How to Restore Old Tools

Updated April 17, 2017

Old, antique and vintage tools include shovels, chisels, drill bits, saws, planes and more. Generally, old tools are made from wood and iron. Vintage tools accumulate dirt and rust and need cleaning and waxing to restore and preserve their life.

Examine each old or antique tool carefully. Determine what the tool is made of and the level of care required.

Clean off old dust and dirt accumulations. Using a mild soap and water, wipe the tools off with a cloth wrung nearly dry. For crevices and corners, use cotton swabs and/or a vacuum cleaner. Set the vacuum on the lowest suction and use the brush attachment.

Scrub metal portions of the tool with a small stiff brush, if any dirt remains, using mineral spirits. For particularly stubborn dirt, add 1 per cent mild cleaning solution (such as Vulpex) to the mineral spirits. Clean corrosive areas with steel wool dipped in mineral spirits.

Wipe the metal parts with deionised or distilled water to remove residue from the soap and mineral spirits.

Treat the wooden portions of your tools with a coat synthetic wax that will not yellow with age. Metal parts do not require waxing, especially pieces that do not need a shiny surface.

Buff your waxed tools with a soft cloth or brush.


If your tools are extremely damaged, contact a conservator to provide the expert care.

Things You'll Need

  • Old tools
  • Soft cloths
  • Small brush or toothbrush
  • Deionised or distilled water
  • Mild liquid soap
  • Minerals spirits
  • Mild cleaning solution
  • Steel wool or synthetic pads
  • Synthetic wax
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About the Author

Susan Ward, M.A., writes about family, parenting, and children's mental health issues for multiple publications. She has been published in various special interest publications, both in print and online, in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the U.K. since 1989. She's also authored two books and numerous booklets.