Bolt Restoration

Bolt Restoration

Shocking news on re-using old fasteners

Anyone involved in a restoration project knows its progress is almost always behind schedule. The proper restoration of even the simplest vehicle can take well over a year. Now don't get us wrong; the work is half the fun. But let's be serious-the real reason to restore that classic is to be able to drive and enjoy, not scrape grease.

Plan and Prep

A good way to speed things up is to plan ahead, and identify those tasks that are real time consumers or even time wasters. One of the first and foremost of these tasks is cleaning and preparing bolts and hardware. Not exactly exciting stuff, but you really should try to use the original factory bolts and hardware, whenever possible. They were designed by the engineers who developed your vehicle, and just typically just fit better than some aftermarket part.

It would be great to just buy all new hardware, but this approach has its own problems. Even if you can find new hardware, it is usually outrageously expensive. Not only that, original fasteners often have a certain look to them. Even if you find a bolt at the hardware store that works perfectly on your vehicle, it still has a different appearance from the factory stuff. Most resto aficionados can spot the non-factory fastener from a mile away.

Clean and Restore

So the better choice to do the job right means reusing old bolts, nuts and other hardware. However, here is the difficulty: If the car needs restoration work, then certainly the fasteners do, too. They are usually coated with grease, paint and rust, quite often all three at once. Cleaning these parts or restoring them to their original condition can be very time consuming. Paid professionals who restore cars do use the old bolts over again. If it is possible for them, then it is possible for you. The following tips can help you to decide what you should do for your own vehicle and some of the tricks and tools of the trade.

Trade Secrets

Job one is to get anything "soft" off of the bolts. This would include grease, oil or some kinds of gasket sealers, like silicone. Usually you can soak the bolts in a good degreaser, carburetor cleaner or some other type of solvent. They can then be rinsed off and you are ready for the real work. Once a bolt has been degreased, all that's left is rust.

Now for a little info about rust: Some bolts have a fair amount of surface rust, but serious pitting hasn't yet set in. In some instances, rust can become so serious that it will weaken the integrity of the bolt. Portions of the threads will be missing, or the head size will be substantially reduced because of loss of material. In these cases, you will have to find a replacement. It would endanger your project to use a bolt in that type of condition again.

Rough and Tumble

Given that caution, next you'll need to choose how you will clean any rust or other discolorations and corrosion off the bolt. Most professional shops have what is called a "tumbler." This is a machine that does exactly what the name implies. All of the hardware is placed at once into a barrel or a bin and the parts are either rolled around or vibrated.

In less than an hour, the bolts are removed, looking very clean. The secret to these machines is what else is in the container. It is usually called "media" and it can look like small steel balls, or pieces of soft sandstone. As the container vibrates or rolls, the bolts constantly collide with these pieces of media. The collisions wear off all the rust and discolorations, but the media is soft enough to not damage the metal of the bolts.

A quick search of the Internet can show you that some smaller tumblers can cost about $250 and up. If you have a regular need for cleaning large quantities of bolts, then this might be a good purchase for you.

A Little Abrasive

Another much less expensive way to go is an abrasive pad. This round pad is easily adapted to a drill press chuck, and will perform much better than the often used-and-abused wire wheel. (A wire wheel can really remove a great deal of metal in short order, thus damaging the part in the process.) The abrasive pad is made of a coarse plastic, and it will wear out a lot faster than the bolt, so there is much less danger of destroying threads or other critical parts of the hardware. If you push really hard on the pad while it is running, you will start to see some sparks. This is your cue to let off a little, so that you are not removing any metal.

New Coat

Lastly, let's discuss coatings. There are a great number of coatings used on bolts, and most manufacturers have their own ideas as to what works. If you are restoring an American or Japanese car, then you are in luck. Most of these bolts had no coating or a dull, rust-resistant black oxide coating. This prevented rust long enough for the car to be built and then they were painted over. Since they are usually painted over again when restored, it does not matter if some of the black wears off.

The bolts on the undercarriage normally have a light-colored zinc or nickel coating. These prevented rust quite well, and it is very hard, so the coating does not easily wear off. You may also encounter a gold-colored bolt. Sometimes this is called "iridite," or something similar. Bolts like these are more commonly found on European cars, where the engines were not often painted as complete units. The bolts needed to be highly corrosion resistant because they would not get any protective paint. This type of coating seems to wear off very quickly with a tumbler or abrasive pad. In these situations, after the parts have been cleaned, you will need to take them to a metal plating company to have them recoated. If you find a good company, the price is usually pretty low for even small-volume work, as they will often put your parts in to be coated with some other large job.

Bolt restoration can be a little slow and tedious, but the end results can make it all worthwhile. Having clean, smooth original-equipment bolts can ease the reassembly process dramatically. Taking a little care and planning here will save you hours of frustration later. The difference in appearance between having the correct hardware and some not-quite-right aftermarket equipment can make you look like a pro, even if your resto project was simply for fun.

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