Introduction: Restoring an Antique Book Press

About: We are a couple that loves creative projects, and retro gaming. We will be posting anything that we make related to it, with DIY videos, crafts, projects, retro gaming, build logs and showcases. Make sure to …

This Instructable shows the process of restoring a very rusty and grungy old book press into usable form.

I found this old antique book press on a website called, which is similar to ebay or craigslist. Somebody had this standing in their basement just collecting dust and rust, and they wanted to get rid of it so the price was very decent (around 50-60$). As we have had an increasing interest in binding books using traditional bookbinding techniques, it was an excellent opportunity to acquire a real, solid tool, with a bit of historical background to it as well.

Just perfect!

Note: the purpose of this restoration is not to increase the collectible value, but restoring it into a usable tool.

Step 1: Disassembly

The first, and arguably the hardest step, was to disassemble everything. Nearly every piece had rusted well in place. The first thing that has to be done is to make or buy some penetrating oil. There are different recipes for this, but I got a tip that mixing a mixture of 50/50 mineral spirits and oil gives a good result. It didn't disappoint me, and after applying it on all the nuts, nearly all of them went off super smoothly.

I didn't have the perfect wrench for the job, ideally I would use something that wasn't adjustable to get the most amount of leverage and contact points, but they seem to do the trick.

Except for on 4 nuts on the underside of the press. No matter how much strength and penetrating oil I put into it, they just wouldn't move. I even tried with pipe wrenches, but it didn't help. So I resulted to using a butane torch to heat the nut, and then tap on it with a hammer to loosen the rust. This really, helped and finally I got them off and then I had disassembled everything.

Step 2: Making the Electrolysis Setup

To remove most of the rust without having to do a lot of work and using a grinder on the metal, I wanted to attempt electrolysis. First I had to make the setup.

It consists of 4 sacrificial anodes in the shape of 4 pieces of rebar, attached to each corner in a plastic box/tub. All of them are wired together with steel wire. I put one on each side to make sure there is a direct path from the rusty piece to one of the anodes nearly everywhere inside the box. These will be connected to the positive output of a battery charger, while the cathode (which is the piece we will clean) will be connected to the negative output of a battery charger.

Step 3: Electrolysis

To begin the electrolysis itself I filled the box with water, then I boiled some water and dissolved what is called Crystal Soda, or Washing Soda (which both are sodium carbonate), into the water. The solution with the sodium carbonate was then in turn added to the tub of water.

Now everything is ready, and I hung the metal part from some more steel wire attached to some 2x1" lying across the tub. It's important that neither the metal part or the steel wire that holds it, can touch any of the rebars on the side. Else we will have a short circuit, and the fuse on the battery charger will blow out.

I attached the postivie to the rebar, negative to the steel wire holding the metal part, and let the process begin.

When it stops bubbling and the current drawn from the battery charger is low or none, then it's done and it has taken away all the rust!

Note: if the current is low, but the process obiously isn't over (there is more rust to be found on the metal parts), then the rebars are "used up" and all covered in a layer of rust, and has to be replaced with new ones.

Step 4: Steel Brushing

This part is one of the most satisfying, but also one of the most messy steps. I used a steel brush to brush away the remaining layer of old grease, dirt, and what-not. The part was entirely black after the electrolysis, but after the steel brushing they became more silvery metal-colored. It takes some time, so put on a podcast or an audio book!

If you have the opportunity to do this over a sink, then I would suggest doing so. I started on my workbench, but it quickly became too messy for me to deal with and I moved.

Step 5: Polishing and Sanding

The sanding part is what might reduce the value if you are refurbishing something to sell as a collectible. Instead of just wiping of the dirt and rust, this eats into the metal and leaves the traces of a grinder at work, which under close inspection will scare away any collector.

However, this step is absolutely necessary to create a working book press, becasue the rust had created so many holes and so much unneveness on the press bed and the surface of the presser that if not taken care of, it would leave imprints on the paper and books.

I used a polishing wheel with some polishing compund to really pop the shine on the metal rods and the nuts, as the metal on these will be exposed in the finished result.

Step 6: Polishing the Brass Knobs

You could polish the brass knobs by hand, but as they already had threaded holes in them, I used some threaded rod to create a handle that I could attach to the drill. The threaded rod was a bit too wide for the chuck on my drill, so I grinded it down a bit.

Then it was as simple as spinning it on top of some wet sand paper. I started with grit 360 to remove the worst layer of oxidation, then moved up to 600, 1000, 1500, and finally 2000 to really get a smoth surface.

Lastly I spun them inside some cloth with some polishing compund to maximixe the shine.

Step 7: Painting

To protect the metal and to get a nice and contrasty look, I painted the press bed, the press down surface, the crossbar and the handle with some Hammerite black paint.

Before painting I made sure to wipe it all down with some rubbing alcohol to remove any residues of oil or other nasty things.

Step 8: Reassembly

Then comes the reassembly. Quite much easier than the disassembly, and a whole lot more satisfying. This is where I really felt like the result of all my hard labour was coming together and making it a worthwhile process. I was super excited during the entire diassembly, and it was just a pleasure to do!

Step 9: Conclusion and Comparison

So there you have it, my restoration of a rusty old book press. Here are some before and after comparisons. I know some prefer the patina of an old tool, which I totally get, but as this is supposed to be a working tool, I wanted it to look as fresh as possible!

Hope you enjoyed and found some of this useful!

Fix It! Contest

First Prize in the
Fix It! Contest