To paint or not to paint?

The words “tool” and “painted” tend to make a lot of woodworkers cringe. A gold sprayed Stanley #7 that I saw for sale was a good example of why. Often it’s done in haste, without proper surface preparation, and with the wrong paint.

Take for example the Stanley #80 I got on the weekend. It looks a mess, but the tool is sound. I could leave it as is, strip it right back to bare metal and keep it oiled, or I could try and get it back to as close to original finish as I could.

I started by doing some researching into Japanning, which is what was originally used on these tools. It involves mixing Linseed Oil, Turps and a tar based paint and then baking the tools in an oven. Somehow I didn’t think my other half would be pleased at me doing that.

The paint store owner suggested that the best alternative would be to sand the metal really well then apply thin layers of a rust proofing enamel paint, sanding between coats. I gave it a go on the cabinet scraper and I’m really pleased with how it’s come up. The first photo shows it wet and it looks like I’ve made a mess of a really nice tool.

Once dry I gave it a light sand with 1200 grit Wet and dry sandpaper and recoated it, doing the same again to make sure it was smooth. It looks a lot better in the second photo, in fact I find it hard to tell the difference between that and the factory finished spokeshave in the picture for reference.

Will I be rushing out and painting all my tools?. No. What I will do is use my judgement and see which need it (say anything under 60% original finish) and make sure I carefully try and restore as much of the original character to the tool as I can. In the end, if a tool works that’s the main thing, but why not try and get it to look good as well?


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