Burner Control Knob Repair

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An rare Achilles heel in these mighty O’Keefe & Merritt stoves – the Bakelite control knobs. After collecting four of these stoves, I discovered about half of the knobs had broken collars, where the valve stem fits into the knob. If the brass stem fits too snugly into the plastic knob, metal wins.  The collar will eventually crack and break.

If it is difficult to separate the knob from the valve stem, there are two options. The knob opening needs to be enlarged or the brass stem can be pinched slightly to narrow it.

So I wondered if epoxy putty would work to fill-in for the missing pieces. It couldn’t hurt to try  and definitely less expensive than having someone custom fabricate the entire knob.

JB Weld’s HighHeat epoxy putty seemed worthwhile enough to try. I coated a plug’s valve stem with layer of petroleum jelly so the putty would not stick to it, pushed the stem into the knob, then pushed the putty into and around the stem; then carefully pulled the plug out trying not to distort the putty. Eight hours until it fully cured.

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After eight hours, a Dremel with a grinder attachment did a fine job in just a few minutes to remove the excess putty so the  patch was at the same level with the knob’s collar.

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The putty seems sturdy enough, comparable to the bakelite in hardness. Time will tell if is as durable.

Removing rust stains from white Bakelite

The knobs with bezels attached by steel screws and many of the Bakelite door handles with the chrome caps that are attached with steel screws will, over time get rust stain from corroded screws. What I did to remove those rust stains:

  • Heated the Bakelite in very hot water until the Bakelite is almost too hot to touch
  • Saturated a cotton swab with phosphoric acid and swabbed the rust spots
  • Keep swabbing until those spots lightened or even disappeared, depending on how deep the stain penetrated the plastic.

In other situations, if phosphoric acid wasn’t available or couldn’t reach the entire stain,  I’d sand the stained area with 300-400 grit.

29 thoughts on “Burner Control Knob Repair”

  1. I recently purchased my third stove which came with a mismatched and broken set of knobs. I am looking for four knobs and three of the chrome bezels of the model shown. Would you have any that you are willing to part with at a reasonable price?

    1. The only knobs I have at the moment are four ‘JB Weld’ repaired ones like the ones shown on this page. I have a couple more repaired ones on my stove right now, being tested to see how they stand up. So far, so good.

      Those four knobs I have look great from the front; no cracks, crazes, stains or gouges. I do have extra bezels for that knob model but I don’t have any of the disk or coil springs that sit between the knob and the bezel. The bezels’ exterior chrome surfaces are in fair to good shape. However, the areas that hidden by the knobs are in rough shape. The metal is solid and I’ve removed the rust but the chrome is gone.

      If you’re interested in viewing the knobs and bezels, please email me at ddmcc@yahoo.com. I’ll send you some photos. If you’re still interested in a purchase, we can negotiate a fair price for whatever you might be interested in.

    2. Not yet, James. The Bakelite knobs are one of the tougher things to find. Even harder to find ones in decent shape. I found an OKM the other day for $30. Sadly, all the knob stems were badly cracked. But I might have some bezels, depending on the type you are looking for. Is it the ones that need the spring or the ones that screw into the knob?

  2. I’m lucky enough to have the broken piece from the knob for my 1950 Kenmore gas range. It’s the knob for the rear left burner. I will try to use the JB putty as I would use glue, and clamp the broken piece onto the top portion of the collar. I’ll let you know if it works. This is such a great little blog!

    1. Thanks, Rex. I wanted to help other DIY stove restorers. There’s so little out there for us ‘pioneers’. 🙂 Also note, how the knob fits on the brass stem is very important. If the fit is too tight, it’s the Bakelite that will crack. If the fit is too loose, try what I did. Cut a piece of latex or nitrile, like from a glove and place it over the brass stem, then push the knob in. The latex has a just enough give and act as a nice little cushion between the Bakelite and the brass.

  3. Hi. We are working on an OM, following many of your instructions and ideas. So helpful! I’m sure I will have other questions, but right now I am wondering if you have ever found a way to make heat damaged (all yellow-gold looking, but not rust) bakelite look better?

