Workbench Buildup #1: Desmond-Stephan Vise Restoration

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Blog entry by justsawin posted 01-28-2009 01:20 AM 11449 reads 2 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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Not exactly a woodworking project, but will parlay into a workbench project to come. This is an old vise I got from my dad’s shop. I don’t know too much about it, but it says Desmond-Stephan Mfg Co. on the left side and Urbana, Ohio on the right.

I restored it to useable condition and will mount it on my new workbench after building it.

Before Restoration. A rusted mess!

I used an “Electrolytic Rust Removal” process to remove the bulk of the rust. I couldn’t find pure washing soda (Sodium Carbonate) usually called for, but used generic “Oxyclean” stuff which is a mixture of Sodium Carbonate and Sodium Percarbonate. This is at the very start of the process, but after a few hours there was a heavy layer of rust-colored bubbles on the surface of the water. It works great!

After rust removal, I did some cleanup and paint removal with a wire brush on an angle grinder and then painted. I put a light oil finish on the handle, a mixture of Boiled Linseed Oil and Spar Urethane. I polished the screw and bars with white rouge on a buffing wheel. The final result:

5 comments so far

View cabinetmaster's profile


10874 posts in 3703 days

#1 posted 01-28-2009 01:35 AM

Wow, Great job. That vise looks brand new. You did a super job and it will give you many more years of service.

-- Jerry--A man can never have enough tools or clamps

View lew's profile


12320 posts in 3900 days

#2 posted 01-28-2009 01:36 AM

Could you go into more detail about the rust removal process?

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View justsawin's profile


4 posts in 3558 days

#3 posted 01-28-2009 02:36 AM

Sure. It is a fantastic process for restoring tools, since it removes the rust and leaves the base metal unharmed. I used a 12V battery and battery charger as the power source. The positive lead goes to the sacrificial anodes (the hot-roll steel bars around the bucket), and the negative lead to the part to be cleaned.

I hooked up my multimeter inline to measure the current. It started at around 4A with one scoop of the oxyclean, and around 8 amps with the battery charger on high and a second scoop of oxyclean. The more amps you push, the faster the cleaning process. The current draw is influenced by the amount of Sodium Carbonate powder used, the surface area of the parts and sacrificial anodes, and their proximity to the part. It took several hours to clean the vise. Hydrogen and oxygen bubbles are also produced, so keep this ventilated and away from an ignition source.

You want the steel bars spaced around the part, because the cleaning is greatly influenced by the proximity of the bars to the part. Closer is better (will raise the current and provide better cleaning), but be sure not to let the pieces touch.

When the parts come out they have a black film on them. Some wire brushing will remove it and any loose paint as well.

Here is a link that has more details

View lew's profile


12320 posts in 3900 days

#4 posted 01-28-2009 02:44 AM

Thanks for the information and the link. This will be really helpful!


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View NimbleJack's profile


9 posts in 2926 days

#5 posted 02-20-2014 08:27 AM

Finding washing soda can be a real booger. The good news is that you can make your own from baking soda.

The difference between baking soda and washing soda is water and carbon dioxide. When baking soda is heated up to high temperatures, it breaks down to become washing soda, water steam, and carbon dioxide.

So, the steam and carbon dioxide are released during the cooking process, leaving you with… washing soda!

The process is really simple. Just heat your oven to 400 F (or 200 C), sprinkle some baking soda on a shallow pan, and bake it for about half hour, until it changes composition. You should also stir it up occasionally, just so that it bakes more evenly.

So how do you know when it changes into washing soda? That part takes a little more work; just a closer, watchful eye. Once you know the differences between the 2 sodas, you’ll be able to tell in no time.

Baking soda is powdery, crystallized like salt, and clumps together. Washing soda is grainy, dull and opaque, and is separate grains.

-- Jack - Olympia, Washington

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