Introduction: Restore a Rusty Toolbox

Picture of Restore a Rusty Toolbox

I recently picked up a rusty old toolbox for a few dollars at a thrift store.

It was structurally solid and didn't technically need any work to make it useful, but aesthetically it was in pretty poor shape so I decided to give it an upgrade.

Step 1: Rough Condition

Picture of Rough Condition

The exterior paint was flaking off and the metal was rusty underneath.

I quite liked the toolbox in this state, to be honest, and was tempted to just leave it. But in the end I thought it would be a fun project so I went ahead with the makeover.

Step 2: Take It Apart

Picture of Take It Apart

The drawers and drawer slides were removed. The slides were supported internally with little panels that I was also able to remove.

The handle and latches were riveted in place. The rivets were drilled out from the inside and these parts were removed.

Everything was scrubbed with degreasing soap (I used simple green) and hot water, thoroughly rinsed and dried.

Step 3: Strip Paint and Rust

Picture of Strip Paint and Rust

I decided to strip the paint and rust mechanically.

What ended up working the best for this were abrasive paint and rust stripping disks.

I used this in my grinder, and this in my corded drill (a small and mostly worn out one - which worked well for nooks and crannies) to remove all the paint and rust from the case.

This process kicks up a lot of nasty stuff, so be sure to wear protective equipment. I wore goggles, breathing mask, and ear muffs.

Step 4: Clean and Prime

Picture of Clean and Prime

The case and drawers were vacuumed out to remove all the rust and paint dust, and then wiped down with a clean rag dampened with denatured alcohol.

Once they were perfectly clean, I did not touch them with my bare hands to keep them free from oils prior to painting.

The case and drawers were then painted with Rustoleum professional primer (this stuff).

Step 5: Paint

Picture of Paint

After priming, I painted the case and drawers with several thin coats of "Safety Blue" paint.

Step 6: Drawer Slides

Picture of Drawer Slides

The panels that hold the drawer slides were a little rusty along the bottom edges. The rust was removed with a wire wheel using my rotary tool, and then these areas were painted with primer.

Step 7: Handles and Latches

Picture of Handles and Latches

The main handle parts and latch parts were made of plated metal, and the drawer handles were made of aluminum.

The plated metal parts were a little rusty with some of the plating flaking off. I used a wire wheel in my rotary tool to remove the surface rust and any loose plating, and then hit these parts with a very light coat of Rustoleum chrome paint.

The aluminum handles were cleaned but not polished.

Step 8: Masking

Picture of Masking

I decided to add some racing stripes, just for fun.

I waited a full 24 hours after painting the blue coats to do the stripes.

I began by laying out painter's tape very carefully to mask off some internal stripes I wanted to stay blue. Masking paper was added to cover larger areas as well.

Step 9: Paint Stripes

Picture of Paint Stripes

A coat of blue paint was put down first. This seals the edges of the tape and prevents any bleed-under from the final coatings of white.

I waited about 10 minutes after painting the blue, and then added light coatings of white every few minutes until there was a solid white coating.

When I paint stripes and two-toned things like this, I prefer to remove the tape immediately when the paint is still wet. So that's what I did.

It's a delicate process and care must be taken to avoid touching the wet paint, or having any errant strips of tape or masking paper touch it.

Step 10: Wait!

Picture of Wait!

This is the hardest part of a project like this. It's tempting to just wait till the paint is dry to the touch and replace all the hardware . . .

But I recommend setting the recently painted items in a clean, non-dusty place and just leaving them alone for a few days for the paint to harden.

Step 11: Reassemble

Picture of Reassemble

When you can't wait any longer, go ahead and reassemble the parts.

I slid the drawer slide panels in place and added the slides with fresh grease. The drawer handles were re-affixed and the drawers slid into place.

Step 12: Latches and Handle

Picture of Latches and Handle

For the latches, I reinstalled them using pop rivets.

I didn't think pop rivets would be sufficient for the top handle, so for this I used some small bolts.

Step 13: Drawer Liners

Picture of Drawer Liners

I got some cheap drawer liners which I cut to size and placed in the drawers.

