How to Repaint Numbers & Graduations on a Steel Ruler: Restoring John Walters’ Rusted Starrett Ruler

After finding a rusted old Starrett ruler in a ‘Free stuff’ pile left by a neighbor, I decided to restore it and repaint the numbers and graduations.

First, I placed it in a tray and covered it with a 20% vinegar solution for an hour or so. Then I scraped the ruler with a bread clip and #1000 grit wet-dry sandpaper to polish the surface. After washing and neutralizing the vinegar, I cleaned the steel with alcohol and I was ready to restore the black paint.

I used an oil-based black paint that I had, but acrylic paint could work too. Find a paint with a high concentration of pigment or go ahead and mix more pigment into your paint to increase visibility to the notches. I used a rubber applicator to pull the paint down the ruler. A cutoff from a car’s windshield wiper blade would also work.

Clean any spillover with a lint free cloth slightly moistened with mineral spirits (for oil paint) or water (for acrylic). After the paint dries, polish the ruler with 1000grit wet-dry sandpaper and apply a thin layer of wax on your tool.

– Yoav Liberman



Restoring, Tuning & Using Classic Woodworking Tools

Discover what it takes to make one flea market tool a great find in these 19 easy-to-read chapters. You’ll learn how to clean, flatten, and sharpen both common and exotic hand tools, plus once your tools have been restored to perfect condition, you’ll see exactly how to use them. Michael Dunbar has also included a suggested tools list for the basic, intermediate, and complete shop, to help you fully stock your own tool bench. This revised & updated edition is not to be missed. All of the original text is included, with updated instructions, information, and comments directly from Michael.


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Yoav Liberman

About Yoav Liberman

Yoav S. Liberman is a woodworker and a teacher. His pieces have been featured in several woodworking books, most recently in Robin Wood’s CORES Recycled. Yoav teaches woodworking at the Rudolf Steiner School in Manhattan, and also frequently guest teaches in craft schools across the country.  Between 2003 and 2011 Yoav  headed the woodworking program at Harvard University's Eliot House. Yoav’s articles have appeared in American Woodworker and Woodwork Magazine. He frequently contributes woodworking web content to a number of digital publications   Yoav has a degree in architecture and later held two competitive residency programs: at The Worcester Center for Crafts in Massachusetts, and the Windgate Foundation Fellowship at Purchase College, New York. He lives in Chestnut Ridge NY.

One thought on “How to Repaint Numbers & Graduations on a Steel Ruler: Restoring John Walters’ Rusted Starrett Ruler

  1. IrritableBadger

    Crayon also works really well for backfilling the increment markings on rulers and hand wheels. You can just scrape off the excess with a credit card.

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