    1. Thank you so much. I’m so glad to hear you find this helpful.

      Yes, I’ve had success brightening Bakelite. It depends on what discolored it. If it’s rust, I’ve gotten the Bakelite very hot by putting it in boiling water. Then I pull out the piece, quickly dry it off and use a cotton swab to dab it with phosphoric acid. Most times, a couple/few applications and a little time will take care of the stain. If it’s not rust, it might have been over heated – lightly browned by heat. Hopefully, the yellowing didn’t penetrate too deeply, so you might be able to sand off the top layer(s).

      If sanding, make sure you have the supplies needed to sand and restore. Those include wet/dry sandpaper (grits 200, 300, 400, 600, 1000), a mini rotary tool, like a Dremel, equipped with a felt buffing disc and some plastic buffing compound (it’s usually white). Make sure to wet sand. You don’t want to breath in the dust.

      If the yellowing is deep and sanding will distort the shape, I would recommend sanding the entire piece, going up to grit 300 or 400, then spraying the piece with high temp white paint.

      Please let me know if you have any more questions.

      1. Thanks for the advice. I looked at it very carefully, tried some baking soda and a non-scratch scrubber, and finally realized that the heat damage is just too deep, along with fine cracks here and there. It’s the original set that came with the stove (although it’s not one of the really nice one) and I hate to not use it, but I would indeed have to repaint. I’m thinking at this stage, maybe I will just replace with a vintage pair if I can find something not too expensive. I’ve seen a few that were $100, which is way out of my league! I do have another question. The base of the clock area that used to be chromed is mostly bare metal now. I can’t afford to re-chrome, so I was thinking of doing your trick with paint. Was red your only choice, or did they have one that looked like chrome?

        1. Fine cracks and the yellowing are the best indicators that the Bakelite got cooked. 🙁 If you can wait a few weeks, depending on the style you want, I expect to have several restored knobs for sale. They won’t be anywhere close to $100 a piece!

          I used Dupli-Color Engine Enamel Ceramic 500 degree spray paint to cover the clock bezel. It comes in various colors. A local automotive supply place might carry it or something similar. But several people have told me Dupli-Color is the best. There might be a silver, but it definitely won’t have the smooth high shine like chrome.

          1. Thanks. I was afraid of that. I tried the H2O2, but it didn’t help. I have other things that I will need to buy, so really, the shakers are far down my list! But I will look into the paint. Maybe going with a color, like black, would be better than trying to imitate the chrome look.

  4. As a followup, I soaked those heat damaged bakelite salt and pepper shakers in Peroxide for about a week, and, amazingly, they came nearly white! The cracking didn’t disappear, of course, but they look hugely better.

  5. Hi !
    Love , Love , Love this site you made !
    I’m still in the cleaning stages wih my 55-50-1. The Bakelite knobs where almost black with gunk. I found a no-scrub way to make them look BRAND new again. Soak each knob over night in a custard cup, metal band an all, with water and 1 Polident denture cleaning tablet. Next day use a toothbrush and lightly rub off any remaining gunk.

    I couldn’t believe how white and clean they came. Even the one that was burnt a little looks almost new. I’ve used this to clean ceramic with before & it worked well. Figured if it could get stains off dentures it was worth a shot.

    Note: I DID try the peroxide soak with out much success.
    Hope this helps others : )

  6. Hi Desiree,
    I was reading some interesting info on using super glue and baking soda to repair and fill cracks or chips…. Haven’t tried yet, but check this out and see if this might help on knobs, chipped or cracked salt/pepper shakers, maybe even chipped porcelain in the right places… And it’s white !… can be filed, sanded, buffed, etc… pretty much dries instantly…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7H1nHVj74E

    1. Paul, thanks for the tip. I do have a couple of concerns, though. Super glues set quickly, but they also breakdown quickly if the break undergoes physical stress. My second concern is does the alkaline nature of the baking soda impact the super glue’s effectiveness. If possible, I’d try a white epoxy, if it exists. If it doesn’t, I might consider ground Bakelite powder mixed with a clear epoxy.

