Introduction: Restoring an Old Safe

About: 15 year old from Sydney Australia who like doing woodwork and making stuff.

When I acquired this safe it was off a boat built in 1980. The safe had a green flakey paint job on the outside and the locking mechanism was jamming making it hard to turn. I had been given the combination and keys and was able to open it successfully. When I was working on the safe I had no intentions to make an instructables and I don't have to many photos so this is more a step-by-step plan. Whenever you are working with power/non-power tools always use them in a safe manner and follow the tools' guidelines. if you are restoring an old safe also make sure it doesn't have lead paint.

Step 1: Cleaning Out

When you open your safe you want to make sure you clean out anything inside. You want to slide off the panel that covers the mechanism on the door. This is preparation for when you hose or pressure spray the safe to clean out grease and flaking paint. I found pressure spraying the flaking paint and then scrubbing with a wire brush before you hose using a normal hose worked really well. You want to take out the drawer and clean inside it and clean where the drawer was. It is essential you so this on a sunny dry day because you want the safe to dry quickly to prevent rusting of moving parts of the safe in general.

Step 2: Taking Photos and Dismantling the Lock

In the door is the locking mechanism. Before you move or take any parts off you need to take a lot of photos so you know how to put it back together. Start to dismantle by unscrewing all screws and bolts and don't force components to come off. Make sure you sort parts into containers and be careful not to break or damage any screws and other parts (where possible). If your safe is a combination safe it will likely have disks with groves in it like in the picture. On this safe, metal pins hook into the body and that is what locks it. The handle moves these metal pins in an out. The locks and dial prevent the pins moving in and out. Remember your safe may be different.

Step 3: Sanding

Once the safe is clean and dry you can start to sand off the original paint if you want a super shiny smooth finish. If you are ok with an antique finish you can skip this step. Sand all components with a belt sander being careful of sparks. I used 120 grip paper because I didn't want to many scratches. This mean it took me a long time. After the safe was dent free I moved onto 180 and 240 wet sanding. By now there were no large dents or scratches.

Step 4: Final Wash

After sanding clean with a hose and let it dry.

Step 5: Undercoating

I undercoated my safe with a rust guard spray paint but any spray undercoat will work well. I applied 4 coats of undercoat and sanded with 240 between coats and then cleaning with a tack cloth. Make sure you sand the inside and out including the bottom and the draw. After I sanded up to 600 grit. But if a smooth finish doesn't concern you. you can sand to 240 grit.

Step 6: Top Coating

After I was happy with final smoothness of the work I applied 5 coats of gloss black to the outside and then 4 coats of flat black to the inside. I rubbed it down with 0000 steel wool in between each coat and cleaned with a tack cloth. Pay attention when painting that you get paint on all surfaces. P.S. You can chose the colour of paint you want.

Step 7: The Lock

After you have painted the lock compartment you can re install the lock. I put 1 light undercoat on the lock mechanism but didn't want it to get to stiff. When re-installing the lock make sure you follow the photos you took. If you want you can replace the locks if you can find new ones that fit. At this stage DO NOT CLOSE THE DOOR. You may need to re calibrate the lock. Push the bottom right pin that engages the lock. Make sure the door is open. This will push the other pins out. Turn the dial 3 times to the right until 3 disks are moving. Then turn the dial to the right until the 4th disk matches up with the metal that needs to slide in to open the lock. Take note of what number this is. When it is aligned turn the dial to the left and on the 3rd rotation, when the 3rd disk is moving, align it with the 4th disk. Remember the number. Continue turning 2 to the left and finally to the right until all the disks are allied with each other and the locking bar can slide in. With the disks aligned and the other locks unlocked turn the handle and unlock the lock. Lock and unlock the safe without closing the door to make sure everything is working. When you are confident everything is ok close the door and give it a try.

Step 8: Optional - Covering the Shelf

If you are happy with your safe you can stop now and you have a great new safe. I chose to add a felt cover to the shelf. To do this I just cut some stretch velvet oversize to the shelf and hot glued it on underneath.

Step 9: Moving the Safe

Be careful when moving the safe because it might be very heavy. Mine weights over 80kg. Good luck to those who are about to try this. I hope it works as well as mine did and if nothing else I hope this inspires you to make something.



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