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How to Restore Antique Safes

Rusty antique safes can be refinished.
safe image by Roman Sigaev from Fotolia.com

An antique safe can be restored, using the proper methods. Antique safes are made of metal, with hinged tops that may be broken or loose. The cosmetic appearance of an antique safe might include scratch marks, rust, or indented sections that will need to be “popped out.” Sometimes an antique safe was coated in toxic lead paint that might be peeling and will need to be scraped away and removed.

Clean the antique safe with a de-greasing agent. Place newspaper or a tarp on the floor or table where you are working on the safe to protect the floor from cleaning agents.

Put on disposable plastic or latex gloves. Place the de-greasing agent onto a rough, old rag and scrub the safe vigorously. Make sure to clean every section. Use fine steel wool, grade 0000, on sections of the safe that have chipped paint. Cover sections of the safe where there is ornate design work or where the safe is in good condition.

Use protective tape, such as painters tape, to cover the safe in sections. Do not use a tape that can lift off the natural patina of the safe if you are leaving the safe in its original aged condition. Clean the safe with gentle soap and water only if all it needs is a light cleaning.

Make sure to clean the safe in a well-ventilated area in case old lead paint is on the safe and chips off the safe as you clean. Seal any air-conditioning ducts in the workplace so that old lead spores from the safe don’t infiltrate the air-conditioning vents.

Quickly remove any paint peels from the safe and place in a disposable garbage bag. Seal the bag after all the paint peels are removed from the safe. Wipe the safe clean with wet, old rags, and dispose of the rags. Dry the safe with an old towel and dispose.

Repaint the safe with a primer before applying metal spray paint. Use one coat of galvanized metal etching primer and apply with a medium-sized house paintbrush in even strokes. Let dry before applying spray paint.

Use an eco-friendly spray paint made for metal. Buy a color that matches the original color of safe or choose one that is to your liking if going for a different look. Use an enamel based paint made for metal if you do not want to use spray paint. Choose one that is specifically made for painting surface metal and apply two coats. Let the first coat dry fully before applying a second coat.

Fix any broken or faulty hinges on the safe once it is restored. Take a carpenter’s hammer and from the inside, bang on any indentations so that they pop out and are no longer giving the appearance of dents from the outside.

Things You'll Need:

  • De-greasing agent
  • Newspaper
  • Tarp
  • Disposable plastic or latex gloves
  • Old rags
  • Grade 0000 fine steel wool
  • Painters tape
  • Disposable garbage bag
  • Old towel
  • Primer
  • Metal spray paint
  • Galvanized metal etching primer
  • Medium paintbrush
  • Enamel based paint
  • Carpenter's hammer
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