Introduction: Refinish Your Old Radio Flyer Wagon
My kids have an old Radio Flyer wagon that was in need of a good makeover. The paint inside the bed was all worn away and replaced by an ever-worsening layer of rust. The paint on all the other parts was chipped and peeling as well, showing signs of rust underneath.
I'll show you the steps I took to strip it all down and refinish it. While I can't technically call this a restoration (because it wasn't returned to its original state), it looks good and is functional--which is what I was after. My kids now have a shiny new-looking wagon that will hopefully hold up to many more years of use.
It took a little time and attention but this wasn't a terribly difficult project. If you have an old red wagon that needs a little love, perhaps you can get some useful ideas from this. Thanks for taking a look.
Step 1: Disassemble Wagon
I began by removing the complete wheel assemblies from the wagon bed and disassembling the pivot plate and handle from the front bolster (the axle and support structure).
You can purchase new wheels and hub caps as well as most other parts for current wagon models at Radio Flyer's website. If you need to remove the wheels, this page on Radio Flyer's website has instructions on how to remove the hub caps. Note that they get destroyed in the process. If you're restoring an older discontinued model, finding parts may be a little more tricky . . . but there's always eBay.
Step 2: Strip Bed
I used a wire wheel on my power drill to remove the rust from the inside of the bed and knock off any loose paint. After this I used paint stripper to remove the majority of the remaining paint.
After using the stripper I went over the entire bed with the wire wheel to remove any last bits of paint, and to grind down rust spots as close to bare metal as possible.
Step 3: Stripped Parts
Here are the stripped parts. The pieces in the third photo were all stripped with the wire wheel.
I worked on the bottom of the inside of the bed for quite a while but couldn't seem to get down to bare metal. All the loose brown rust was removed, but the surface was still slightly rough and pitted. I could have used body filler to get a smoother surface but I didn't feel it was worth the trouble, especially since I planned on giving the bed interior a textured, rubberized coating.
Step 4: Prime Bed
I cleaned the bed thoroughly with tack cloth and then painted the inside and outside with Rust-Oleum Rusty Metal Primer.
Step 5: Paint Bed
The outside of the bed was painted with three coats of Regal Red Rust-Oleum spray paint. I let this dry for a couple days.
Step 6: Bed Lining
I coated the inside of the bed with a rubberized undercoating spray. This stuff is generally applied to automobile wheel wells and undercarriages for protection.
Rust-Oleum sells a truck bed coating spray which I have used in the past for other projects. I figured I'd try this rubberized undercoating instead, and actually found that I like the finish it provides much better. It was dry to the touch in a few hours but it took about five days until felt fully cured.
After completing the inside of the bed, I had some left over so I painted the underside of the wagon with it as well.
Step 7: Paint Other Parts
The bolsters, pivot plate and handle were painted with brush on gloss black enamel. I let this dry for four or five days before reassembling the different parts.
Step 8: Clean Miscellaneous Parts
All small pieces of hardware were washed and dried. The nuts and bolts that attach the bed to the bolsters were quite rusty, so I soaked these in a rust remover until most of the rust was gone.
I purchased a new cotter pin for the slotted nut that holds the front bolster to the pivot plate.
Step 9: Reassemble Front Bolster and Pivot Plate
The front bolster and pivot plate were reassembled with a layer of marine axle grease between the two parts.
Step 10: Finish Reassembly
To finish it off, the bolsters were reattached to the wagon bed, and the handle was reattached to the front bolster. I added a few drops of common lubricating oil to the wheels.
Step 11: All Done: But No Logo?
I deliberated for a while about whether it needed the Radio Flyer logo back on it.
You can purchase new vinyl ones from their website for about $15 apiece, which I had no interest in doing. I considered making my own stencil and painting the logo back on, or even one of the older logos instead. In the end I concluded that this clean, badge-less look is just fine with me. I don't think the kids will mind.
It looks good and it rides great. Hopefully it will last for many more years to come.