The kind of liners I used (from HF) are rolled and don't lay flat. Hitting them with heat from a heat gun until they relax and lay flat seems to help. Just be careful, if you hold the heat too close it can melt them.

Step 14: Load It With Tools

Picture of Load It With Tools

I like the way it turned out, and it's ready to be loaded up with some tools.

Thanks for taking a look!


mvance1 made it! (author)2017-08-09

I was inspired by your post... I really liked the racing stripes and wanted a fun project to work on. Thanks for giving me something to do!

lijlijlijntje made it! (author)2017-03-09

Hello Seamster!

Your box looks amazing. I actually did two boxes myself some time ago. But they arent done as perfectly as yours. They might enspire other people though.

Totally recommend reading your tutorial first, though...

bye, Marjolein

NeilB97 (author)lijlijlijntje2017-05-31

Did you dismantle the 2nd box (The white one) from the hinges? I got a very similar one and want to paint it again, but I'm not sure if i should dismantle the lids from the hinges, if that is even possible!

lijlijlijntje (author)NeilB972017-06-01

Ah, no, I didnt. But it is fastened with, euh would you call it `poppers`? It is not made with normal bolts. I looked it up but it is not the right word. I cannot find the rigth word now, but I hope you know what I mean. If you could put in new ones you should be fine. But they will be distroyed if you try to take the thing apart. It might give you new inspiration though, if you could find contrasting ones? Sorry to be of minimal help. Good luck with your project!

NeilB97 (author)lijlijlijntje2017-06-01

Thanks! I'll try without dismantling it :) I think those are called pop rivets?

seamster (author)lijlijlijntje2017-03-09

Hey, thank you. Yours look great! Thank you for sharing the photos :)

SophiesFoodieFiles (author)2016-10-20

Waw! This is so cool & so beautifully done too! :)

MichaelS163 (author)2016-10-17

Do you think this could be restored like yours?

seamster (author)MichaelS1632016-10-17

Whoa, that's in pretty rough shape. It looks like the metal has rusted through in several places, so it's probably not a very good candidate for restoring. I'd probably just leave it as is, because it's pretty interesting and shows it's age :)

DIY KING 00 (author)2016-10-16

You always inspires me

manindragautam (author)2016-10-01

Nice, Great Transformation...

makendo (author)2016-09-29

inspiring. Great stuff.

HollyMann (author)2016-09-15

Wow. This is an amazing transformation. You really brought it back to life. It looks incredible. Besides painting it, did you do anything else to seal it in? :)

seamster (author)HollyMann2016-09-15

I just painted it. I could have given it a clear coat of lacquer or something, which would have added another layer of protection, but I was over budget! :)

Just last night I put the first big ding in it, which was a sad moment but bound to happen, I guess.

HollyMann (author)seamster2016-09-15

Oh ok! It looked so shiny, I thought you may have added something like that. It turned out amazing. :) I really like your creations!

push_reset (author)2016-09-13

This turned out beautifully! I love the colors.

seamster (author)push_reset2016-09-13

Thanks! I'm quite fond of the colors too. In all honesty, this might end up being my sewing box.. I think it's too purdy to leave out in the garage :)

mlawing (author)2016-09-13

The racing stripes make it look like a dodge viper or something similarly sporty. Very nice resto!

seamster (author)mlawing2016-09-13


I think I was inspired by google fiber vans, to be honest:

robbadooz (author)2016-09-12


Galt (author)2016-09-12

Little disappointed that you didn't lay down a couple dozen coats of hand rubbed lacquer and clear. Seriously though, waaaay too pretty for bangin' with tools. My only question is where the hell are the cast alloy Shelby mags? :) Beautiful job! You should be doing commercials for Rust-oleum. Wait... I think you just did - might wanna send 'em a link. ;)

Reuse, re-purpose, recycle and wear out. Way to go!

seamster (author)Galt2016-09-12


tk42967 (author)2016-09-12

Looks good. I would suggest a clear coat to keep the paint nicer longer.

seamster (author)tk429672016-09-12

That's a good tip, but I was over budget as it was! ;)

jmcdonnell1 (author)2016-09-12

Great job
The trick with the tape
Is use high quality like frog tape
Low tack
And smooth the edge with paper
Once sprayed
Pull the tape away at a 45 degree angle to keep it taught
In one smooth action

cavalier19 (author)2016-09-11

Really neat, looks fantastic.

