Check out This Restoration of a Vintage Rusted Zippo Lighter

Here is a handy guide to restoring an old and rusted Zippo lighter.
Christopher McFadden

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There is nothing more cathartic than restoring old forgotten things back to their former glory. But when it comes to old rusted and neglected Zippo lighters, the process is a true service to humanity. 

It is difficult to date the outer case, but it appears to be from the 1970s. We'll let you decide how old this lighter really is. 

Whoever, and whenever, the former owner was, we are confident they would be pleased with the final results of the restoration.

the restored zippo
The restored piece. Source: World Restoration/YouTube

If you want to try the process for yourself, you are going to need a few tools and consumables. 

Here are some links to some of the products in case you need to buy them: 

old zippo restoration original
This Vietnam War-era Zippo lighter has seen better days. Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Like any restoration of old metal things, the first part of the process is to remove the rust, as best you can.

This can be laborious, but using things like WD-40 can help remove that nasty rusty covering. Spray all over the rusted piece of history. 

The WD-40 will loosen up any rust on the artifact, make the removal of rust that little bit easier. It is also very satisfying to see it fizz. 

zippo resoratioon wd-40
Cover in WD-40. Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Where possible, also try to disassemble the various parts too. Depending on the level of deterioration this may, or may not, be a simple process. 

It may take a bit of teasing to remove the inside case, so add more WD-40, if needed. It will eventually budge. With the inside case removed, unscrew the base felt pad and remove it and the old cotton wadding/Rayon balls inside the casing. 

For reference, here is the general anatomy of a Zippo lighter

zippo anatomy
Anatomy of a typical windproof Zippo lighter. Source: Nguyễn Tùng/Pinterest/Zippo

This should be a relatively easy process. Be sure not to lose any of the parts attached to the screw-like the flint spring, spare flints, etc. 

zippo restoration base
Remove base felt pad and cotton inside the case. Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Also, remove the lighter's wick. You will need to do this from the top of the lighter. Throw away all felt, cotton, and wick parts -- these will have likely perished beyond all use. 

Official replacements are very cheap to buy, plus you'll need them anyway if you plan on using the lighter long-term. 

zippo restoration wick
Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Next, test the moving parts of the inner case. Hopefully, the cam and flint wheel is in serviceable condition. 

If not, use a rotary tool to polish and remove as much rust as possible. Add more WD-40 if needed until these parts move freely. 

This process will free up any frozen parts. 

zippo lighter inner case sanding
Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Disassemble the part cam and flint wheel, as shown in the video. Be careful not to lose any of the components -- this is easily done. 

zippo dismantle
Remove cam and flint wheel. Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Now, back to the main outer casing. Attempt to remove the lid from the base casing. 

You can do this by pushing out the hinge pin using a fine pair of tweezers. Add WD-40 as required. 

zippo lid
Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Grab your rotary sander and add the metal brush attachment. 

zippo rotary sander
Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Use the rotary tool and attachment to dislodge as much rust as possible from the casing. This will take a little TLC but bear with it. 

Also, watch your fingers!!! Make sure you wear protective gloves. 

zippo lid polishing
Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Rinse and repeat on all sides for both the lid and base casing. Your labors will be rewarded.

zippo restoration polishing
Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Use a smaller polishing bit to dislodge the rust inside the case and lid as well. This will be finicky work but that is part and parcel of the restoration process -- enjoy it!

Just be careful not to overtly damage the untouched metal underneath. You can use either mechanical tools or good old-fashioned elbow grease for this part.

With that part complete, re-attach the lid to the bottom case. 

zippo restoration lid attach
Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Using a mixture of rotary sanding tools. this part of the process is relatively straight forward. You may want to use a pair of pliers to help you out here. 

Ensure the lid moves freely about the hinge. It should be a nice smooth action, as Zippos are famous for. 

Now take the case and lid and place inside your bench vise. Don't overtighten as this will damage any delicate decoration on the outside case or deform it in general.

Now get to work with a fine polishing head on your rotary tool. Work the entire case until it is nice and shiny once again. 

zippo in vise
Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Use various polishing and sanding attachments to make the surface nice smooth too. This will be a labor of love so take pride in your work. 

Do the same for the inner casing too. Pay particular attention to the windshield and other exposed parts. 

Now fire up your bench buffing machine and add some polishing wax. Work all sides of the outer and inner casing. 

zippo restoration buffer
Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Continue until parts are nice and shiny. They should almost pass from being brand new!

zippo restoration shiny
The parts should now look as good as new! Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Repeat the same process for the cam, screws, and flint wheel. Again watch your fingers!

zippo restoration parts
Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Now reassemble all the parts. You've worked hard to get the Zippo back to its former condition so enjoy this part -- you've earned it!

old zippo reassemble
Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Ensure free-moving parts, like the flint wheel and cam, freely rotate. They would do now after all your hard work. 

You may want to use a hammer driver to get the old bolts into place for the flint wheel and cam. 

Now reassemble the flint holder tube insert and flint spring. 

Add in the new wick, and cotton wadding to the inner case. Watch the video if you need help with this. Try to alternate wadding pieces and the wick in successive layers -- snake the wick back and forth. 

Use tweezers to help you out here. 

Pack as much cotton wadding in as possible, including around the main flint tube. 

zippo wadding
Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Place the new fabric base pad into the base of the inner casing, drop a new flint into the flint tube. and place the flint spring assembly into the tube. 

old zippo flint spring
Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Screw back into place. Unless you are a Zippo-veteran, this may take a little practice as the spring is, well, very springy!

Now gently lift the felt pad and add lighter fluid. Take care not to spill it over the outer casing. If you do just clean up using something absorbent like some cotton or kitchen towel. 

Now close the felt pad and place the inner case back into your lovingly restored outer casing. 

zippo reassemble
Source: World Restoration/YouTube

Now test and use it at your leisure! Well done you. 

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