The Detroit Post
Friday, 15 October, 2021

How Do I Clean Rusty Tools

Bob Roberts
• Monday, 30 November, 2020
• 7 min read

Every day at window, we work hard to give you access to instructions and information that will help you live a better life, whether it's keeping you safer, healthier, or improving your well-being. If you don't take care of the rust, it will corrode the metal leading to unrepeatable damage.

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Rust forms on steel or iron when the material is exposed to oxygen and water for a length of time. Rust or oxidation is a chemical process that occurs when water and oxygen bonds with the iron.

The sanding method is a good starting point for removing rust from tools. With a steel wool or a stiff wire brush, clean the areas most corroded by rust first.

Next, use a coarse grit sand paper to continue to remove any thick patches of rust. If there are any fine layers of rust left, switch to a finer grain sandpaper and continue to remove any remaining speckles.

The vinegar and salt method works best for tools with large areas of rust. Place the tool in a bin large enough to fit the entire piece.

The vinegar and salt mixture need time to break down the rust. Once the rust has softened, use a metal brush or steel wool to scrub off the surface.

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Pour baking soda in a bowl and add enough water to make a paste. You will need to wear rubber gloves and eye protection and use the acid in a well-ventilated area.

Add one gallon of water to a container large enough to hold your tools. Rust can be prevented by not allowing water or moisture to stay in contact with metal surfaces.

You can do this by spotless and drying tools after each use or by applying a protective coating onto the metal. Keeping metal tools dry and out of the elements as much as possible and adding a protective coating can further reduce the odds of rust appearing.

Get all the supplies you need to remove rust from your local The Home Depot. “Everybody has them, these little hidden jewels,” says contributing editor Richard Roman ski, a fine woodworker and unrepentant tool collector.

We gathered a bunch of forlorn rusted tools and went to work in his studio, a cavernous former church in North Salem, New York. And we discovered that all it takes is some basic chemistry, a little patience, and some elbow grease to restore old, rusted tools to like-new condition.

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The rust isn’t only unsightly, it also makes it difficult to slide wood across the table, which should be perfectly smooth. We knew we had to move the saw to a warm, dry location, so we unbolted it from its rolling stand, hoisted it into a Ford F-150, and drove it down the street to Roman ski’s studio workshop.

Next came the tedious disassembly process: We unbolted the cast-iron wings from each side of the saw table and then removed the motor. After letting kerosene penetrate for about an hour, we buff away the rust using a variable-speed drill outfitted with a 2½-inch-diameter nylon cup brush that’s embedded with 240-grit aluminum oxide abrasive.

We ran the drill slowly at around 500 rpm, and move it back and forth across the surface for several minutes. We then mounted the wings back onto the saw and aligned them flush with the saw table by carefully tapping them with a dead-blow mallet.

That’s an important step because if the pulleys aren’t aligned, excessive vibration will prematurely wear out belts and bearings. We then buffed paste wax onto the restored metal surfaces to help deter future rusting, bolted the saw back onto its stand, and made several test cuts.

Rusty hand tools seem to turn up everywhere: in sheds, basements and garages; in old, forgotten toolboxes; in car trunks; and, of course, at tag sales all across the country. To dissolve years of corrosion, we submerged the heads in a bucket containing a gallon of white vinegar.

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Back into the vinegar the tool heads went, and this time we let them soak overnight. We rinsed the tools thoroughly in clear water to remove any last trace of vinegar and wiped them dry.

Finally, the tools were wiped clean with mineral spirits, primed with a rust-preventive metal primer (we used spray-on Rust-Oleum), and painted with gloss alkyd enamel. The cutting edges on the hatchets were hand-honed on a series of water stones used for woodworking tools.

In the case of the smoothing plane shown here, the body wasn’t as badly corroded as it first looked. Then we lapped the sole of the plane on a succession of abrasive papers, beginning with very coarse 60-grit and proceeding through to super-fine 1,000-grit.

Senior home editor Roy Bandsmen, buffingNext, we sharpened the plane iron on a horizontal wet sharpening wheel and even honed its back surface so that it was flat several inches behind the cutting edge. This ensures that the chip breaker will snug up tightly against the iron, so no wood shavings can be trapped and torn off.

Roman ski has more than forty years of woodworking experience, so he did the final inspection of the plane iron. He followed the machine honing with a careful trip over his water stones, leaving the plane iron with a mirror finish.

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He assembled and adjusted the rescued plane and took it for a test flight across a piece of clear pine. This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses.

Catherine Miller found a much easier way to cleanrustytools than scraping and sanding them. The blade still needed sharpening, but the chisel was almost as good as new.

Catherine wraps larger tools in a vinegar-soaked rag, covers the rag with a plastic bag or plastic wrap and then leaves it for 24 hours. After cleaning off the rust, you just rinse the tool in the clear water and wipe it dry.

Whether a mechanic, carpenter or an ordinary guy, or girl, you’ve likely came across some rusty tools before. Hand tools are extremely vital to numerous job sectors and industries.

Lastly, after rinsing and drying the tools, spray them all with WD-40, so they don’t rust again. Start by rinsing the tools in soapy water in order to remove dust, dirt and grease from them.

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Always start by scrubbing the tools with the coarsest abrasive to remove built up rust. Next, switch to a finer sandpaper to smooth out the grooves caused by the coarse grit.

First, spotless the tools with dish detergent in order to prevent lingering dirt and grease from blocking the chemical process. After, mix three tablespoons of italic acid with one gallon of water in the large plastic container.

First, fill the first container with vinegar to where the tools will be completely covered when submerged. After this, rinse clean the tools with water, and make sure to dry them immediately with paper towels.

For hard to reach areas and tight spaces, you can try using a hair dryer to make sure they are dry in order to prevent further rust. However, since this phosphoric acid melts iron oxide very quickly, do not leave the tools in the solution for a long time, as they may get even more corroded.

Tools are also not cheap, so ensuring they stay like new, and ready for any project at any given moment is critical. But in case you face some nasty, rusty tools, you can use one or more of the above methods to bring them back to life.


If you don't mind putting muscle into the project, getting rid of rust can be accomplished by some good old-fashioned scrubbing. Sandpaper can scratch outer rust away, or you can use a drill with a sanding attachment, which will do much of the work for you.

If you prefer less scrubbing, you can try one of the rust removal methods that involve standard kitchen supplies. Of lemon juice with enough regular salt to create a thick paste.

Fill a bucket or bowl with enough of the mixture to completely submerge the rusted steel. Take the tool out every few days and wipe it down with a clean rag to remove the rust that has loosened and monitor the progress.

Tools should be hung, instead of being left to rest on surfaces that can become damp, such as shed or basement floors. Coating the metal with some type of wax is a simple way of preventing future rust.

Alexis Lawrence is a freelance writer, filmmaker and photographer with extensive experience in digital video, book publishing and graphic design.

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