Introduction: Army Signal Core Box Restoration

Going through my father in law's house after he passed we ran across an old box that my wife had loved since she was a little girl. It was in rough shape and had clearly been abused and repainted several times over the decades. But it meant a lot to here so I decided to take this on the project for her.

The item in question was used in WWII by the Army Signal Corp to hold a field radio phone. It had at least three coats of paint on it and was missing some hardware. The goal was to make this a display piece that she could keep some family photos in.

All in all, this took me about three days but much of that was waiting for stripping agents to do their thing, soaking the hardware and waiting for paint to dry.

The picture there shows all the tools and materials that I used. You don't need all of this but having the more specialized tools did help.


Chemicals & Paints:

  • Citristrip - This is an amazing product that makes removing most paints and finishes a breeze
  • Mineral Spirits - Used for cleaning and removing chemicals
  • Jasco Paint Stripper - WARNING, this is the real deal and you need to wear a respirator and thick gloves. I only used this as the bottom layer of paint was industrial "Army" paint that normal stripper would not touch.
  • Black Spray paint for the interior. I used Rustoleum but anything should work fine.
  • Minwax PolyShine wood stain
  • Minwax Spray polyurethane (Not Pictured)


  • Multiple levels of sandpaper. I used 60, 120 and 220
  • Steel Wool, I bought a bag that contained 3 different grades, much like the sandpaper
  • Microfiber towels
  • Painters tape
  • Multiple paint/mixing cups

Hand Tools:

  • Paint Scrapers, you will want multiple sizes. Cheap plastics ones should work fine
  • Paint Brushes, Don't use foam like I did, Get regular bristle brushes
  • Wire Brushes, Medium wire, and stiff plastic
  • Tounge and Grove Plyers
  • Assorted screwdrivers
  • 3/8" ratchet
  • Pick
  • Magnetic Parts Tray
  • Zip tie (for the drill/grinder)
  • Box cutter

Power Tools:

  • Orbital Sander
  • Detail Sander (for corners)
  • Drill Driver
  • Impact Driver
  • Assorted Bits
  • Wire wheels/brushes

Safety Equipment:

  • Respirator or "Filtration Mask"
  • Safety glasses

Step 1: Setup & Prep

You will need to either do this outside or in a verywell ventilated room. Also, you will need a work surface that can withstand not only the use and abuse but also the chemicals involved.

  • First, take your project and wipe it down with a cloth to remove any dust or loose debris.
  • Remove any other items that may interfere with the chemicals we are about to apply. In my case, this was a large bumper sticker that needed to be sanded off.
  • Now wipe down the surface again to remove dust from sanding and move to the next step.

PRO TIP: Do NOT attempt to remove the hardware at this stage. The paint has cemented it to the box and if you try and pry it off you will take large chunks of wood with it, damaging the box.

Step 2: Applying the Stripper

Citristrip is an incredible product and very easy to use. One caveat I have is that you should not do what I did. Do NOT use foam brushes as the stripper will eat the foam. Use standard bristle brushes.

  • Apply a thick coating to all visible surfaces
  • Let stand from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the thickness of the finish you are trying to remove.

PRO TIP: I know it's tempting but do not eat the paint.

Step 3: Just Scape It Off!

This is the fun part!

  • Use a scraper to easily remove the old paint or finish. You should not have to apply significant pressure.
  • If, as in my case, there are multiple layers of paint you may have to apply a second or even third coat and simply continue to work your way down to the bear [sic] wood.
  • Lastly, get in close to the details of the piece and get out as much of the finish as possible. I first used the scraper to get right up to the hardware and tag on the front and eventually used a pick to dig out the small crevices to free the hardware for removal.

Step 4: Remove the Hardware

Time to get all that metal off the box. The word of the day here is "Gently". Can you say Gent-LY with me? I knew you could!

  • Take the pick and clean out all the groves in the fasteners (aka screws and bolts)
  • Slowly remove the screws. Work carefully so as not to strip them.
  • Now very GENTLY remove the metal pieces from the box. If they resist try using the pick to get under them to loosen them from the wood.
  • Lastly, soak the hardware in mineral spirits to try and remove any loose paint or finish.

PRO TIP: On my box, the hinges were held on with bolts and nuts that were countersunk in such a way that I could not fit any tools or sockets in the hole they were seated in. I ended up taking a cheap socket, putting it in a drill and running it against a belt sander to taper the edge and make it thin enough to reach the nut.

