Refinish Your Old Radio Flyer Wagon




About: 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 Sam and I'm a community manager here at Instructables.

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.

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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 basic 3-in-1 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.



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27 Discussions


9 months ago on Step 2

A word of warning: if the wagon is made before 1978, there is a very likely chance it contains lead paint. Wet sand the wagon, wear a respirator, and clean the work area if you are not sure.


11 months ago

I had to stop by and check out your restoration. Nicely done I may keep my eye out of one of these to redo as well.

1 reply

I plan to use the wagon outside a lot to haul plants, bags of dirt etc. if I were to consider drilling in a few rain water drainage holes to the bed..... Where wud u suggest they be located? After all, the rust usually starts up from sitting water, and tho I wish I were better at clearing out all standing water, stuff happens.

6 replies

Reply 2 years ago

Wouldn't it be just as easy to turn it over if left outside? Or just put it inside when not in use?

Sounds like a good plan. I liked the finished pic but the sunlight made the inner bed appear gunmetal grey... Which I preferred over the black

Any suggestions for a grey paint with some grit to it


Reply 3 years ago

Grit? Yes! Get a salt shaker with some fine sand in it and sprinkle it to desired density while the paint is wet. Works great!


3 years ago

Nice job. I picked the same wagon up for my son, from my moms house yesterday. It was mine 35 years ago as a kid and definitely needs a makeover Thanks for all the detail you put into the instructions as well!


Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

Hey, thank you!

This little wagon is still going strong today. Thank you for the nice compliment!


3 years ago

Can you paint over that rubber coating? I'd like to keep the red color.

2 replies

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

I can't say for certain, to be honest. But I can't see why not, especially if you wait a substantial amount of time for the rubber coating to fully cure, which may be up to 30 days. Good luck!


4 years ago on Introduction

you've got to be kidding me , this i looks brand new, unbelievable. between paint and parts wonder what the bill was , that is excellent work


5 years ago on Introduction

Beautiful job! I followed your steps- thank you! A question: Did you paint the bed after the undercoating was applied and dried? The reason I ask is that my coating is sticky and some of the black rubs off. (Not good for grand kids' clothing) It has been a couple of weeks from final coat application. What do you recommend? Thanks.

2 replies

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Thanks for your reply. I too painted the outside of the wagon bed red before the inside of the bed with the black coating. We have had rain and humidity so maybe it does need more time to dry and cure. I hope so. I used all Rustoleum products. Their coating says its "paintable" so that's why I thought I might do that to prevent rub off of the black. Thanks again.


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Hi! I painted the inside of the bed with black undercoating paint, after the outside and bottom portions were painted red.

Regarding the stickiness, I'm not sure exactly what may be going on in your case. Some paints just take a long, long time to fully cure . . . and how long often depends on a number of factors (type of paint, thickness of coats, climate, etc.)

I have had stickiness issues in the past when using a primer of one brand and top coats of another. Krylon and Rustoleum often don't jive very well together, so I tend to stick to one brand or the other for complete projects.

You may just need to give it a little more time.

Hope that helps! Let me know if the stickiness goes away!