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Rust removal from tools

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    Chris Barnes

    On the bright parts of steel tools (e.g. edge tools), if left unused for some months or even years, the area will gradually be increasingly marred by increasing amounts of rust (even in relatively dry climates, and especially near the coast). Advice from some quarters suggests soaking the tools in a weak acid (vinegar, oxalic acid, citric acid etc.). I have been unable to obtain quantitative advice on the strength of the acid to be used and the soaking time for optimal values. Presumably, too short a time or weak a solution will be ineffective, whilst too long a time in a stronger acid may lead to undesirable etching. I have tried 8% acetic acid neat, but is it better to use a weaker solution for longer, or repeatedly with the removal of residual rust with a brass brush in between?

    Michael Evans

    Let me say up front that I restore tools for use and do not attempt to make them look “new” again. After putting hundreds of old tools back into working order I have found that the chemicals for metal offer little real advantage over abrasives and wire wheels and wire brushes. The possible exception is tools with a lot of deep recesses that are difficult to reach otherwise. I know that may offend some purists into museum quality restoration but all of my tools are “users”, and have little true collector value in their original condition in spite of the fact that many of them are between one hundred and two hundred years old. In fact, nearly all tools treated with de-rusting chemicals will need wire brushing and/or abrasives anyway. If you do have a true collectable then, in my humble opinion, you shouldn’t be attempting to restore it anyway unless you are convinced that you can do no harm. A general application of WD40 (which contains some wax) along with an application of light lubrication on threads and other mechanical surfaces is usually sufficient to prevent a reoccurrence of rust. In extreme humidity situations or where tools will be stored for an extended period I apply a light coat of mineral oil. There are so many tools in my “pile” that I can’t possibly use them all but I do inspect them at least annually and seldom find any new rust. I know that there will be other opinions on the subject and if your method works for you, great. My method has served me better than any oh the other methods I have tried. Have fun.

    Bear Thompson

    I’ve used just table salt and white vinegar to gently clean the rust from some old rusty tools from eBay. About 1 tablespoonful per cup of vinegar (240 ml). I let the tools sit submerged overnight and was amazed at how well it worked. I scrubbed with a Scotch Pad and finish with some 4-0 steel wool. On some I’ve used a brass brush on a Dremel, but haven’t needed to on many. Then I give them a quick once over with Paul’s rag-in-a-can oiler. I would certainly resharpen any edges when done.

    Peter Cooper

    Hi Chris, I use straight cleaning vinegar and it seems to work well. It does of course depend on the amount of rust though. I try not to leave anything soaking for too long and it is a simple matter of taking it out of the vinegar and giving it a bit of a rub. The important thing is to neutralize after soaking and I simply use water. I haven’t had any problems so far doing it that way. I use my homemade preserving wax to coat everything and stop surface rusting as well. 1 part bees wax, 1 part boiled linseed oil and half a part mineral turpentine.

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