How to Refinish a Radio Flyer Wagon

By Mark Morris
The Radio Flyer is the quintessential litte red wagon.
The Radio Flyer is the quintessential litte red wagon.

With its iconic red-and-white paint job and whitewall tires the Radio Flyer wagon has been providing transportation to young Americans for generations. While the solid metal body and hardware are typically rugged and will last for years with little or no maintenance, Radio Flyers are susceptible to standing water in their beds and will rust if the water remains more than a day or two. In these cases, the limited number of pieces and ease of assembly make this wagon an excellent candidate for refinishing.

Take the wagon apart with a wrench or pliers. Remove the nut holding the bolt to the front wheel yoke to separate it from the body. Remove the two bolts that hold the back wheel bracket in place and separate it also.

Pry the red plastic caps from the centers of the wheels with a wide, flat screwdriver blade. The crimp washers found inside may be reusable, replace any that will not flatten back out smoothly.

Scrape any loose paint and flaking rust from the wagon body, the center of the wheels and the wagon's handle assembly and wheel brackets using a stiff wire brush.

Apply naval jelly to rust spots to remove them, using a metal putty knife or other flexible blade. Allow the jelly to sit for the label-recommended working time. Scrub severely rusted areas with quad 0 steel wool to work it from the surface and rinse with clear water to remove the jelly. Reapply if needed and rinse to clean the surface.

Apply a coat of red spray primer to the rusted areas and any other areas that are missing paint. Allow this to dry. Spray on two or three coats of red spray enamel to the primed areas. Hold the can 8 to 10 inches from the surface and work in short bursts, moving the can left to right in short, stroke-like motions, releasing the button after every burst. Keep the can moving to prevent puddling, runs or drips. Allow the paint to dry according to label recommendations between coats.

Prime and paint any areas on the handle and wheel brackets with gloss black. Apply primer and white paint to any dings or scratches in the metal centers of the wheels.

Replace any cracked or badly worn hard rubber tires. Pry them off the rims with a flat blade screwdriver and install the new tires in reverse.

Allow the paint to dry and reassemble the wagon in the reverse of disassembly. Replace any rusted hardware with similar parts. Take the old part along for comparison when choosing hardware replacements.

Things You Will Need

  • Pliers or wrench
  • Wire brush
  • Naval jelly
  • Steel wool
  • Spray primer
  • Spray paint

About the Author

Mark Morris started writing professionally in 1995. He has published a novel and stage plays with SEEDS studio. Morris specializes in many topics and has 15 years of professional carpentry experience. He is a voice, acting and film teacher. He also teaches stage craft and lectures on playwriting for Oklahoma Christian University.