Restoring an Old Wrench




Introduction: Restoring an Old Wrench

About: I'm a maker by nature but not by profession. I do all sorts of creative stuff and I want to share these things with you. I will mainly be posting all sorts of crafts on instructables for now but maybe I'll d...

I found this old rusty wrench from a flea market. I tought I should try to restore and polish it. The wrench was very disty and barely funtional because the adjustment mechanism was almost jammed by rust and dirt.

As a fan on Mad Max movies I would have wanted to keep it the way it was, but because I wanted to be able to use it, I decided to learn how to polish tools. how ever I still wanted to keep all the dents and scratches on the wrench as a sign of the tools age. Otherwise I could have sanded the flat sides of the tool to perfect mirror finish.

Step 1: Tools

This project can be done completetly with only basic tools. I used a power drill which could be replaced with some good old hard work.

The tools I used for the project were:


Sandpaper (grits 200, 400, 800, 1500, 2000)

Power drill

wire brush (for power drill)

polishing (buffing) wheel

polishing compound

Step 2: Disassembly

I had to disasseble the wrench in order to clean the mechanism up. This also allowed my to do al little more detailed work with the polishing because there was less thight spots where the steel it would be hard to polish from. I used a vise to hold the wrench while I opened the screw keepeng the mechanism together. The screw was stuck and it was really hard to open it. I could not have done it without the vise by only holding the wrench by hand because the screwdriver was slipped so easily. The vise held the wrench still while I pressed the screwdriver down really hard while turning which kept the screwdriver from slippind and destroying the screw.

After the screw is off the wheel should come right off. Also the lower jaw of the wrech should come off by pulling. In my case it was a little stuck and I had to move is up and down for a moment until it loosened enough for me to pull it off.

I'd imagine it's hard or impossible to find spare parts to something like this. So, be careful with old stuck screws if you want to keep using them.

Step 3: Sanding

I started the cleaning on the parts with a wire brush attached to a power drill. This cleaned off most of the rust, dirt and old paint. This would propably have been fine if didn't care how the tool looks. The steel was far from shiny.

I started sanding with 200 grit sand paper to clean the surface a little more from the small gaps and other areas the wire brush did not clean up so well. When sanding/polishing you usually want to double the grit number of the paper you are using. I sanded pretty much everything exept the threads of the screw. I wanted to clean every little detail I didn't want dirt and rust for example in the hole around the wheel just because I was lazy.

Therefore next I started the polishing process with a 400 grit sandpaper . When polishing surfaces you usually want to sand only in one direction with every roughness of paper you are using. This causes lines on the surfece you are sanding. Then when you switch to higher grit you change the angle of the direction you are sanding in which allows you to see when all the lines caused by the lower grit paper has disappeared. Then you know that you can move to higher grit. In this case I did not use that method because the shape of the tool did not allow me to change the direction (of sanding) a lot. In addition the surface was not so smooth that a few small scathes in the finished surface would make any difference.

After 400 grits, I moved to 800 grits. Then I moved to 1500 and ended with 2000 because these were the paper I happened to have already. It's important to remember that as you sand the paper will get stuff stuck to it and the paper will become smoother. In reality when I finished with the 2000 grit paper the result was already a lot smoother what it would have been if I had changed the paper more often. I guess the finish at this point it was somewhere between 2000 and 3000 grits.

While sanding it's also important to remember that you are constantly removing material from the surface. If you remove a lot of matrial the parts will be moore loose. For exmaple, I did not sand the hidden part screw any more than I had to in order to clean it up, because I did not want the parts to have too much room to wiggle after I attached them back togerther.

Step 4: Polishing

After the sanding I desided to finish the polishing of the parts with a polishing compound. I used a polishing wheel for the power drill and a 2 part polishing compound set. First I took the red compound which was kind of pre-finish compound. I pressed the bar of compond againt the wheel to get a the compond on the wheel and the I started rubbing the parts I wanted to polish with the wheel. I added more compound a coulpe of times.

After the red coumpound I used the white compund which is meant to used for finishing the polish. When changing from one compond to another you should change also the polishing wheel. I didn't because I did not have one. I'm really happy with the results even thought I didn't change the wheel. It was hard to capture it on video or photos but the polishing compound really made a difference to the end result.