WyldStyl3 (author)2016-09-11

This looks great!

godog1740 (author)2016-09-11

Great job! My only comment is in reference to your choice of lube for the drawer slides. I made the mistake of using grease years ago on these parts only to have the grease attract all of the various contaminates floating around in my shop. I have since learned that dry lube is the better choice for this application. It is available in most big box stores or your favorite local hardware store. It's also useful in door locks and latches.

DaHooch (author)2016-09-11

Great idea. The racing stripes really make it look awesome. Jimmy Johnson fans would like that I'm sure.

JediJack (author)DaHooch2016-09-11

This Jimmy Johnson fan certainly agrees!

JediJack (author)2016-09-11

Aha! That trick with the blue paint to seal the tape edges before the white paint is the trick I have been trying to solve for years! I will use it on my rockets. Thanks for passing that on.

guinaevere (author)2016-09-11

Very handsome, and very well done.

Callie Lea (author)2016-09-11


svigness (author)2016-09-11

really great work

JAMESM466 (author)2016-09-11

I recently picked up a rusty old tool box at an auction for $5. After reading your Instructible it looks like I'll be painting it. Thanks!

SoakedinVancouver made it! (author)2016-09-11

Great looking box! I did that with a classic American-made cantilever toolbox that had had batteries leaking in it. As well the bottom was rusted. I scraped, sanded, polished, covered the inside with liquid rubber, re-painted it. But I wish I had those little tricks you bring up in your Instructables! I had the greatest print to add to the front but I sold the box before I could add it :)

3366carlos (author)2016-09-10

very nice, I would put an "American muscle" car emblem on top of that hole.

Or one that says:"Federal Budget"... It would be fitting for both Canadian or American toolboxes... ;)

rafununu (author)2016-09-09

GT40 white stripes on sky blue. Very nice work. As wrote Tomatoskin, there's a hole for a lock, you don't plan to use it ?

motherprinter (author)rafununu2016-09-11

Was it once an old WalMart tool box? I think I have one just like it

seamster (author)motherprinter2016-09-11

I'm not sure . . you see that little indentation on the left side above the drawers? When I got this there was half-peeled-off label there that said "Homak". I took it all the way off before I started snapping photos.

seamster (author)rafununu2016-09-10

For the way I plan to use this box, I don't foresee ever having a need to lock it.

But a new lock could be added pretty easily. Thanks for the comment!

Kevanf1 (author)2016-09-11

Very nice bit of work in keeping a perfectly good toolbox in use. I despair at people automatically going out and buying new just because something has a spot of rust on it :( I mean, if you have the toolbox then you have tools. If you have tools then use them to repair the toolbox. In my case I have my very first toolbox that I bought about 40 years ago. Over the years it got rusty and when I finally got around to repainting it I found it was holed through the rust :( I was gutted. However I decided to cut the bottom out and use a piece of decent thickness steel that had been destined for throwing out until I begged it (and a few more bits) to repair it. I welded it in place (I'm lucky enough to own a very good quality MiG welding machine plus I learned to MiG weld at college) and painted it up. It's now nearly as good as new. The hinges are a lot looser than when new but I could easily rivet them up again in the future if I want :)

TheEagleIFD (author)2016-09-11

Outstanding attention to detail. Nice work. Would you like to paint my garage??

JunezRiyaz (author)2016-09-09

Nice one

rachl009 (author)2016-09-09

Looks real nice!!

ClenseYourPallet (author)2016-09-09

Well that's awesome!! What a simple idea, and it makes a huge difference

aaahotdog (author)2016-09-09

That looks better than most cars. Very nice

BeachsideHank (author)2016-09-09

Dat iz sexy!

tomatoskins (author)2016-09-09

Any plans to add a lock or plug the hole where (I'm assuming) a lock used to be?

Beautiful paint job!

About This Instructable




Bio: I got an old sewing machine when I was just a kid, and I've been hooked on making stuff ever since. My name is ... More »
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