Restoration #1: Antique electrolysis report

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Blog entry by kennethw posted 09-10-2009 06:54 AM 1205 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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Hi folks! Just a note on the progress of the electrolysis system that I’ve built in order to restore a few of my grandfather’s old tools. I don’t have any pictures to post just yet, but this has been a pretty amazing process. I can’t compare it to any other process, but it has been very interesting to watch the reaction as it does its magic. It seemed to be the least damaging and toxic/caustic way to go about bringing these tools back into usable condition.

In particular, today I noticed some detail stamped into one of the chisels coming into view, and am completely amazed. What was once a chunk of rust which only revealed my grandfather’s last (admittedly heavy-handed) sharpening attempts via a grinding wheel, is now shiny and distinct in many areas. I can clearly see the size stamp, and an interesting emblem stamped into the top: a diamond with some lines indicating a radiance around it. The diamond design literally revealed itself after about a day of cooking in the electric soup. I’ve taken some specific advice and gone with a low amperage in order to avoid a more violent expulsion of metal, which is supposed to retain more detail but takes longer.

I wish I could separate the metal from the wood and make it completely pristine, but I don’t want to damage anything. After the electrolysis I’ll hit the tang/ferrule area with hand sanding, and then refinish the handle. I’m not sure how strong the metal will still be, but it’s a 5/16” so it won’t see much heavy use.

I’m looking forward to cleaning up various parts of his #26! :)

I intend to document my setup, with some before and after photos, once I have managed to clean these articles up.

2 comments so far

View sidestepmcgee's profile


158 posts in 3146 days

#1 posted 09-10-2009 02:26 PM

cool,pictures would be great.What did you use for your electrolysis method?Do you know if this helps prevent rust in the future?thanks

-- eric post, tallahassee FL

View kennethw's profile


50 posts in 2728 days

#2 posted 09-10-2009 08:56 PM

Thanks, pictures coming soon! This page has a very good description of the process. I did end up building my own unit, though it’s not nearly as complicated as the one described on that page. It’s actually a very simple process, but since I tinker with electronics I had some components that I could use. I use a 5v, low amp power supply for a network router as the power source, feeding it through a variable resistor so I can control the current. It has been running for about 5 days now on various stuff. It’s mostly about keeping it safe, and being able to let it cook slowly. Most people recommend using a car battery charger, but those things pack quite a punch and can knock off bits of metal that might be recoverable by a slower process.

This will do nothing for future rust. In fact, as soon as you take parts out of the bath they will rust very quickly at first (within minutes!), so you have to do a bit of extra protection. After some cleanup and some time it should be back to normal iron/steel and you can use your normal rust protection routine on it.

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