Every once in a while, I like to take a trip down to one of my local antique shops and see if they have any tools for sale. Most of the tools I find are junk. Their only real use would be to hang on the wall for decoration. Sometimes though, I actually find something that I need and that I know I can return to original condition. On this trip I found a Miller Falls No. 2 hand drill. I have been looking for one on the cheap and with the online market how it is, you just never really know what condition something like that might be, or you are going to pay tons more for it because someone else refurbished it.
Now when I recondition a tool I really just want to clean it up, slap on some paint or finish, and oil whatever needs to be oiled. I am not looking to rebuild parts, weld the thing back together, or any other drastic work. I also never want to spend very much money at all on the tool. For this hand drill I spent a whopping $20. I only spent that much because the drill was actually in really good shape.
What do I look for? Well in general I check to make sure the tool has all of its parts. Sometimes this means I go home and look on the Internet and find as much information as I can on the tool before I buy it. One thing to look for on a hand drill in particular is how well the jaws close. They need to be very tight and straight. If they don’t close all the way they will not hold your drill pits well at all. The second thing I look at is how well the tool is holding together. If the tool has been abused, worn out, or just not made well to begin with, and parts are so loose or damaged that I cannot repair them, I just put it back and move on. No matter how tempting the item might be. Third, I make sure that the tool can be taken apart without a blowtorch. If the parts are seized up, or rusted together so bad that they cannot be removed, just put the paperweight back. Fourth, if possible, I see if I can use the tool in the store. Doing this may require me to take a small piece of wood and a drill bit with me to the store and try the tool out. If the tool passes those four criteria and I feel that I can clean it up enough to make it work and look like new, then I will buy it.
Once I get a tool home I start to take it apart. Then I realize I haven’t taken any pictures of it so I put it back together, take the pictures, and then take the tool all the way apart. The more you can disassemble the tool the easier it will be to clean each part. Cleaning each part doesn’t require really any special tools. It really just depends on how much time you want to spend cleaning the tool. Usually, I can clean a tool and put paint on it within 24 hours. That is what I did with this hand drill. Part of that is excitement and part of that is just sweaty work. For the most part I will use small brushes (to clean all the in between areas), soapy water (just scrub everything off), WD-40 (to loosen parts up), paint thinner (fill a small container and just drop the parts in for 30 min), mineral spirits (mainly for the wood pieces), sand paper (to clean off finish and build up), dental equipment (like picks to get into small areas), metal files (to clean off burs and dings), and a bench grinder with a wire wheel (just to polish up parts and remove rust). Almost all the metal can be cleaned with a wire wheel. This is a clean, quick, and easy way to get the metal shiny and new. All the shiny metal parts on this hand drill were cleaned with a wire wheel. You can buff metal parts if you want but I really don’t find the need for that with most tools I have refurbished.
Now once all the parts are clean and ready to be painted or refinished the real choices begin. If you want the tool to look original I would spend a little time researching what a new one looked like. I am not too much of a stickler for tools looking exactly the way they did when they were made years ago. I just want the tool to work well and last for another lifetime. This brings up another point. Sometimes repainting a tool with a good spray paint is better than the original method (like old japanning methods). This is because modern spray paints and especially powder coats are a lot better than the original finishing method used. Also, the wood finishes we have today may last longer and work better than an original finish. It is really your choice. For this drill I used black and red spray paint and an oil/varnish home mix to refinish the wood handles. Now this next statement might make some hand tool guys a little crazy. For those who don’t know, these old drills have removable caps on the handle. The cap screws off to reveal a hollow in the handle so that you can store drill bits inside. I hate this because they always come loose and drive me nuts. So, I glued the cap on right before I put the finish on. It ain’t ever comin’ off now.
All in all I really like the way this Miller Falls No. 2 hand drill came out. It works really smooth, took me about 36 hours from purchase to new (mostly waiting for paint and finish to dry), and looks like an entirely new tool. Now does it look like it was worth $20? I think so. Best of all, it works great.