Restore a Rusty Toolbox




Introduction: Restore a Rusty Toolbox

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.

I recently picked up a rusty old toolbox for a few dollars at a thrift store.

It was structurally solid and didn't technically need any work to make it useful, but aesthetically it was in pretty poor shape so I decided to give it an upgrade.

Step 1: Rough Condition

The exterior paint was flaking off and the metal was rusty underneath.

I quite liked the toolbox in this state, to be honest, and was tempted to just leave it. But in the end I thought it would be a fun project so I went ahead with the makeover.

Step 2: Take It Apart

The drawers and drawer slides were removed. The slides were supported internally with little panels that I was also able to remove.

The handle and latches were riveted in place. The rivets were drilled out from the inside and these parts were removed.

Everything was scrubbed with degreasing soap (I used simple green) and hot water, thoroughly rinsed and dried.

Step 3: Strip Paint and Rust

I decided to strip the paint and rust mechanically.

What ended up working the best for this were abrasive paint and rust stripping disks.

I used this in my grinder, and this in my corded drill (a small and mostly worn out one - which worked well for nooks and crannies) to remove all the paint and rust from the case.

This process kicks up a lot of nasty stuff, so be sure to wear protective equipment. I wore goggles, breathing mask, and ear muffs.

Step 4: Clean and Prime

The case and drawers were vacuumed out to remove all the rust and paint dust, and then wiped down with a clean rag dampened with denatured alcohol.

Once they were perfectly clean, I did not touch them with my bare hands to keep them free from oils prior to painting.

The case and drawers were then painted with Rustoleum professional primer (this stuff).

Step 5: Paint

After priming, I painted the case and drawers with several thin coats of "Safety Blue" paint.

Step 6: Drawer Slides

The panels that hold the drawer slides were a little rusty along the bottom edges. The rust was removed with a wire wheel using my rotary tool, and then these areas were painted with primer.

Step 7: Handles and Latches

The main handle parts and latch parts were made of plated metal, and the drawer handles were made of aluminum.

The plated metal parts were a little rusty with some of the plating flaking off. I used a wire wheel in my rotary tool to remove the surface rust and any loose plating, and then hit these parts with a very light coat of Rustoleum chrome paint.

The aluminum handles were cleaned but not polished.

Step 8: Masking

I decided to add some racing stripes, just for fun.

I waited a full 24 hours after painting the blue coats to do the stripes.

I began by laying out painter's tape very carefully to mask off some internal stripes I wanted to stay blue. Masking paper was added to cover larger areas as well.

Step 9: Paint Stripes

A coat of blue paint was put down first. This seals the edges of the tape and prevents any bleed-under from the final coatings of white.

I waited about 10 minutes after painting the blue, and then added light coatings of white every few minutes until there was a solid white coating.

When I paint stripes and two-toned things like this, I prefer to remove the tape immediately when the paint is still wet. So that's what I did.

It's a delicate process and care must be taken to avoid touching the wet paint, or having any errant strips of tape or masking paper touch it.

Step 10: Wait!

This is the hardest part of a project like this. It's tempting to just wait till the paint is dry to the touch and replace all the hardware . . .

But I recommend setting the recently painted items in a clean, non-dusty place and just leaving them alone for a few days for the paint to harden.

Step 11: Reassemble

When you can't wait any longer, go ahead and reassemble the parts.

I slid the drawer slide panels in place and added the slides with fresh grease. The drawer handles were re-affixed and the drawers slid into place.

Step 12: Latches and Handle

For the latches, I reinstalled them using pop rivets.

I didn't think pop rivets would be sufficient for the top handle, so for this I used some small bolts.

Step 13: Drawer Liners

I got some cheap drawer liners which I cut to size and placed in the drawers.

The kind of liners I used (from HF) are rolled and don't lay flat. Hitting them with heat from a heat gun until they relax and lay flat seems to help. Just be careful, if you hold the heat too close it can melt them.

Step 14: Load It With Tools

I like the way it turned out, and it's ready to be loaded up with some tools.

Thanks for taking a look!

3 People Made This Project!


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52 Discussions

Love your toolbox! I am working on restoring one as well! I do understand you saying in the the other comments you were over budget on putting lacquer on I understand, I do agree with others you should put a lock latch on it. But ether way it looks great!

Great job! My only comment is in reference to your choice of lube for the drawer slides. I made the mistake of using grease years ago on these parts only to have the grease attract all of the various contaminates floating around in my shop. I have since learned that dry lube is the better choice for this application. It is available in most big box stores or your favorite local hardware store. It's also useful in door locks and latches.

1 reply

Upon close inspection of the pictures this is definately better left as is, the metal is gone in a lot of places and it would be difficult to restore.

Whoa, that's in pretty rough shape. It looks like the metal has rusted through in several places, so it's probably not a very good candidate for restoring. I'd probably just leave it as is, because it's pretty interesting and shows it's age :)

Waw! This is so cool & so beautifully done too! :)

You always inspires me

inspiring. Great stuff.

Wow. This is an amazing transformation. You really brought it back to life. It looks incredible. Besides painting it, did you do anything else to seal it in? :)

2 replies

I just painted it. I could have given it a clear coat of lacquer or something, which would have added another layer of protection, but I was over budget! :)

Just last night I put the first big ding in it, which was a sad moment but bound to happen, I guess.

Oh ok! It looked so shiny, I thought you may have added something like that. It turned out amazing. :) I really like your creations!

Thanks! I'm quite fond of the colors too. In all honesty, this might end up being my sewing box.. I think it's too purdy to leave out in the garage :)

The racing stripes make it look like a dodge viper or something similarly sporty. Very nice resto!

1 reply


I think I was inspired by google fiber vans, to be honest:


1 year ago

Little disappointed that you didn't lay down a couple dozen coats of hand rubbed lacquer and clear. Seriously though, waaaay too pretty for bangin' with tools. My only question is where the hell are the cast alloy Shelby mags? :) Beautiful job! You should be doing commercials for Rust-oleum. Wait... I think you just did - might wanna send 'em a link. ;)

Reuse, re-purpose, recycle and wear out. Way to go!

1 reply