Step 5: Getting to the Bottom of the Problem

Ok, the bottom of the box is the part that has seen the most wear and tear and is likely in the worst shape. Also, it seemed to me like the bottom panel of my box was a different grade of wood. There was a grain and texture to it that was very noticeable as well as being uneven. So here is how I addressed it.

  • I used the Jasco paint stripper to remove the majority of the paint. Please read the warning I put in the intro section. This stuff is NOT to be trifled with.
  • I washed the surface with mineral spirits to remove/deactivate any stripper that was still on the surface.
  • I used diminishing grades of steel wool to remove as much of the Army Green as possible. I also used the mineral spirits to lubricate and reduce dust.
  • I then used multiple levels of wire brush to dig into the grain to "get the green out"

PRO TIP: Always work with the grain, never across it.

Step 6: Sand in the Place Where You Live!

Its stuck in your head now isn't it? I win!

Ok, for the sides and top we can use the orbital sander here. I opted not to use the Jasco stripper on the sides or top as I was worried about damage to the wood and since these sections, we very flat and smooth as opposed to the bottom of the box using the sander seemed the simples option.

  • Start with your lowest git, 60 in my case and work your way up.
  • Keep the sander moving at all times to prevent burning or digging into the workpiece
  • Stop often, wipe down the piece with a microfiber cloth so you can see what still needs to get taken off

PRO TIP: You should be wearing a respirator/mask for all of this project even if you are outside but this step is the most important one to have good protection on. That Army Green paint is made from alien space material and breathing the dust from it will most likely kill you and turn you into a Martian Zombie.

Step 7: Lets Take This Inside!

Time to do the same to the inside of the box that we did to the outside. The only change here is that I only lightly sanded the green paint before painting the inside of the box in two coats of black spray paint.

Why? It was my intention to add flocking powder to the inside of the box and I just needed a dark undercoat to match the powder. So please keep your flocking comments to yourself ok?

Step 8: A Stain on Your Record!

Choose your weapon! er, Stain! I went with "Olde Maple" by Minwax. I had no factual reason for why, it just looked nice.

  1. You know what I'm going to say here right? Wipe down the whole box with a microfiber towel to remove any dust or debris
  2. Use painters tape to tape off any details or edges you do not want to apply the stain to
  3. Shake or stir the stain to make sure all particles are properly mixed together
  4. Using your brush, apply in long smooth strokes that go with the grain of the wood
  5. Applying more coats will, in most cases, deepen the color of the stain, so apply to taste

PRO TIP: Do not let this drip on the floor or any other surface as it might leave a stain. Yes, I went there.

Step 9: 'Cause I'm SHINY!

Time to tackle that hardware. Now there are lots of ways to go about this. I could have applied the Jasco stripper and it would probably have destroyed all the pain and left a decent metal finish but I'm very fond of the "brushed" metal look so we decided to try a different approach.

  • Use the wire wheel attachment on your bench grinder. OH, you don't have a bench grinder? Then Improvise, Adapt and Overcome! Take a drill, but a wire attachment in the bit, flip it upside down and mount it in a bench vise or jawhorse. Use a zip tie to close the trigger and just remove the battery to turn it on and off (Or plug if you are one of those types)
  • This is where the pliers come in handy because you don't want to lose your digits. Grip each piece TIGHTLY or risk sending it across the room where it will most likely hit something extremely valuable.
  • Now simply use the wheel to remove any paint and or finish and keep at it till you have achieved the look that you want.
  • Lightly buff each piece with a handheld wire brush when finished to remove any excess metal shavings.
  • Gently reattach each piece to the box

Step 10: Bask in the Adulation!

Ok, before you do that I do recommend coating the whole box in two to three coats of polyurethane spray. This will seal the box, give it that finished look and make it last for years.

Ok, NOW bask in the adulation of your loved one as she sees what you have wrought! No seriously show it them, if you took your time I'm sure that what you came up looked at least this good if not better!

Just think, this used to hold a radio (as pictured above) and was dragged all over only who knows where and now it will reside on your bookshelf in a place of honor while safeguarding the memories you hold dear. You tiered up there, didn't you? Don't give me that "It's dusty in there" I know better!

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