I bought a set of machinist measuring tools at a garage sale last year. They were french fitted in a foam lined box, but the foam had disintegrated and gone sticky. Almost every tool had some surface rust, some very minor, some a little more significant. I put the box away when I got home and left it, thinking that I would clean it all up when I got the chance. It has sat in my shop ever since.
Well, this week I reached the point in my workbench build where the top was done, the base was done, and it was time to start figuring out the vises. I came to sort of a standstill and had lost my momentum. I often find when this happens that it is best to step away from the project and do something else until inspiration strikes. A small project should be just enough to keep me busy for a couple of days until I come up with a plan of attack for my workbench vises.
The tools are in an unmarked plain black faux leather box. The tools themselves are marked “Union Tool Co. Orange, Mass, U.S.A.”
I did a little online research about this brand and found some great information on the OldToolHeavan website. It appears that this brand was bought out in 1957 by the Millers Falls Company. However, according to the site, Union Tools continued to be made until 1975, so I have no way to date this set with any more accuracy than pre-1975 based upon the available info.
I took all of the individual tools out and removed the worst of the sticky foam residue. I scraped both sides of the box clean and removed all of the disintegrating foam. This was a messy job and took about an hour. There was some raised cardboard in the lid that I left in place. I suppose that this is to add a little pressure on some of the tools to hold them in place when the lid is closed.
I cleaned all of the steel tools using the soft wire wheel on my bench grinder. The surface rust came off easily, but there were a few spots where the pitting was a little more pronounced. With the rust removed, I wiped everything down with a coat of Jojoba oil.
For replacement foam, I headed to my local Joann’s Fabrics to see what they had. The dense foam was for upholstery and was a lime green color. No thanks! I was about to leave when the nice lady suggested headliner foam. It comes on a big roll, 54″ wide, and is sold by the yard. It is a little thinner than ¼” but by staking multiple layers, I figured that I could get exactly what I’m looking for. I bought 16″ of it and paid a whopping $4.37.
I installed 3 layers of foam in the lid using 3M spray glue on the back of each piece. In the base, I glued in one layer that covered the whole base. I took a second sheet of foam and used a scalpel to cut out the shapes of all the tools. When this was done, I glued this sheet into the base. I let all the glue dry overnight and then put the tools back in the following day. I cleaned the outside of the box and brushed on a coat of black Kiwi boot polish to shine it up.
Here’s the foam that I used:
A couple of days tinkering and cleaning in the shop and I’m ready to get back to my bench.
I don’t know when these will next see use, but they’re cleaned up and ready if I need them. I put a couple of silica desiccant packets inside the case before I closed it and put it away. Hopefully they have many years left in them now.
– Jonathan White
Cool. How accurate is that square? Have you checked? Just wondering how something like that survives over time and without use or attention…
Sorry for the late response, I didn’t see your comment. I checked the square against my machinist square and it is dead on. I don’t think that these tools ever saw much use. It looks to me like from the time they were new, they were left in the box to rust.
All the best,