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Picture of Tool Restoration
Screwdrivers Before After.JPG

It might be widely know the virtues of vinegar. Not only can you put it on a salad, you can kill weeds with it, a perfect cleaner, and for the purposes of this instructable remove rust. Compared to other over the counter cleaning chemicals it can't be beat.

What follows are several examples of tools handed down to me from my father. Some of which I had no idea the age (still don't) or their origins.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials
3 StorageBin Lid.png
5 Vinegar.jpg
4 Elbowgrease.jpg

The materials I used to clean and restore these tools are pretty basic.

  • Vinegar
  • WD 40
  • Varnish
  • Rubber gloves
  • Various grits of sand paper
  • Vibrating palm sander
  • Steel wool
  • Sanding sponge blocks(again various grits)
  • Wire brushes(both small and large)
  • Curie horse comb(yes believe it or not)
  • Depending on the subject various files or dermal grinding stones.
  • And last but not least… ELBOW Grease and patience.
  • Oh and a couple of trays or water tight bins (large enough to hold items and shallow enough to where your not using gallons of vinegar at time.
LarryT5311 months ago

I have found that WD40 does turn into a kind of varnish, so I only use light machine oil or wax on metal. I don't care for the glossy look of varnish on tools so I use some kind of oil ie. walnut oil or even linseed oil and depending on the tool just wax.

jbrauer LarryT534 months ago
I like WD40 as a cutting fluid for deep holes in aluminum, but it smells bad and doesn't provide long-term rust protection. I make a mix of beeswax and mineral oil (like George's Clubhouse Wax) to use on my old heirloom tools.
Richard LJ10 months ago
Soak rasp with Muratic acid to shapen
Donkey_9911 months ago

I prefer to use a 10% molasses mix and agitate over the soak. a scrub with a nylon brush like a toothbrush gets stubborn bits. With an oily wipe as they come out, pieces do not need sanding and this will preserve details such as makers' marks and etched graduations. It is also less work! The whole thing smells like a brewer's waste but well worth the effort and solution can be used a few times. Don't keep too long as it goes mouldy!

kz111 months ago

Have some long bar clamps needing rust removal. Plan to use four foot section of 4 inch PVC with end caps glued on, then cut a slot the length of the pvc wide enough for the clamps to sit in inside, pour enough vinegar into cover clamp and let it soak. 5 gallons should do.

Could also use the same set up except add a series of small sacrificial anodes or a piece of rebar down the length, fill with water and baking soda mixture, then hook up battery charger and let electrolysis do it's thing. No metal loss with this method.

GFire (author)  kz111 months ago

Thats a great idea KZ1. Could make modified large PVC with squared off end caps for better sitting too. Thanks for the idea.

kz1 GFire11 months ago

Thanks. I was thinking either put it in a trench in the ground or build some small cradle sections for both ends and the middle OR it could be open on one end and use it vertical if not too much length is needed.

chrisklinger kz111 months ago

You are right, electrolytic rust removal is far-and-away better. You'll often be able to recover even etchings, makers marks, etc. that the acid bath will have destroyed. A concern, particularly for tools that flex (like hand saws) is hydrogen embrittlement. This, however, can be counteracted by baking the tool at 350-400 degrees for four hours or so immediately after being removed from the electrolytic tank.

I'd recommend sodium carbonate (washing soda) instead of bicarbonate.

kz1 chrisklinger11 months ago

Good catch. If you use baking soda, you have to bake it first. That converts it to bicarbonate when washing up soda wasn't available. It's actually a more pure of bicarbonate but washing soda works well too. I've used both. I've also left parts with small threaded screws in a vinegar bath a bit too long and was left with a stick with no threads left on it. :-)

garrydelf kz111 months ago

Do not use baking soda for electrolysis rust removal. Use Washing soda it is a different composition. There are Instructables that will take you through the correct procedure.

ArthurJ511 months ago

The wood on the square is probably rose wood or cocobolo not walnut.

When you figure out how to sharpen the rasp I’m sure you will be an overnight instructables hero. I think everyone has a couple of those sitting around.

GFire (author)  ArthurJ511 months ago

Maybe someday I will... Thanks for the Wood diagnosis.

Alvin L11 months ago
A little tip if you have something to big to soak, wet paper towels in vinegar then wrap item with the paper towels. You can stop there but I then wrap the item in plastic wrap and wait a lest 24 hours for the vinegar to work. If it’s not to rusty it should come out clean. If not repeat. Works good on large chrome items too big to soak. On chrome I use aluminum foil to remove the rust will not scratch the chrome...
GFire (author)  Alvin L11 months ago

Goood tip Thanks!

Badger4811 months ago

Nice tutorial and pictures! I love seeing the care you're giving the tools that were passed on to you.

For all the advice I see about using muratic acid, I see no warnings about how dangerous it is. Also, I have heard from many sources that it can lead to faster oxidization (rust) in the future. I'd recommend staying away from it for the purpose of cleaning hand tools. Masons use it as an extreme last resort to remove concrete and mortar. It must be disposed of properly as well, and stored very carefully.

