Restoring Tonka Trucks





Introduction: Restoring Tonka Trucks

This summer i decided to start restoring Tonka trucks, my son loves them and i enjoy quality metal toys so and making things myself so this is what i came up with.   Its my first instructable so bear with me, and i didn't have many of my pics from the process so i am using what images i have to make this instructable.   I will have a more detailed one this summer when i have a little more free time to tinker in the garage and grad school, work, wife, and child are not demanding my attention.

Step 1: Finding a Truck

I went to a lot of garage sales and websites to find older trucks, just ask around so many people have them stashed in the corner of a garage that are not being used anymore.   I let my friends and family know what i was doing and they kept an eye out for trucks.  The older the better for me.........

Step 2: Taking Apart

The next step is to disassemble the truck, Most Tonkas are similar in design so most of this information is relevant to all trucks.  Nylint trucks are a little different so you will have to work with what you got,  and get it ready to strip.   I used a couple of vice grip pliers to get the top-hat nuts off the wheels, lock one pair on each side and twist them off, and remember to save them.  If they break just order some online.  Then use a large socket to remove the wheels from the tires by pressing them out of the tires.  Remove the cab by straightening out the tabs located under the truck and pull the cab off use a Flathead screwdriver to help if the cab is stuck, just twist it between the lip and the cab.. 

Step 3: Stripping

You can use whatever method of paint stripping you choose for this step but get it to bare rust.   I started with used Muriatic Acid diluted with water but i don't recommend that, its DANGEROUS AND YOU CAN GET BURNED USING IT< RESEARCH IT IF YOU ARE GOING TO TRY THAT I ASSUME NO RESPONSIBILITY IF YOU CHOOSE THAT and if you leave the metal in too long it burns the rivets out of the truck and that makes the project even harder.   I made a sandblasting cabinet out of an old freezer i have and that seems to be the best method.   If you don't have access to a sandblaster then a grinder and some patience is your answer.  i used a wire brush wheel to do most of the cleaning.  Get the rust off and get it to bare metal.

Step 4: Time for Paint

Make sure you clean the piece before painting it, I used mineral spirits and a reg to get it all cleaned up.  Once its dry get the paint you want to use and go to work, i used a car aerosol spray can paint at my local auto parts store.  Make sure you spray own a base coat of primer and wait the designated time before you spray on your final coats of color.   A good coat of clear at the end will keep your truck looking good and keep some of the dings off it.  I also choose to add some style by using chrome paint on the wheels, gas tanks, and grills.

Step 5: Custom Paints

I choose to mask out some designs for a few of the trucks.   Use painters tape of thin line masking tape when you want to lay down some cool designs.   I traced a design on masking tape to make the smaller designs but free handed the thin line tape to make the design on the box.  not the best but it was my first time doing this so give me a break.  Once mask it down wait for paint to dry and pull the mask off. 

Step 6: Assembly

Put the wheels back on using the top hat nuts, place them one the use a flat surface pound them back together.  I used the back of a socket and a piece of flat steel to not ruin the paint in the rim.   make sure to put the box on before putting on the back wheels.  Then use either rivets or bolts to attach the box back to the frame.   make sure it is low profile head as to not interfere with the back wheels.  when placing cab or other accessory pieces make sure the tabs are straight and place them in their home, then bend them over to secure them in place.  Once everything is back in place enjoy the work you have created and get ready for all your friends and family to ask when can you have one done for all of their kiddos.



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    13 Discussions

    how to take off tires from rim

    I have found a great way to remove paint and rust from metals without getting too caustic or dangerous. I set up an electrolysis tank, using a 5 gallon tank, some re-rod I picked up at HD. Add water, washing soda (grocery store carries this) and apply a bit of DC current. The mixture causes the paint to literally flake off, taking the rust with it. This also leaves a great surface for painting.

    you runed it

    I have 6 Tonka Trucks from the 70's that I need sanded down & painted for my grandchildren. Is there anyone out here that will take on this project for me ?

    Thanks for this my dad left me 6 of these trucks frombwhen he was a child my son is going to be 2 soon and i think we will reatore them and pass them to him

    seems like it's been a while since you were last active, just wanted to say really nice job on the instructable.

    They don't make Tonka trucks like they use to. My boys had 2 Tonka trucks that turned to pure rust after 30 years of being left outside. I always knew if either of my boys had children of their own I'd be trying to refurbish those old trucks. I didn't think their was much hope for getting them to a point where they were safe to play with but I thought I'd give it a try. I first filled a big plastic container I purchased from Target with vinegar. After the trucks sat a couple days in the vinegar, the rust melted off the truck like butter. I was shocked and surprised that the trucks were in great shape after all. I'm ready for primer and paint. My boys and their kids are going to be so surprised with the end result.

    Awesome job, Buzzyman! You did a wonderful job! I'll definitely be referring back to this when I restore some 40+ year old Tonka's this spring. Thanks for sharing!

    this helps a bit got a stack of old trucks from my childhood wanted to restore so thanks

    ok. do you use original paint? if so, where do you find it? I want to restore a 1970's blue dump truck. thanks for the example!


    4 years ago

    I used to have on as a kid. I had a big one that my little body could sit in and I would slide from one end of the room to the other.

    Very nice! I remember playing with these tough toys as a kid. Come to think of it I may still have it!!!
    I Will have to give this a shot!

    You went all out ! I usually just wirebrush, tape and spray, you got really nice results, I'm sure there's some happy kids around you