Restoring vintage Ford 4 speed gear shift knobs is a pretty simple project. To make the job easier, you will need a drill press, 1 / 2-20 tap, different grits of sandpaper, rubbing compound. Other supplies you will need include Armor All, Mink Oil, and white appliance touch-up paint.
To begin with, you will need to check the condition of the knob, some of these knobs are old and have suffered some abuse over the years and unfortunately some cannot be reset. What you want to look for on the knob is the shift pattern, determine whether the shift pattern numbers and lines are in good shape with deep stamped lines and numbers. If they don’t look good it will be difficult to get a clean look when the project is finished because you have lightly sand the knob to bring out a fresh look and if you go too far in the sanding process you sand them down.
Once you’ve determined you have a good resettable knob, clean it with a carb cleaner and brush the paint off with a wire brush to remove the gear pattern and numbers. Install the knob on the 1 / 2-20 faucet and insert the faucet into the drill press. Turn on the drill and start with 100-grit sandpaper first, if you have a Mustang or Galaxie shift knob with a concave top, start sanding the sides of the knob first. Sand off any chips or scratches, then move to a finer grit sandpaper like 150 fine and finish with a fine saffron paper. Do the same for the concave area, but start with 150 thin paper using your finger to apply pressure. Be careful here not to go too far, take your time to smooth it out. Also, since you are sanding, the paper can get hot so be careful, I don’t recommend wearing gloves because they can get caught in the drill.
After sanding, check the knob, make sure it is free of chips and scratches, if it is, leave it in the drill and use some polishing compound to smooth it further. I use three types of compounds, the first is a heavy duty cleaner and then the polishing compound and I finish with a clear plastic cleaner and polish and finally buff with a clean rag. Each compound may need to be applied for a couple of minutes to obtain a smooth, clean appearance; be careful in this process with rags as they can get caught in the drill press.
Clean the knob, grab a small dental-type tool to remove the friction compound from the shift pattern, and you are ready to paint the pattern and numbers. Use the white appliance touch up paint to paint in the turn pattern and numbers. You don’t have to paint only the pattern and numbers, it is easier to apply the paint on the face of the pattern. Let dry and spray carb cleaner with a paper towel and wipe the top of the knob until extra paint comes off and the shift pattern and numbers are clean and white.
Paint can stain the knob, so just wipe it off with the carb cleaner. Then take Armor All, spray a little on a paper towel and wipe it on the knob to bring out the black color. The last step is to apply some peppermint oil and rub the knob to bring out the shine. If all goes well, you will have a beautifully restored knob in about 15 to 30 minutes. I’ve done a lot of these resale restorations and they’ve come out really good, what I think makes it easy to do is the knob material, which is Bakelite, you can sand these things down and leave the knobs pretty clean and looking good.
This process works well with Ford shift knobs for 1964 1/2 -66 small concave for Mustangs and 1962-67 Galaxie and early Falcons and Fairlane etc. and the standard 1967-68 and 69 Mustang interior. All other knobs like wood grain for a Mustang luxury interior are not good to restore if you have a good original, stay or get a good quality reproduction.