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Help! How do you restore a cart

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  • Help! How do you restore a cart

    I recently found a cart that is structurally sound and the right size but the natural finish is very beat up. So if I buy this cart I'll want to DIY restore it but I don't know where to start. Can anyone recommend websites or other how to? Opinions on keeping it natural or painting it and any other help would be appreciated.

    Im on a tight budget at the moment so I want to DIY but this would be a second cart so my timeline to complete this project is completely open.

  • #2
    There are books on carriage restoration for sale thru the Carriage Association and the American Driving Society, which both have websites.

    With what you say on natural finish, cart sounds like a fairly easy project. Sand it down, then put on stain if you want a wood color change or paint for a total new look. Or just apply the protective coating to have cart stay looking the same. The stained vehicle then gets protective layers of a (usually) poly finish. Varnish works, just takes longer to dry, needs sanding smooth between a number of coats. It will yellow with time. You may need to sand for smoothness between coats of poly finish too. Painting is usually done with auto paint, mixed with a product to keep it flexible on the wood. Old car folks can be helpful in this area, painting wood and metal cars. Wood of cart will ALWAYS be reactive to local weather, humidity, by swelling and shrinking. So very hard paint crackles, flecks off sooner, can't move with the wood. Spraying is the best application method, wear a VERY GOOD mask and check the filters often to change as needed. Paint spray in the air is fairly invisible, but breathing it in will coat your lungs, cause damage. So a good mask is a MUST with spray painting. Brush painting is possible, with sanding it smooth between coats. Just may not be as smooth as spraying. Pinstriping will set off your paint job. So practice getting lines straight, even, before doing the cart. Both wide and thin lines are acceptable. This is where books are helpful, showing traditional patterns on various style vehicles.

    Witmer Coach Shop in Pennsylvania carries all kinds of parts, wheels, shafts, to replace things. Don't keep worn or cracked shafts, singletree. Stuff wears out, not hard to replace as needed. Old wood will break under sress. Don't take the chance of it failing when you need strength, to cause an accident with your animal. Wtimers also sell the shaft wrap leathers and trace carriers that go on shafts. They are Amish, no website, but very helpful when you call. There are many names regionally for the same part, so you have to work together sometimes to get it clear before purchasing an item.

    Natural vehicles allow a more sporting type of dress, less formal kind of animal to pull it for showing. The vehicles also don't show chips like paint can, so easier upkeep. Painted vehicles do look shiny! You are expected to dress up a bit more in them. Both vehicles let you use black harness with them.

    I strongly recommend you get wheels inspected by a Wheelwright for your safety. They can be out-of-round, have lost their dish, have a rotten area that will break under stress. Rubber may need replacing. You may not even be able to spot a problem with untrained eyes. Building good wheels turn them into an engineering wonder! Doing things in motion to make travel easy. All stuff you can't do yourself. Take pictures of nuts, washers, bearings, locking pins as you remove wheels. This helps put parts back on in the right order, prevents problems. These parts should be cleaned, degreased, have new grease put on when wheels go back on the axles. Do know that wheel hubs, hubcaps may be threaded backwards on one side. This prevents them from unscrewing during travel. So be gentle in removal, try turning them "the other way" if they don't loosen at first.

    Antique vehicles should keep the same wheel on the same side when reassembled, so mark wheels Left and Right. Do the same with their hub parts, grease cap, because they are also right and left sided only. Hubs and axles have worn to fit over time, changing wheel sides can ruin hubs and axles with new wear patterns.


    • Original Poster

      Thank you goodhors that's exactly the information I was hoping for, definitely sounds like keeping it natural is the was to go. And I know there's a Amish man not to far away who builds carts so Ill see if I could take it for a PPE.
      Thank you


      • #4
        I will need to check, but I think I used exterior house paint on my last carriage. It's been several years, but
        I think a house paint made for wood is a better option, though it probably won't gave you as shiny of a finish.


        • #5
          Fabulous advice from Goodhors! if you use varnish use a marine spar varnish as that is more flexible. Hard finishes will crack as vehicle flexes when moves. Definitely get your wheels checked. I took mine to Nolts in New Holland & ended up getting a bunch of spokes replaced. Sand it down. Grey areas can be brightened with a special wood bleach- but doesn't penetrate far. Light sand after. thin your first coats so penetrate wood some & help provide key for subsequent coat. Good luck! Labor of love for sure.


          • #6
            Originally posted by Christa P View Post
            I will need to check, but I think I used exterior house paint on my last carriage. It's been several years, but
            I think a house paint made for wood is a better option, though it probably won't gave you as shiny of a finish.
            I did this and it came out awful. Oil based exterior paint in unavailable in my area. Latex paint just doesn't give a good finish on something like this. That cart is on my project list to overhaul the overhaul. If you can find it, Epiphanes makes a varnish that is pretty easy to work with & can be recoated within a few hours instead of days. If you have the time, nothing looks better than several coats of varnish.

            I grew up helping Dad do the brightwork on his boat. Nine coats of varnish was an annual spring ritual. I think you could see yourself in the wood on that boat.
            Visit my Spoonflower shop


            • #7
              Originally posted by red mares View Post

              I did this and it came out awful. Oil based exterior paint in unavailable in my area. Latex paint just doesn't give a good finish on something like this. That cart is on my project list to overhaul the overhaul. If you can find it, Epiphanes makes a varnish that is pretty easy to work with & can be recoated within a few hours instead of days. If you have the time, nothing looks better than several coats of varnish.

              I grew up helping Dad do the brightwork on his boat. Nine coats of varnish was an annual spring ritual. I think you could see yourself in the wood on that boat.
              I just found a can of the paint I used and it was a semi-gloss 100% Acrylic House paint. I wanted a nice durable finish, but wasn't looking for high gloss. My carriage is an early 1900s Runabout so not a fancy carriage. I think it came out pretty nice and the finish still looks nice 10 years later. I hasn't been used much in several years, but is stored in the barn with dust and temperature changes. I plan to put it back in use when my TB gets fully trained.

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