Vintage Tin Snips Restoration

Red Devil No. 271

This is one of those very satisfying little projects.  Pick up an old rust bucket and restore it to almost new-ish condition.  You like my double qualifier?  Just keep reading and you'll see exactly why I didn't go so far as to say like new condition.

Where they came from

I know you're wondering where I got these tin snips.  Okay, maybe not - but I have that need to tell at least the short version of the story so I remember in the years to come.  A month or two ago I discovered this great second hand tool store, the Tool Box...

It's run by a group of older guys (that gets harder and harder to say as the years pass) and is a donation based, tool resale shop with all net proceeds going towards the home maintenance program of CSSC, Inc.  The Tool Box is a volunteer handyman run home maintenance program that helps seniors stay in their own home longer!  All items in the Tool Box are donated from seniors throughout the community who are looking to downsize or simply clean out their homes. These items are then cleaned, priced, and sold by volunteers.  The place is stocked with old hand and power tools at ridiculously low prices!  Check this out -

That was my first haul.  The tin snips cost $2.50 and I got all of these for a grand total of $5.  Take a look at the snips though - talk about rust!  I think they have a good scheme going because next to the register is an old tool box with a donations sign taped to it.  I felt like I was robbing the place so I stuffed a tenner in the tool box.  What price we pay for self-imposed guilt!  And check this out, I found them on eBay.  They might not be the exact pair (no. 271) but they're essentially twins, $22 - I think I got a deal at $2.50!

Taking it apart

The thing about something like old tin snips is their simplicity.  Four parts - two shears a bolt and a nut.  Simplicity itself!  I thought I'd have a heck of a time loosening the nut from the bolt, but I put a couple drops of 3-in-1 oil on it, let it sit for an hour or two...

And voila! Just like that - off they came!

I quite like antiques. I like things that are old and the history they bring with them. I would rather fly to Morocco on an $800 ticket and buy a chair for $300 than spend $1,100 on one at Pottery Barn. - Walton Coggins

Rust Removal

After I took the snips apart, it was time to remove rust.  I considered a vinegar soak, but thought that these were such simple pieces, why not get right to the wire wheel?

As always, this made pretty quick work of the basic rust removal...

Of course the wire wheel can't get into the handle loops, so I just took the rotary tool to them...

Red Devil

With the rust removed, I found a stamping of the manufacturer...

A kind of a blast from the past for me.  When I was a kid Red Devil tools were still a thing.  I don't specifically remember dad having a lot of Red Devil tools, but I do remember their paints and window putty being around the house.  

There's actually an interesting little history surrounding this company.  "The Smith & Hemenway Company (S&H) was founded in 1898 by Landon P. Smith and John Francis Hemenway. The company operated as a manufacturer and importer of hardware items, with offices in New York City and a factory in Irvington, New Jersey. One of the company founders, Landon P. Smith, was a notable inventor with a number of patents for pliers and glass-repair tools. Tools from Smith & Hemenway were frequently marked with the "Red Devil" trademark, either with or without the company name or "S. & H." initials," (Smith & Hemenway).  All of which you can see in the picture above!

Interestingly, we can date my $2.50 snips to pre-1945 because Smith and Hemenway changed the company name to Red Devil Tool Co. in '45, subsequently dropping the "S&H Co. Inc." (Trowel Collector Blog, 2014).  

Putting a shine on

So, back to the task at hand.  After removing the rust at the wire wheel, it was time to start removing the divots the rust had left behind.  Most of this was done at the belt sander...

Which shined them up pretty nicely.

But I had to be careful on the inside portion of the blades because they're ground in the factory to be a bit concave.  They did this so the cutters wouldn't wear so much on one another.  Here, you can see that little sliver of light that passes under the ruler:

Mind you, I can't find anything on the internet that talks about this. No, this pearl comes to me compliments of my dad, who worked with metal and tools like shears just about all his working years.  It's funny the things that stick with you - the only times I remember dad using his shears was when he was cutting roofing tiles and gutters/downspouts.  Nonetheless, I remember his explanation (I probably asked some dumb question, I did that a lot).

Some past posts about spring at 173
Tag: Yard

Spring is in the Air - Apr 2012
∙ Aug 2015 - 173 in Bloom
Impressionist View of 173 - Jul 2016
∙ Apr 2019 - Early Spring
One of my favorite posts:  Ode to the Hemlock at 173


After some bit of time on the belt sander, the shears shined up pretty nicely, but there were some considerable pitting in the steel.  I kept sanding but came to a point that I was concerned I might remove too much steel or re-profile the shears, neither of which I wanted to do.

And that's when I decided to be satisfied in making the shears new-ish, which is really just a metaphor for making them look better and returning them to full function.  And, once I identified that they were made by Red Devil, I just knew I'd have to put some red on them somewhere.  I knew shear handles  were often painted back in the day, then I saw this picture:

And that was it, I was convinced - red it was!  So I looked through my collection of spray paints (waaaay too many by the way) and found just the right color and some primer:

Obviously the first step was taping...

Then came the primer, just thought it would be a good idea.

Then two coats of the Krylon Candy Apple red.

The final product

Finally it was time to put the shears back together.  First I greased the bolt, nut and the hole through which they would pass.  And let me show you this just for fun.  I have the same tube of grease that I've used here at 173 since about 1997.  I'm guessing it's the only tube I'll ever need...

And without further ado:

And a little closer view:

Then I thought I'd give the cutting action a simple test on cardboard.  The cutters felt like they were well aligned with just the right amount of feel (for lack of a better word) in the pivot action.  Basically, they feel like a brand new pair of tin snips!

And one last shot of my new-ish, $2.50 shears - warts and all!

One last shot:

One last thing

See the little notches in the side of this shear handle?  One of two things I can think of is happening here.  Either these notches are a way of identifying who owned the shears, or maybe it's a way of marking how may times they've been sharpened.  I suppose there could be other meanings, but that's all I can think of.  The length between each notch almost appears to double each time, which makes me think maybe it's the identifier.  Who knows.

Either way, they were clearly put there intentionally and this personalizes the shears for me.  A simple reminder that someone who came before once used this tool, likely to provide for their family. Just a thought.

Thanks for stopping by!
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