Semi Heavy Metal - How does one restore a vintage metal file?
June 30, 2017 12:59 PM   Subscribe

I just bought a cute little "File a Way" file box by Steelmaster on eBay. Not sure if I'll just want to patch her up a bit and keep the vintage look or if she'll need a new paint job. Would appreciate tips on both options, since I've never worked on metal items before. If it matters the dimensions are: 8x6x6 with each drawer measuring 1.5 inches in height. I plan to use it for mailing supplies, stamps, postcard sleeves, etc.
posted by mulcahy to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would try and get away with painting over the current paint rather than stripping it off. Stripping paint is no fun.

I would try to gently pry loose the logo on the top of the file; you might try heating with a hair-drier to assist. If it doesn't come off easily carefully cover it in low-tack painters tape. Make sure to burnish the edges of the painters tape to ensure good adhesion.

Take the drawers out of the file, and use some steel wool and give the whole file and all the drawers a good rub down, focusing on any spots that have surface rust.

Wipe the whole box down with rubbing alcohol to remove dust and grease. Paint the whole thing with a rust resistant metal primer (something like Rust-Oleum Filler Primer Spray Paint). With spray-paint you want to do several THIN coats. Wait 24 hours and then use some 600 grit sandpaper to gently sand the imperfections in the paint. Do one more THIN coat of primer and wait 24 hours, and then you can paint it with the color of your choice.
posted by gregr at 1:46 PM on June 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have seen this kind of thing completely stripped to bare shiny metal and left that way, maybe with some kind of oil finish or metal sealer. This gives you a nice industrial look, like these file cabinets.

If you go that way you would want to avoid doing anything to the label at the top which is terrific just as is. You can use a paint stripper or take it to an auto body shop and have them sandblast it.
posted by beagle at 1:52 PM on June 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you like the way it looks now, you could give it a few thin coats of clear spray lacquer. It will be shiny or matte, depending on what type you use. Test it on the bottom to see if you like it.
posted by H21 at 2:20 PM on June 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Another option would be to clean it up and finish it with some paste wax. That should help keep the corrosion from spreading and add a little shine.
posted by exogenous at 5:27 PM on June 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

great answers so far, I'd err toward not stripping, from an antique/museum perspective.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:40 PM on June 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

, from an antique/museum perspective.

...from that perspective, it's not worth anything much, especially if your plan is to keep it and use it. So do what you want with it.

I've never done this, but I've heard that auto body/collision shops can do jobs like this - from stripping to finish -
quickly and easily and at less than it might cost you to take the time to prep and paint it.
posted by Miko at 6:16 PM on June 30, 2017

...from that perspective, it's not worth anything much,
Ha, of course you're 100% right. I just meant if the old look/feel was something OP really liked, i.e. the valuation of apparent age/patina etc.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:53 PM on June 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

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