Retrofitting A 60-year Old Electric Heater


[John] found an old Kenmore electric heater at a junk store one day, and thought it would look great in his bathroom. The only problem with the unit is that it was built back in the 1940s/1950s, so it lacked any sort of modern safeguards that you would expect from an indoor heater. There was no on/off switch, no fuse, no thermostat, and no tip switch – though it did have a nice, flammable cloth-covered power cord.

Since [John] wasn’t too keen on burning his house down in the name of staying warm, he decided to retrofit the old unit’s shell with a new ceramic heater. He found a $20 unit that looked like it would fit, so he disassembled both heaters and got to work. The Kenmore’s innards were scrapped, then he gave the unit a nice fresh coat of high-temp paint. The new heater was cut to fit inside the old unit’s shell, controls and safety features intact.

He says that it works very well, and that it looks great in his bathroom. If you’re considering doing something similar, be sure to check out his writeup – it is very thorough and has plenty of details that will help you along the way.

22 thoughts on “Retrofitting A 60-year Old Electric Heater

  1. It’s fixable yet, but that new paint looks awful. the original looked way better even including rust.
    He should have used another color IMHO.
    Mind you I found that most shops only carry black or a deep dark gray almost-black in my area.
    But maybe you don’t need painting but some specialized coating like powdercoating, maybe some car shop can do that cheap on the side.

    Talking of powdercoating, I wonder if that could be done at home, it’s powder attached using static then melted, so maybe for tinkerers that’s doable at home with something as simple as a thrown together vanderfgraaf generator and a oven?, although I don’t know what temperatures you need

    1. Actually, powder coating at home isn’t difficult.
      A gun isn’t that expensive:

      The melting is the harder part, but can be achieved using a regular household oven (not advised that you use your usual cooking oven). An old oven setup in the garage would work great. The issue arises if you have something larger than the volume of your oven.

      Another good reference is: [PDF WARNING]

      Also, another reference from here on HAD:

      1. Powder coating at home can be done with a powder gun and halogen work lights to melt the powder. It takes a bit of fiddling to position all the lights properly, but once it’s in place the workpiece will bake nicely :)

    2. I believe that normally one can mix powdercoat into a solvent and just apply it with a paint gun like any other paint. Once the solvent evaporates, you still need to bake the item to sinter the powdercoat.

    3. Wow, a whole lot of relevant info, and all positive if you are interested in home-done powdercoating, thanks guys.
      I did mention it originally because I assume it can stand the heat of the heater he’s painting, but powdercoating is generally pretty good stuff, much harder and more weatherproof than paint, so it’s nice to think you can do it yourself if needed

  2. that “nice, flammable cloth-covered power cord” probably is the exact opposite. The power cords for all heat generating devices (think hotplate, electric iron, heater) built years ago were covered in cloth. I’m not sure of it’s exact composition but it is a fibreglass sort of thing designed not to melt or burn.

  3. As far as I know there are limited spray can paint options for this application, and I’m neutral on the color selected. In that the electrical insulation of the power cord was most likely shot, and the wire has been subject to years of flexing, not a bad idea in replacing it. Yea other paint or retro or OEM wire covering could have been purchased, but one has to decided where the spending stops in these sort of projects. I do anyway. The milk house heaters arn’t any more or any less efficient than the ceramic using heater. Personally I’m bought one of those to restore the guts in the original manner, with adding the later day extras as well. Then again he ordered the heater for less than Walmart sells it for hear. In the end there are no real faults with the finished job, and they like it. Hack well done!

  4. I just remembered that I have an old unvented gas heater, with no flame out gas safety shut of, in the metal pile to sold as scrap. This idea could be used to give such heaters a new life as well. Used LED on the burner to simulate a flame, and fake a gas connection. Freak out safety conscious visitors.

  5. ROFL…I wonder if it had a UL sticker on it from back in the day. Safety sure has come a long way. Then again, common sense seems to have gone out the window, so certain things like, do not drop into your bath water to warm it up have to be put on the warning labels nowadays.

    Best one I ever saw was on an iron for ironing clothes, it said (and I kid you not) “Do Not Iron Clothes While Wearing Them”…

  6. I love this project. I thought the new controls on top would look really bad, but when everything is painted to match, it looks pretty good. I like the color; green has always been a bad choice for furniture (of any kind in any decade). Painting the insides black give it a nice finishing touch as well.

    Also, this is probably the best instructable I have ever read. This guy should get his own blog, he is way too talented for instructables.

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