Exciting New Project: a 1964 Multitool Restoration

On ebay Kleinanzeigen, the German equivalent of Craigslist, I found a METABO „Multitool System“, a product which essentially claimed to be an entire workshop that can fit into a suitcase. They got amazingly close to that ideal back then, by producing a transformable base and several attachments. All of it is powered by a single motor in the form of a (in this case) 400 watt power drill. With the items included in the set I’m buying, it can work as a table saw, jigsaw, bench grinder, drill stand, angle drill, orbital sander, disk sander, circular saw, a regular drill, and even as a small woodworking lathe. There also exist some really curious attachments for this system: You can occasionally find things like a lawnmower or hedge clippers. “I can’t mow the lawn, mom, daddy is using the lathe!” is a sentence that, at some point in the past, might have actually made sense.

I love this idea so much. Of course it’s utterly obsolete today for a variety of reasons, which I’ll dive into in a separate post. But it’s a beautiful (and functional) cultural artefact from a time when “planned obsolescence” was an utterly unknown concept and manufacturers took pride in making tools that were meant to be 100% user-serviceable and last quite literally forever. But the cultural aspect of this concept, as well as the limitations of such an idea, is something that deserves a post of its own. The seller still has the unit’s original user handbook, which includes some promotional material. All I’ll say now is that you can expect some very entertaining illustrations when that post will be published.

A first look

I drove by the seller’s workshop last week and got a chance to toy around with the set, as well as have a good, hard look at its condition of course. And it’s truly amazing – This over five decades old METABO power drill runs more smoothly and accurately than the rather expensive cordless drill my wife inherited from her step-dad, even though the latter is a modern and very high-quality tool aimed at the professional market.
The items in the METABO-set all show the signs of wear, of course, but function smoothly. The base consists of a steel bar that is about three quarters of an inch thick, with solid cast iron blocks which slide over it and serve as holders for the various attachments.

Parts of a METABO Multitool System manufactured in 1964

It’s also pretty dirty. There’s a lot of superficial rust, and the whole thing is covered with traces of old oil and the accumulated saw dust of over 50 years. The guy who sells had it configured as a table saw for the past 10 years or so, and all the screw-holes for other attachments are pretty gummed up with saw dust and dirt. It definitely is in desperate need of a good cleaning.

That said, the functional condition of this thing is pristine. There are no plastic parts except for the detachable grips of the hand-held attachments and the grip of the power drill, the rest is cast iron and steel. There are no deformations of any kind and all the parts, where the openings aren’t blocked by saw dust, fit together perfectly. Only one of the blocks has any sort of play, and it’s no more than a half-millimetre of wiggle.

What’s to do

The rust removal and cleaning alone will be a serious undertaking with this many parts to take apart and clean. I’ll also have to remove the old grease from the gear boxes and find something to replace it with. The picture above doesn’t include the complete set – there’s an entire box of various little attachments and loose parts, as well as an entire collection of saw blades and sanding disks.

The rust will have to go.

Luckily I don’t think I’ll have to do any painting. Apart from the base and the table I didn’t notice damage to any of the parts’ original coat when I inspected it, and while it’s very tempting to modernize the look and let the thing shine in a brand new colour, I have to be realistic and postpone that part of the project to an undefined point in the future when I not only have the time to tackle an undertaking of that size, but have also gathered some experience with removing and applying the kind of wear-resistant varnish suitable for tools meant to be used for handiwork.
While the drill still runs smoothly, it also produces roughly as much noise as a small airport. I’m guessing that cleaning the inside will let it run much more quietly. The plastic push-buttons on it also look really worn, and I’ll see if I can find replacements for them. It’s not strictly necessary, but would be a great optical upgrade as well as give the machine a much nicer feel. With a machine this old, I also should replace the capacitor and possibly the power cable as a matter of operational safety.

Most of all, I will have to make a proper box for it. The guy selling it doesn’t have the original one anymore, and keeps the set as a loose assortment. This makes for impractical storage, and also doesn’t do this beautiful machine justice. Since my limited storage space is one of the main arguments for me buying this thing in the first place, a proper solution will have to be made.

Will it mod?

One exciting aspect of this whole project is the possibility of extending the tool box. Single attachments show up on Kleinanzeigen every once in a while, it seems they’ve been in production as single units till almost the 80ies. The possibility of modding this thing opens up a whole plethora of interesting projects. The beauty of the system from a modern point of view is that it doesn’t use proprietary connectors: Everything attaches via standardized screws and threads. This means it would be relatively simple to power up the system by attaching a different motor like, say, a modern angle grinder. While of course this wouldn’t be safe (nor sensible) to do with the more complex attachments, the table saw is literally just a free spinning blade on a shaft connected directly to the motor. Upgrading the motor should be safely possible and would easily triple the power of the saw. All that would be required to do that is a simple adapter from M14 to whatever the correct size of the thread on the METABO-end is – I’m guessing it’s an M8 or so, but I’ll have to measure – adapters which are easily sourced online and can be ordered for a few bucks.

All in all, I’m very excited about this. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also fun work that will let me expand my newly found maker-skills. It will also mean I’ll get to own and restore a piece of cultural history that, for many years to come, will serve as a critical reminder of the fact that there is a true alternative to the fast-paced vortex of constant consumption our society has turned into.

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