    1. You should be able to pull them off. If the don’t pull off easily, try a small pry bar and gently nudge from different positions. Be careful, the knobs could crack. And for future reference, after cleaning and removing any gunk that might have made the knobs stick, if the knobs are still difficult to push back on the stems, use pliers to gently press the brass stem prongs together so the knobs can more easily pull off and on. They don’t need to be tight on the stems to work.

  7. Good morning! Denture cleaner technique completely whitened the Bakelite knobs on my 1953 Wedgewood! Thanks for sharing!

  8. What a great blog you have here. After years of searching, I finally found a O & M that I think might be within my capacity to restore. I started cleaning on it yesterday (YUCK!) and worked on it for about 2 hrs. I was able to remove all the knobs except one. It is the one marked “Griddle” . Try as I might I just can’t remove it. The silver ring separated from the knob so I now will need to get a replacement. I do not want to chip the porcelain with excessive prying. Any help would be most appreciated. Thank you.

    1. Congrats on getting a great stove, Gary. I’ve collected many OKMs and I would estimate well over 95% are dirty. Decades of baked grease and odd bits of food. Funny thing, though. The dirtier they are, the better the surface underneath is. The grease protects the metal, preventing it from rusting.

      Regarding the stubborn knob, you could try applying heat, like from a blow dryer. Whatever gunk is in there might soften enough to release the knob. Another strategy, one that I like to use, trying prying with two pry bars, one on each side of the knob. And pry very slowly. These work great: https://www.amazon.com/Titan-Tools-17005-Stainless-Scraper/dp/B000OECQOK

      1. Oh wow! Great ideas. I will try just as soon as I can. I am also trying to determine what model I have. I there a way to reply with a photo here? Thank you…

    1. When it comes to OKMs, model numbers don’t really mean anything. There seems to be little rhyme or reason. It’s easier to simply classify features and general style. Those can help identify the decade.

      Removing the oven dial is pretty straight forward. Nothing needs to be unbolted or anything. Just pull one thing off at a time.

      1. Wow! It worked! I can’t believe the cleaning solutions and towels I’ve used so far. I would guess this poor O&M stove hasn’t had a good cleaning in years. I have gotten everything pulled out of the burner area. Except the thermostat. That will take some research…

  9. Desiree;
    I have an update on Jack Black, Model 505-51V that I thought I would share with you here instead of with the entire Facebook Group. According to the dates on the clock and timer Jack was manufactured in 1953 not in ’48 as I first thought.
    Four of the five knobs are fine but the knob that operated the left front burner is badly burned and fell apart as I removed it. The heat has left it very brittle and almost chalky.
    The knobs are the type that use the spring and set inside a non-connected chrome ring. I see on Grapevine Sally’s site she sells knobs that have the chrome ring attached on the back with screws. Will those knobs interchange and fit on my ’53, 505? If not, do you have a single white knob that you are willing to sell? I have the chrome ring and spring so I just need the knob. Thanks for all your help.
    Michael Shearn

    1. Michael, I have a bunch of the type of knob you described. I believe all the knobs made for the 1940-50 OKMs and Wedgewoods were built to fit the same sized stem, regardless of style. So you could use either knob style. The challenge with the type you describe is the original disc springs are usually too far gone after a few decades and I found them very difficult to source. I happily switched to the knobs with the attached bezels as I acquired them. (Sometimes I’d pick up an entire stove just for the knobs.)

  10. Well it sounds like the ones available with the attached rings will fit. The springs I have for mine are pretty well shot. Your method of attachment to the dash with screws is a good fix as well. I will see if I can source them somewhere a little less expensive than Grapevine Sally.
    My plan is to retro-fit with red knobs and handles since that would be quite an eye treat with the black porcelain but again the price is a bit too high for my pocket book. I intend to try painting them with the red High-Temp paint that you linked me to. If that does not work I can always save up and splurge on the red handles and knobs. I am expecting the re-chroming of the top and most of the other parts to pretty much break the bank. Thanks again for your help.

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