Now all is that is left is to assemble the wrech which was a piece of case becasue the parts were now cleaned and I had no trouble fitting them back together. Adding some oil to the moving parts is also highly racommended.



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    18 Discussions

    I think you forgot half of the work. When you put the nude iron to the action of the oxygene, it will produce rust very quickly. It needs a final treatment procedure to avoid that, based on its final usage.

    I use a bucket of used bucket ATF get off major rust and leave for a few weeks.


    11 months ago

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with restoring old tools and equipment. Some times those old tools are built with better metalurgy then modern tools. Never pass up a good old tool. Nice project port.

    2 replies

    Absolutely agree. I have a collection of my father's joinery tools, including some lovely cast steel chisels with box handles and all brass fittings. They are a pleasure to use (hard to sharpen) and should never end up in the bin. I will never wear them out, so you are just the custodian.

    Rusty tools say a lot about the care they have had. They still work, but I doubt that it would go down well in an engineering shop. It takes seconds to wipe over with WD40 or Waxoyl, but takes a lot longer to restore.

    If I have to get rust off, it's usually phosphoric acid and as mentioned before, Scotchbrite (3M) non-woven abrasive pads. No place for sandpaper.

    Good tools are still available from new and for adjustable wrenches, I rate Bacho tools. Britool, Elora and Bedford still do high quality spanners and sockets.

    Thanks. That's true. I usually do not need an adjustable wrench except for non-metric nuts and bolts but it's good to have these also. I paid 2€ (a little over $2) for this and even Chinese wreches that are made from cheap(ish) steel cost 4€. Of course I spent some time to polish this but I still think that this will last longer than super cheap tools. And I think this was a fun project to do even if I never used the wrench.

    thanks, I like the article and I do also "restore" older tools. Something I find helpful, however, is to clean the tool with something gentle, whatever works, like Dawn, then dissassemble it, and, instead of removing the rust (i.e., iron oxide) with something harsh/destructive like a wire brush, use electrolysis to change ("reduce" - a reduction reaction, opposite of oxidization) the oxidized iron (rust) back to elemental iron. This way you are not losing any of the original tool and don't have to worry when you are wire brushing it or polishing later. Use a simple battery charger, hook up the positive terminal to a sacrificial anode made of scrap steel or iron, and make the tool itself the cathode where reduction takes place. The material from the anode, which "rusts" (oxidizes), makes the rust on the tool, at the cathode, turn back to iron. How: Put both in an electrolytic solution made with, for instance, washing soda or even dishwasher powder. More extensive instructions are on line, e.g.,

    but it is easy to do. Once you are done with that, proceed as you like to clean it up more, wire brush or scotchbrite pad, viz, 3M scotchbrite non-metallic gray finishing pad No 10144. You will probably want to spray it with some kind of rust preventative, Boeshield or TopCote, afterwards so it doesn't happen again, and that probably is better than using oil which can attract dust.

    Are the wrenches in the side by side picture the same? The stamped wording looks different. Did you sand down the edges and text that much?

    2 replies

    He’s put the wrench down the wrong way and flipped the image. So it’s a reverse of the opposite s

    Yes, that's true. I tought I had it the other way around in the first picture and I didn't bother to take new picture when I noticed the mistake.

    The screw is supposed to be hard to get out its so the wrench will stay together in use.

    try evapo rust it will cut down all the sand paper and wire brush work . it can get all the parts where you cant get the wire brush . just need to polish after soaking :-)

    1 reply

    Thanks. Maybe I should try it if I find some other stuff to restore.

    i too love to make my old crap look a little better, i just spent the whole summer soaking stuff in vinegar, it works Great!

    Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 9.42.45 AM.png
    1 reply

    Nice job. I remember when I've done a couple of experiments at home with vinegar and the smell was terrible :D During summer it could be also done outside, but in Finland it's "warm" like 3 moths a year and cold slows the chemical process down (I think).


    10 months ago

    Nice job! And even nicer video! Another approach with less wire wheel work would be to use a small sandblaster attachment and an air compressor. I've sworn off ever using a wire brush again.

    1 reply

    Thank you. I'm still experimenting with the whole video thing. It's propably my 8. video ever, but I've already a come long way from my first video. Wirebrush isn't my favourite tool either but sandblasting might be a little too much trouble for me at the moment.

    Thanks. That makes sense. It didn't cross my mind that maybe I could clean the wheel somehow.