GFire (author)  Badger4811 months ago

I agree Badger48, I find it hard to believe its cheaper than vinegar? Even so the cost of proper disposal and additional care for its use not worth it in my opinion. Thanks for the comment!

DanH27111 months ago

Just an editing FYI, you use elbow grease and patience, not patients. Leave the poor sick people alone. :)

KristineT911 months ago

The hand "cycle" is spelled "scythe"

mc251711 months ago

Some very valuable tips and much appreciated. Couple of ideas: substitute Loctite Marine Jelly for vinegar-- less expensive. also, wd-40 is not too good for preserving metal as there is very little residue. a light coat of machine oil as you suggested lasts a long time. Thanks again.

amcgamcg11 months ago

Thanks for the great advice. I didn't realize vinegar was so good at removing rust, you just need patience!

Alpha_geek11 months ago

Perhaps I'm missing something, but how do you remove and replace the brass rivets that secure the saw handle?

GFire (author)  Alpha_geek11 months ago

On the back side of the saw the brass was are actually screws no rivets.

Alpha_geek GFire11 months ago

That makes sense ... :-)

dollywild11 months ago
I live in a house built in 1917, on a block of such houses, in an American city known for it's great number of Victorian and Craftsman homes.

Hand tools are so important. when you look at an historic home- hand tools were it. yes, they may have been more specialized, and the work crews were certainly larger. But a great deal of Europe and a fair bit of North America was built with tools just like these. I sometimes even find a handmade nail, likely from the bottom of someone's toolbox.

I hope there are always people who restore, respect, and maintain these tools for the future. they have so much to teach us.

and if you cant tell from all the poetry, great 'ible!
DouglasK511 months ago

Ospho works good on rust. it is pricey though. any phosphoric acid product will do, even coke in a pinch.

joelly11 months ago

Even though this costs a little money to buy, it will do a Fantastic job of removing rust... in just a few hours instead of weeks... It's called Evapo-Rust... Can be reused & reused... Costs about $23/gal... Does a great job! You still have to wash, clean, and buff the metal to get the New Look... All of the Rust will be gone!! It is NON-Toxic... don't need gloves to use it... can be washed down the drain without any problems whatsoever. Try it, you will like it... if you can afford the $23...

ronjohnstone11 months ago

Vinegar is nothing more than a weak acetic acid that can be used in kitchens. You can purchase much stronger versions of acetic acid or, to really tackle rust, use a version of hydrochloric acid which attacks iron and rust efficiently. A diluted and much safer version is widely available as muriatic acid or swimming pool acid. Remember, ALWAYS add acid to water NEVER the other way or things could get very nasty very quickly, especially with concentrated acids. Also, never store unused acids anywhere near anything metal as fumes will escape and cause damage.

If you have rust on something small or delicate, buy yourself a "fiberglass eraser" and use it to almost magically remove the rust. You will be amazed at how well they work.

GFire (author)  ronjohnstone11 months ago

I'm well aware of that... my parents used to do Brass Cleaning and we had these huge vats for emmersion. Plus the big glass jars full of acid. My brother and I were both forbidden to mess with them. Thats why I'm keen on the vinegar and patience.

Jane Ward11 months ago
Awesome to see people reusing old tools, rather than dumping them. I love vinegar, its not as toxic to my kids or the environment as harsh chemicals are. Thanks for the post
GFire (author)  Jane Ward11 months ago

Agreed, its awesome...

Woodyconover11 months ago

Instead of vinegar, much better to use Naval Jelly, available at hardware stores. It's made to eliminate rust.

Shambaala1511 months ago
It is more delicate to use but much more effective and fast if you use Muriatic acid
JamesB3111 months ago

I believe the tool you are calling a curry comb is actually a file card used to clean machine files.

klixtopher11 months ago
Nice work. I'm not sure I had heard of the vinegar trick before. Have you ever used Evaporust (my preference for these jobs)? If so how does it compare with vinegar.
tazmo844811 months ago

Nice job...just to add a bit of salt table or rock in the vinegar helps too.

hollispublic11 months ago

You can also do the Sharpie trick and then lightly dampen a paper towel or rag with rubbing alcohol and pass it over the surface. As long as you don't press hard enough to get the rag down into the etched marks, they should stay dark while the surface returns to brightness. A little easier and doesn't remove material from the tool.

GFire (author)  hollispublic11 months ago

Cool, thanks for the tip

gm28011 months ago

Those are good ideas for saws, screwdrivers, knifes, sickles and such, but you really have to go lightly with squares and anything with markings. They usually are not too deep and if you sand aggressively, you can remove those marks. Another idea with marked tools. Once you get them sanded like you like, go over the markings with a sharpie and then lightly sand the excess off outside the marks. Amazing how new and easy it looks and reads. Good project. Thanks for posting it...

GFire (author)  gm28011 months ago

Thanks and I appreciate the suggestion. I wondered that after doing the small square. But given how darkly rusted it was I doubt it would have made a difference. You can see on the Lakeside square the indents are much deeper (not as old I'm guessing). My next attempt I'll try your method. Thanks again.