are shown in the first photo, and the heating element/blower assembly in the 2nd photo.  There was a lot of internal and external rust on the cabinet panels, the fan motor was frozen, and the wiring was old and falling apart.  Plus, since these old heaters were made with no safety systems I really didn't want to try and repair the parts that made heat.

Step 2: Materials Required

The rebuilding materials were fairly simple.  I bought a new inexpensive electric heater ($24) that had a heating element that would fit within the old cabinet.  I removed the heating assembly and controls from the new heater and saved the empty cabinet for a future instructable (it will become something other than a heater!).

In terms of supplies I used sandpaper, 14 gauge wire, wire nuts, and spray paint.  The tools used were a soldering gun (and solder), drill & bits, screwdrivers, and a metal cutting saw.

Step 3: Dis-assembly & Rust Removal

Dis assembly was easy -- I removed 24 sheet metal screws and the cabinet (photo 1) and heating assembly (photo 2) were all apart.

The first thing I tackled was to remove the heavy rust from inside the cabinet.  The cabinet's insides are not visible when the cabinet is assembled, but I wanted to stop the rusting.  I aggressively wire brushed the insides of each piece of the cabinet until all loose rust was gone (photo 3).

Step 4: Mount the New Heater Assembly

Next, I dis-assembled the cage holding the heating elements and fan (photo 1).  I saved the cage to use to mount the heater assembly from the new heater.  To make the cage fit the new heater assembly, I drilled out the rivets that held the bottom of the cage, cut off the part that I didn't need, and re-fastened it to the cage.  Photo 2 shows this lower part repositioned, and the new heater unit mounted to the cage. 

Since the new heater was a bit narrower than the old, I cut some sheet metal and filled in the gap between the sides of the new heater assembly and the old cage and painted them black (photo 3).

I then spliced in some additional wire so that the heater controls could be positioned on the old cabinet (photo 4).  Each splice was soldered and insulated with a wire nut.

Step 5: Paint the Inside

I used a rust-stopping primer on the insides of the panels.  I didn't worry about a fine finish on the insides (since no one would ever see this part), but I did want to stop any further rusting.

Step 6: Paint the Outside

I sanded the outside of each panel with 150 grit sandpaper, then 220 grit.  Then I primed and painted the outside (photo 1).

While these panels were drying, I sprayed the grill with a brass colored enamel (photo 2).  Then I let everything dry for 24 hours.

Step 7: Put It All Back Together

Since I had used the original heater mounting cage, putting the heater back together was simply a matter of reinstalling the 24 screws I had removed when I took it apart.

For some reason or another, I really like the looks of this old heater.  And, since it is really a new heater in an old cabinet, it's nice knowing we can use it without worrying about getting electrocuted or burning down the house!

And the really good news is that I have the new heater's cabinet to use for another project!  I've already started making plans for what it will become --- stay tuned!



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    Hey thanks for the quick response even though it is what it is. I like that you give positive forward motion anyways. I have been doing some brainstorming and I think that it might work out with the help of a transformer. I also have the option to hardwire it to a space saver circuit breaker that is free. That gives me 2 120 legs. Just have to make the two halves work together. Anyways I'll be looking forward to seeing your next 'ible. I'm curious as to what you are going to do with the shell of that heater.

    1 reply

    The heater housing became the case for a computer. You can see it here: https://www.instructables.com/id/From-metal-heater-to-computer/


    Really cool project. I have a project coming up and would love to hear your thoughts on it. It has to do with the same topic, sorta. I am wondering what it would take to put more than one of those heating elements into one chamber. I have three of those newer type heaters that you used to fix up the old one. The idea is to convert a small propane, forced air furnace to run on electric only. I thought that if you could replace the gas burners with a few of the coils it would work in a similar fashion as the propane setup. My hiccup is I'm not sure about what it takes to combine the coils and I would have to also figure out something clever to get it all powered. The amount of electricity to be supplied isn't so much the problem as is how to make coils heat up using 120 and a furnace thermostat and blower unit work (that uses 12v) together. I'm sure that I can figure it out but any thoughts, ideas, or genuine advice would be greatly appreciated.

    1 reply

    I'm not sure I can help -- combining 3 heating elements might require more amps than the 120v line could handle. Of course, just because I don't know how to do it doesn't mean there's not a way. This might be a good question to post on the "answers" section of the site. Good luck with your project!

    Should you have used a junction box instead of soldering the connections? Very nice job! Where can I find out about your electric bicycles? I like the way you think.

    1 reply

    The original connections for the new heater were twisted and held together with a wire nut. I used similar wire nuts, however I always solder my connections in addition to the wire nuts. Junction boxes are used inside house walls and attics to protect combustible surfaces from sparks. No need to use one inside a metal cabinet. As for my electric bicycles, I never made an instructable on building them, however I did make one for an electric scooter I built. You can view it here:


    Thanks for your comment.

    How did you earth the metal cage?

    1 reply

    The new heater that was used in this was a double-insulated design, so grounding the metal housing was unnecessary.

    Very cool, well documented, loved the attention to safety and clean work. You *are* a pro!

    1 reply

    Thanks for the nice comment.

    and where does one procure phosphatizant/phosphoric acid?

    2 replies

    Don't know where you live, but a google search for "phosphoric acid" will turn up many places to purchase it -- from building supply stores to swimming pool supply stores.

    Ill give it a try thanks. I've never seen it in stores, but that doesn't mean it isnt there.

    I know you said you're already making plans for this nifty metal box right here, but might I add that my first impulse towards that cabinet is guitar amp.

    1 reply

    A guitar amp is a good idea, but probably not for me since I don't have the skill to play. But, I am indeed thinking of something electronic. Thanks for the comment.

    What a good work! I use phophatizant liquid, successfully.

    If you don't know it, please read my comments here.

    3 replies

    Thanks, Osvaldo! I googled phophatizant and as best I can tell it means phosphoric acid, or at least a diluted form of the acid. Is this correct? Thanks for your comment and the information!

    Oops! I replied before I read your comments. It is indeed phosphoric acid. I'll give it a try the next time I'm dealing with a lot of rust!

    I love phosphatizant!