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Antique Coffee Grinders: How To Assess And Restore Them
Written by: Garrett Oden
There’s something magical about an antique coffee grinder at a garage sale or thrift store. As soon as you see it, you can smell the beans that have been put through it and you instantly feel drawn to it—a historical piece of coffee gear.
Unfortunately, many of these vintage pieces feel too neglected to bring back to life. Some are too dirty, some appear to have missing parts. Would it be worth the trouble to restore? Can it even still work well?
Here’s how you can find out.
How To Assess Antique Coffee Grinders In Stores
The first act of restoring vintage grinder for yourself is buying one—but not all of them are worth buying. You need to be able to assess the grinder when you first see it to determine if it’s worth the time and investment in the first place.
Here’s what you need to look for:
- Check for missing parts. Is the grinding handle still firmly attached? Can you tell if the burrs are still located in the grinder? See any missing screws? What about the ground catcher drawer—is it still there? Can you find the mechanism that changes the grind size? A few lost screws isn’t a big deal, but if the grinder’s missing anything else, it’ll severely impact the grinding experience (or bring it to a halt altogether).
- Feel the burrs if you can get to them. Lightly run your finger across the burr edges to determine if they’re still sharp or if there’s any chipping and need replacing (years ago, coffee used to have more small pebbles in bags, which could have damaged the burrs).
- Check for mold or rust. Old wooden grinder bodies can become compromised by mold and if there’s rust coming off into the ground catcher drawer, that’s a pretty bad sign.
- How are the finishes? Chipped paint, scratched wood, and slightly rusting wood may not look pretty, but they’re all fixable. Generally, visual issues can be repaired fairly easily.
Will the antique coffee grinder work? If it has all its functioning parts and doesn’t have any mold, then yes—though it may not work well. If the grinder’s missing a key part like the grinding arm or burrs, then no. It may be possible to replace those parts, but it’ll be a challenge.
Chances are you won’t be able to really inspect all of these things in-store. If you start inspecting and get a pretty good feeling but can’t check the burrs, for example, go ahead and purchase the grinder and complete the inspection at home where you can unscrew the top to get a better look.
How To Restore An Antique Coffee Grinder
So you’ve bought the grinder, brought it home, and have concluded you’re going to take on the restoration project. Excellent! Let’s walk through the general steps one-by-one. Your specific grinder may need to be handled in a particular way, but these steps should work for most antique grinders.
Step 1: Take it all apart. Disassemble the grinder carefully, screw by screw. You primarily need to be able to take apart the burr construction, so once the burrs are out, you can stop. Some vintage grinders have hidden screws underneath metal logo plates that you may need to look for.
Step 2: Soak coffee-caked parts in cleaner. The burrs, the rod, any springs or screws—soak them all for a few hours in a dedicated coffee cleaner and hot water. This will break down the rancid oils and old grounds that have been caked on for years… or decades. When the soak is complete, rinse off the parts (carefully) and wipe them down thoroughly to dry them off and knock off any final gunk.
Step 3: Clean the grounds drawer. Chances are the drawer is stained with old coffee grime as well. Put some hot water and coffee cleaner in there and scrub away for a minute or two, then give it a good rinse and dry immediately.
Step 4: Clean out the grinder body. Use a brush and damp rag to scrub off any coffee gunk on the inside of the grinder. Shake it vigorously over the garbage to release any grounds still stick to the inner corners.
Step 5: Fix up the grinder body itself. If you want to really refresh the grinder body, strip off the varnish with a paint stripper, sand down the wood, and coat with a fresh stain of your choice. If you would rather preserve the look as much as possible, just use a scratch fixing solution to clean it up a bit. You have some flexibility here—it all just depends on your goals as the restorer.
Step 6: Polish the metal. Assuming there’s no rust or chrome loss, all you need to do is buff the metal with metal polish and a rag to make it shine again. If you have some rust or cracking, you’ll want to first give the metal a polish with steel wool to remove any pitting or rust.
Step 7: Put it all back together. Now that everything is clean, restored, and dry, it’s time to put it all back together. Assemble the grinder and behold your hard work.
Now it’s time to ask the big question: does it work?
Throw in some coffee beans and give the grinding arm a few spins. Uniform grounds should drop into the ground catcher drawer and await your inspection. Chances are, if you made it this far, it works!
Repairing an old grinder is a fun way to breath life back into something that used to breath life into someone else. In an era of plastic and throwing old things away, it’s a project that’s somewhat counter-cultural—in a great way.
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