How to Clean A Printer Drawer

How to Cleaning a Letterpress Printer Drawer (vintage printer drawer)

This was not a fast project, but I love how it came out. It’s a lot of work, so I thought I’d share How to Clean a Letterpress Printer Drawer. These vintage printer drawers make great wall decor.

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I was excited about this upcycled project. Too excited, I’ll admit …. And I had to chuckle when I would show my kids and friends and am all excited.

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Their responses would be to look at me and say, “And what do you plan to do with that?” Haha. So, now I’ll show them! This is why I wanted it.

How to Clean a vintage Printer tray
How to Clean a Printer drawer

I saw a few of these redone on Pinterest and fell in love with the idea. My first job was in a print shop over 20 years ago. I continued doing graphic design after leaving that job, so printing has been part of my life for more than half of it. When I found this gem on a local garage sale website for $20, I ran over to grab it that night. I couldn’t wait to have a place to display my first embossing die from my graphic design studio, which I started as an entrepreneur in 1997.

How to Clean A Printer Tray
Dirty Printer Tray

How to begin cleaning a printer drawer:

I stared at it for weeks on my kitchen counter…. I searched Pinterest ideas… Tried to imagine where I would hang it on my office wall – also thinking about what colors to use on it…. or what varnishes to use… thought about what accessories to add to it…. Here’s what it looked like the day I brought it home.

How to Clean A Printer Tray
Printer drawer waiting to become pretty again.

So after much Pinterest research, I decided I would use a dark wood stain and white paint the bluefish drawer front with an off-white color. I also had a fun handle from Hobby Lobby lying around I decided to use. When I finally decided to start working on it, I Googled and search Pinterest for hours but I couldn’t figure out an easy way to clean it. Or anyway, for that matter, except “wipe it down” {duh! But I wanted to know how to remove the lead and scuffs in all those corners from years of use}. Mine came from a newspaper, so I’m sure it was used daily! I decided to buy a few dies from the same person to go in it.

Here’s a close-up picture of printing dies these printer drawers were used to store…

Cleaning Printer Tray
Printing Dies from Newspaper

How the cleaning process started off…

In this post, I will show you how I cleaned my drawer, and save you some time searching for instructions on how to clean it. (I never did find it online.) I’ll explain some things I did that didn’t work – that way you don’t have to try them also. My drawer had a thin paper liner, some were worn off, but most of it was holding its own, coated in lead to sweeten the deal. ‘=

Check out my following post for how to paint and finish the Printer Drawer.

First, I tried just washing it. I used a bristle-type scrub brush, an old toothbrush, a washrag, and Murphy soap … and none of it seemed to take off the paper lining much less the lead particles. It did take up some of the paper in spots, but there was no way any of these items were going to get the corners and there are a LOT of corners! So, I dug out my handy-dandy Dremel tool. I’m so glad I did. I ran to the hardware stores and got a few different sanding and brush tools. I must’ve bought 10 of them by the time I was done. Maybe if I had a little more knowledge of woodworking, it would have helped. But I went with the trial-and-error method here.


Supplies I Used:Cleaning Printer Tray


How to Clean A Printer Drawer

 Put on your mask and get your shop vac ready folks! It’s go time. Haha
Cleaning Printer Tray

It was dusty! I did this step outside.

Here you can see the specs of paper flying around. I would hold shop vac right next to it (But I needed a hand for the camera here!)

Cleaning Printer Tray
Paper flecks and lead were everywhere!

To start I used the brush-like brass attachment for the main flat areas. The paper liner is what the shop vac helps with. Without the shop vac, the flecks of paper just fell back into the drawer and you will keep hitting them with the sanding tool.

For the corners and smaller spots, I used the buffer attachment on the Drexel. It took a while and I used about 4 of them I think.

Cleaning Printer Tray
It’s about half cleaned here.

I next wanted to smooth out what was the front side of the drawer. I sanded down the painted part after removing the handle. I plan to chalk paint this part, so I didn’t have to be perfect I just got some of the gashes sanded down from the wear and tear over the years. I used my electric hand sander and it took about 5 minutes.

Final step. Wipe it clean!

I used the air compressor and then cleaned it off with a wet, soapy disposable rag. Now I’m ready to varnish. (I’m so excited!!)

Happy Crafting!

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25 Comments

  1. Helpful post! I’m restoring a complete Hamilton Mfg Co printers cabinet. Luckily the guy I got it from has several in a warehouse and tons of drawers so I only picked 4 drawers with the dividers. Rest don’t have them. Trying to do so and also get matching drawer pulls was a task. Cabinet is going to hold my metal detecting finds. Both loose and in Riker cases. I finished stripping, sanding, patching,staining and poly on cabinet body. Now i’m on to drawers. It’s messy. Really tempted to take apart divided drawers from the back. So I can sand out the inky liner easily. Used a combo of head gun, wood chisel and orbital sander to get paper liner out of other drawers.

    1. What a great idea. My dad loves metal detecting. He even sold them for years! I bet your system is great for storing and organizing your finds! I would love to see the finished picture if you want to share some day.

  2. Does anyone have suggestions on some type of sticky goo to keep all the small items in place and not fall off when someone slams a door!

    1. I use a glue dot. I roll it between my fingers so it’s not as sticky and a little smaller than the usual dots. They come off pretty easy too.

      1. Was the back of your printing tray wood? I believe mine is particle board and thinking I probably cannot sand/stain?

        1. Mine had a paper coating. So, I to remove that, then I sanded the years of ink off under that. It was a chore! But worth the time…

    2. I love Museum Wax. I use the crystalline clear. Do not be stingy with it. I got my jars on Amazon. I have three trays, one which displays my collection of doll house blue & white china and two that will eventually display my collection of mostly national park pins. (They need cleaning so this tip helps.)

  3. I just bought one of these to turn into an earring display. I took the backing off and was able to wipe off the backing and each slat, also easier to screw in the eye hooks.

    1. Did you put the back on the thing again? If so, how did you get it off and back on again? Thanks.

      1. I didn’t take mine off. But that might make it go faster. I’ll reattach it with small wood nails and wood glue…. Removing it would depend on how your drawer was made. If it was nailed on, that would be a cleaner removal than if it was glued on.

  4. I have at least 10 maybe 16 Genuine English Printers Type-cases in use up-to 25 yrs ago when I stopped printing letterpress.
    I would be happy to sell them. Their condition is used, some with Brass Joiners If interested please contact Me.

    1. Hello I might be interested in a few of those drawers myself.. I also have 1 that I’ve been starting at thinking the easiest way to do it and corporate it into my jewelry holder/ or something …lol. But def need a couple more .. sweetkeyta@gmail.com.. ty God bless have a good day..

  5. It looks great! Just got one myself and was looking for guidance on how to clean it. Glad I found your post! 🙂 Also, any tips on the appropriate hardware to use for hanging it on a wall?

  6. Thank you for the how to! Be proud that you’ve saved many people from many hours of research. You rock!

      1. Here is mine that I’ve had for 45 years or more. The oldest item in it is from WWI., a token used for rationing. Everything is special to me. Every few years I dust each item and compartment which takes about four hours.
        The weirdest item is my daughters dried up umbilical cord remnant. Why I saved that, I don’t know! Also her baby teeth, my high school class ring, photo from my husbands college ID. Airline wings from first flight our daughter took. Old dance card leather book from mother.. souvenirs from travel like London carriage, windmill, seashells, bark from a tree in Hawaii. A small loaf of bread from Mexico that was this hard the day it was served. I’ve made a list of all the items in the tray.