Antique coffee grinders are more common than you might think. Over the years, I’ve discovered several of these cool gadgets in thrift stores, flea markets and yard sales.
Most people walk right past without a second glance. Coffee aficionados, however, know exactly what they’re looking at.
Then, they get it home and wonder how on earth they’re going to spruce it up. That part is more complicated. Luckily, I’ve run into this same problem many times before.
I spent a long time learning how to clean and fix up antique coffee grinders. You can skip right over the research and just read my guide. Who wants to wait for incredible coffee?
Is Your Antique Coffee Grinder Worth Saving?
The first step is very important. Some antique coffee grinders are just too damaged to be properly restored. The last thing you want is to spend hours stripping and cleaning parts only to find out they still won’t work.
So, let’s discuss some ways to tell if an antique grinder is a candidate for restoration.
Do A Parts Checklist
The more familiar you are with coffee grinders the easier this will be. Check for as many important parts as you know or can recognize. Does it still have a handle? Can you see the grinding burrs? Do they look intact? Does the coffee grinder have a capture drawer for the grounds? Does it have any cracks?
The thing to remember here is screws can be replaced. Some cracks can be repaired or concealed. If any of the main parts are missing or very damaged, the antique grinder isn’t worth your time.
Stroke the Burrs
Be careful when you do this. There’s a small chance an antique coffee grinder’s burrs might still be sharp.
This is what you should gently check for. Run your fingers lightly across the burr’s edges to determine if there’s any light chipping. This is more likely on older grinders because it wasn’t uncommon to find small stones inside bags of commercially sold coffee.
These were responsible for much of the damage you’ll see on antiques. If you cannot determine the sharpness of a grinder’s burrs, you’ll need to make a judgment call as to whether the antique is worth a risk.
Price plays a big part in this. The bigger the price tag, the more carefully you should think about taking it home.
Look For Evidence of Rust
Both rust and mold are common on antique coffee grinders that haven’t been cared for correctly. Look carefully for evidence of either.
Mold can easily compromise wooden frames and components. It’s why you don’t see a lot of wooden grinders these days. Check the grounds capture drawer or container for rust.
If you spot either, taking the coffee grinder home is a risk. Be aware that, even if the visible rust is minimal, you may find more when you disassemble it.
Inspect the Finish
The coffee grinder’s finish is a relatively easy thing to fix compared with other potential problems. It can certainly look a lot worse than it really is.
For instance, slight rust on exterior facing frames, scratches and chipped paint are all superficial issues. Even if they can’t be fully repaired, they’re unlikely to affect the way the grinder makes coffee.
Speaking generally – it won’t be true in every case – an antique coffee grinder should be suitable for repair as long as it has all the necessary parts and no mold.
Replacing missing parts is an possibility but it tends to be unfeasibly difficult. It’s tough to find components for grinders they don’t manufacture anymore.
The Easiest Way to Fix Up An Antique Coffee Grinder
You’ve decided to take a leap of faith and bring an antique coffee grinder home.
Now, the tricky stuff starts. I’m going to give you a set of clean up steps designed to be general and all-encompassing. There’s no promise they will fit your specific coffee grinder to the letter, but they will give you a list of tasks to check off.
Step 1 – Disassembly
This is the fun part (it all goes downhill after this). Take the antique grinder apart piece by piece, tiny screw by tiny screw. What you’re trying to do is get to the burrs.
Once they’re removed, you can stop taking things apart. Some grinders need to be completely disassembled before you can do this.
If you’ve taken all the visible screws out and the thing still won’t go to pieces, just keep on looking. It’s quite common for antique coffee grinders to have concealed screws tucked underneath logo plates and brand panels.
Step 2 – Soak the Pieces
Take the rod, burrs, screws and any loose springs and soak them in a mixture of coffee cleaning solution and water. You can buy coffee cleaner from lots of online retailers.
It’s affordable and widely available. The pieces need to sit in the cleaning solution for at least three hours, preferably longer to soak away years of oil and caked on coffee grounds.
When you think they’ve soaked enough, rinse the pieces in cold water. If there is still visible gunk on them, you can soak them for longer or try rubbing at the grime with a dish sponge. Then, dry them off with a non-fluffy towel.
Step 3 – Clean the Grounds Container
This is often the grimiest part of an antique coffee grinder. Whatever you prefer to call it, the grounds container or grounds drawer, fill it with the diluted coffee cleaning solution.
Then, scrub firmly but not too aggressively to remove any stubborn dirt.
Once finished, rinse and dry the grounds container thoroughly.
Step 4 – Scrub Outside and Inside
To finish the cleaning process, scrub all other parts of the antique coffee grinder.
Use dish sponge to clean its outer surfaces and any other parts you can see and reach into. It’s worth gently tipping the grinder upside down over a sink or trashcan and shaking out any loose grounds caught in the device.
Step 5 – Give It A Makeover
Once the inside and the individual parts are squeaky clean, you don’t need to do any more work besides putting the thing back together.
The important thing is not whether it looks beautiful but whether it makes a good cup of coffee. That being said, it’s nice to add a few finishing touches if you have the time and inclination.
For instance, you could remove old varnish with paint stripper, give the wood a quick sandpaper rub and apply a fresh coat. This does mean saying goodbye to some of the grinder’s original features.
If you’d rather keep the antique look, stop after using a scratch repair solution to fix up superficial scrapes.
Step 6 – Make the Metal Sparkle
If there’s rust on the antique coffee grinder, you’ll need to rub it off with steel wool. This removes dents and pits as well but it can be a time-consuming task.
Be patient. Keep on rubbing and think about how magnificent it will look when you’re finished.
Once the rust is rubbed away, vigorously buff any metal pieces with metal polish and a soft cloth until they sparkle.
Again, this takes time. Hey, I never said restoring antique coffee grinders was fun. Keep polishing. You’re almost there.
Step 7 – Put It Back Together
The last step is to put all the pieces back together again. This should be relatively easy because you know where all the components go.
After assembly, stand back and marvel at your achievement. You’ll probably feel a little nervous as you pluck up the courage to try it, but that’s part of the experience.
In a strange way, it’s kind of addictive. You’ve put all of this hard work into a thing nobody but you saw any value in.
Now, you’re minutes away from proving everybody wrong with the proudest cup of coffee you’ll have all month.