I'm in the process of restoring a '66 110 round fender and needed to see if I could restore my serial tag. I'd seen a photo of the fine work our johndeereelfman had done quite a while back prior to his recent posting of his great job on the John Deere MT tag and this inspired me to give it a try. It took me a while to muster up the courage to try it since I'd never done one before. I finally decided I didn't want to live with it the way it was so I got to work and carefully punched out the drive screw/pins from the inside of the pedestal and removed the tag.
I followed the same basic steps that our johndeereelfman has so well shown in his MT tag posting and I'd also viewed a YouTube video on a machinery tag restoration. I thought I'd share in some detail what I did step by step since I'd seen a member asking for details about the process. Overall the process is relatively simple but needs to be done carefully to achieve the results you want. Bear in mind that the letters on these aluminum tags were acid etched and are only .003 to .004 above the bottom of the recessed black surface of the tag. Also the aluminum these tags were produced from is a very soft alloy so work carefully.
Step #1 Strip Old Paint
First check your tag for flatness with a straight edge or scale and if it's bent, carefully bend it by hand with your fingers to get it as straight as possible. Bent corners can be straightened by Gentle tapping with a small hammer with the tag face down on a good flat surface but be careful not to tap too hard and create dents. I felt that dents within the black background area are best left alone since any high spots in this area will create a shiney exposed aluminum spot during the final sanding.
Strip the old paint with a chemical paint stripper. Do Not
glass bead blast or sand blast the tag as this will definitely damage the letters and edges of the tag and can round them off. You'll need some good means of magnification such as a head worn Optivisor or other good magnifier for detailed paint removal. Once the paint stripper has softened the old paint, Carefully scrape around each letter with a sharp pointed wooden toothpick. A toothpick can also be sanded at a 45 degree angle to create a wider chisel like scraper. An old toothbrush can also be useful. If you decide to use the point of an Xacto knife around letters be extremely careful not to scratch across lettering, remember, the aluminum is very soft. Scratches across letters will leave small black lines on them when sanding off the new paint. These will then need to be cleaned out very carefully with the Xacto knife after painting. Be as meticulous as you can in removing the old paint. Your want to make your lettering stand out as much as possible with good definition when you spray on your new coat of paint later. Unfortunately I didn't take a photo of my tag after I stripped the paint but it should look similar to the photo of our johndeereelfman's MT tag after stripping that he posted.
Step #2 Pre Sanding the Tag
Locate a good flat and smooth steel plate to use for sanding your tag. I used a precision surface ground steel plate but if you don't have this use a plate as flat and smooth as possible. Do all of your sanding in one direction in line with the original horizontal existing grain lines both when doing pre sanding and doing final sanding later on. I used #600 wet or dry sand paper for all my sanding and got the finish I was looking for on the aluminum surfaces. I pre sanded my tag laying face down on wetted #600 laying face down to see how flat my tag was. The steel plate I had was thick enough to allow me to sand half of my tag at a time when I wanted to so I was able to sand the large John Deere lettered area above the serial numbers separately from the small lettered area below the stamped serial numbers. Pre sand only as much as necessary to get an even satin grain sanded appearance like the tag originally had.
Step #3 Highlighting the Serial Number
If your serial number has corrosion in the stamped numbers this will need to be carefully and lightly scraped out with the tip of an Xacto knife blade to highlight the numbers and make them stand out after final sanding. The stamped serial numbers on John Deere 110 tags were not painted black originally. And yes, this is the most nerve wracking part of the restoration process, but again work carefully and slowly using your magnification. Scratches that occur outside of the numbers if not too deep can be sanded down with the #600. You can use a narrow strip of #600 wet or dry sand paper under a 1/4" wide flat piece of metal like a piece of metal shaft key stock to sand across the serial numbered mid section of the tag. After you've finished detailing the serial numbers you'll want to give whole tag a final pre sanding to even out the grain before the next step.
Step #4 Cleaning the Tag
Wipe the tag off with thoroughly with lacquer thinner or acetone and wash it well with soap and water to remove any oily residue and handle it by the edges only as best you can afterward. It's best to clean your hands with soap and water as well. I masked off the stamped serial number area in the center of the tag with 1/4" wide vinyl craft tape next since the serial numbers do not get painted. I also masked around the aluminum bordered area next to the areas to be painted black but this may not be necessary since the final sanding should remove paint on those edges.
Tag Painted Gloss Black Before Final Sanding
Step #5 Spray Painting Gloss Black
Paint the tag with a Light
coat of gloss black spray paint. I used Rustoleum gloss black enamel and got good results. Remember, spray it Lightly in only one or two quick passes as evenly as possible. Avoid a heavy coat of paint. You want the black background area of the tag to be recessed below your letters. If paint is built up too high it'll be difficult to avoid dulling or scuffing up the glossy painted area when you do your final sanding. Be sure to carefully remove the masking tape within a few minutes after spray painting. Remove the masking sloooowwwly to get a good clean edge of paint next to your masked areas.
Step #6 Final Sanding
When the paint has thoroughly dried you're ready for final sanding. Wet the #600 wet or dry sand paper down well with water making sure there's no dirt or debris on the sand paper or on your steel plate. Place your tag face down and begin sanding only one direction, horizontally as done in the pre sanding Using Light Finger Pressure.
Sand only a very few strokes at a time, then stop, and rinse off the tag and sand paper well with clean water. You want to avoid loading up the sand paper and stop often to see what areas have been sanded clean of paint. If an area of lettering is not sanding off cleanly, apply slightly firmer finger pressure on the back side of the tag in the area needed to be sanded, again sand only a very few strokes at a time, stop and recheck the letters. If dulling or scuffing of the gloss black painted background area occurs, which is hard to avoid, polish the area with a Q-tip dabbed with a good quality auto wax after cleaning and drying off the tag to restore the gloss.
A Final Note: I tried giving my tag a clear coat to protect and seal the bare aluminum from future corrosion after painting but had a big problem with curled lifting around the lettering. I had to strip my tag again and do the whole painting and sanding process a second time. I'm not sure exactly what caused the problem but the lifting was likely caused due to the glossy paint surface which you can't sand prior to clear coating to achieve a good bond or because I had to wax out some dulled areas. Our johndeereelfman recommends just waxing the tag to protect the aluminum surfaces after the paint has fully cured. He also stated that yellowing can occur later on with some clear coats so he waxes the tag only. Again my compliments to him on the fine work he's done on the MT and many other tags he's done and my sincere thanks also for his highly valuable advice and guidance. I still had areas of my tag far from perfect, some low spots due to dents and dings that I couldn't do much about and some spots of corrosion in the aluminum but for my first try on doing a tag restoration I felt satisfied with the overall results.
Again restoring your John Deere serial number tag is a fairly simple process so don't be afraid to give it a try. With careful preparation, painting, and sanding you should be able to achieve the results you're looking for.