Tool Restoration

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About: I enjoy doing graphics projects and wood working as well. Plus problem solving. If I see a problem I try to come up with a solution given my available resources. But don't call me McGyver.

Intro: Tool Restoration

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

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.

Step 2: SOAK

I've used a variety of trays / bins to do my soaking. Whenever possible remove wood handles, but you'll see one square I had where this was impossible and it didn't seem to hurt the wood at all. The picture here is a shoe tray that you'd use in a entryway. I filled it with vinegar as much as I could with it going over the edges allowing for displacement of the items.

(NOTE: its recommended to have a very secure flat surface for this to set on). Place your subjects in the vinegar bath as submerged as possible. You want the exposed rusty surface covered as much as possible.

Here's where patience comes in.

Now wait. Depending how much rust you have, it could take up to a week or more to allow the vinegar to work. The picture shown has been sitting for at least a week.

Note: in some cases the rust was so bad that after waiting for a week a crust of rust had actually formed on the surface.

Step 3: Wipe, Sand, Rinse, Repeat(if Necessary)

You'll have noticed in the Soak picture that yellow residue forming around the blades. This is the rust slowly coming off. Those two pieces, the saw blade and hand cycle had soaked for one week. I used an old cheap brush to lightly brush off the loosened rust from the blades and continued the soak for a second week.

Once you feel you've gotten as much rust off with the vinegar the hard part begins.

Wipe the pieces dry with old shop rags that you plan to throw away as they'll become completely rust covered.

Begin sanding with a heavy gauge grit sand paper. You may deem it necessary to use the vibrating palm sander for really stubborn areas. Continue sanding, rinse or wipe down with a wet rag of vinegar, dry again, repeat. You might find it necessary to use a wire brush to get into detailed areas. As you progress go to lighter grits and or steel wool. Eventually you'll get down to real metal color.

Once your happy with the look of the metal move on to any wood attachments. Sand these down with light grit to remove any oil or dirt. Once your happy with those surfaces move on to the next step.

Step 4: Seal & Treat

Probably the simplest part of the restoration. Varnish or polyurethane the wood portions. I recommend masking off the metal areas, if still attached to the wood. Once the wood portions are dry reassemble to the metal parts. For the metal parts spray with WD 40 or any light oil to help seal and protect the metal from future rust. That's pretty much it.

I know it'll seem like a lot of work but if your like me you'll appreciate the finished results and in some cases be surprised at what you might discover along the way. Below are some case by case examples of things I've cleaned and restored.

When I took the handle off I was surprised the fittings were brass. This handsaw is a Disston. Unfortunately the detail imprinting on the blade was barely distinguishable. I've included a picture what it apparently looked like originally that I found on the internet.

Step 5: Cleaned

Here are a pair of old screwdrivers. They are from a set 6 of different sizes. Before on the left, after cleaning on the right. Not finished with varnish yet though.

And just to show you how screwy I got doing this, here are some rusted old screws (I had to save from and old park bench) and how they cleaned up. This is where I used the curie comb brush to clean into the groves of the screws. I think I just saved myself a whole $1.30. LOL

Step 6: Restored & Finished

Here is the originally pictured soaking hand cycle finished.

The hand square believe it or not was completely black as the handle which I determined to be walnut. A big surprise, there was no evidence looking at it in the beginning that it had a brass facing on it. After some research I've determined, according to the inscription, that its H.S.B. & Co. OVB( Hibbard Spencer Bartlett - Our Very Best) which appears to have been located in the Chicago, IL area. This would make sense as most of my dads tools were handed down to him from his father where they all lived in Mishawaka, IN.

The hammer axe I've been using for years and I wish I had a before picture because the entire thing was all brown and rusty looking. Heck the day before I started cleaning it I had just used it to chop out some tree roots to facilitate me laying some pavers near the patio. When I started cleaning it I was surprised to find the VanCamp logo on it. After some research I'm estimating its from the mid 50s to early 60s. This company was located in Indianapolis, IN. This also makes sense why my dad had it. Since he worked in Indianapolis the majority of his life.

The Crusader Scribe/Compass I use a lot more than I thought I ever would. It cleaned up nicely. The second picture shows another scribe/compass gives you a good before after even though they aren't the same item.

The Hand Rasp file was as black as could be. It cleaned up pretty good considering. I'm still researching how to sharpen this as it has curved blade edges. The painters tape still on to protect the metal portion of the handle.

Step 7: Trim Saws

I have several trim saws that were in need of some special care. The first one with a curved blade was in the worst shape, its handle had split and needed sharpening.

Removing the old handle I crafter a new one matching its overall shape. I bore holes to match the previous handle and to give it a bit more panache I carved some details and personalized it with my initials (thats the GF looking box/cross like thing at the base). I sanded down the blade after a good varnish soak.

Sharpened the teeth with one of my chisel files. Coated the entire blade with WD 40 and wiped clean. Varnished the handle and attached it. It now cuts through tree limbs like a hot knife through butter (ok well still using the elbow grease).

Now since this was an odd shaped saw it doesn't stand up so good and I hate hanging saws, so for some extra protection of the blade I took a piece of old scrap garden hose and placed over the business edge of the blade holding in place with a couple mini bungee cords.

Also picture are a couple old restored trim saws that I had to remove the handles from blades. Cleaned the blades and varnished handles.


Post Note: I hope you take the time and effort to clean & restore some of your tools. You might be surprised what you find along the way and at the end you'll appreciate your efforts.

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    36 Discussions

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    kz1

    2 days 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.

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    GFirekz1

    Reply 21 hours ago

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

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    kz1GFire

    Reply 20 hours 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.

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    chrisklingerkz1

    Reply 2 days 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.

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    kz1chrisklinger

    Reply 2 days 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. :-)

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    garrydelfkz1

    Reply 2 days 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.

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    ArthurJ5

    2 days 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.

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    GFireArthurJ5

    Reply 21 hours ago

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

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    Alvin L

    1 day ago on Introduction

    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...

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    GFireAlvin L

    Reply 22 hours ago

    Goood tip Thanks!

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    Badger48

    1 day 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.

    https://www.naturalhandyman.com/iip/infxtra/infmur.html

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    GFireBadger48

    Reply 22 hours 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!

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    DanH271

    1 day ago

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

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    KristineT9

    1 day ago

    The hand "cycle" is spelled "scythe"

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    mc2517

    1 day ago on Introduction

    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.

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    amcgamcg

    1 day ago

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

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    Alpha_geek

    1 day ago

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

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    GFireAlpha_geek

    Reply 1 day ago

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

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    dollywild

    1 day ago on Step 7

    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!