refurbishing old tools #13: Electrolysis is my method of choice for rust removal, what is yours?

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by Dave posted 01-08-2012 05:58 AM 10490 reads 5 times favorited 57 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 12: Stanley 71 Part 13 of refurbishing old tools series Part 14: An old stick n rabbet »

Electrolysis has become my favorite way to clean an old tool. It is a chemical method but is one of the cleanest and greenest ways to do it. First I clean the dirt and debris off of the project. Then take a roto tool with a brush and loosen paint, grease and large rust deposits. I believe this method leaves as much of the original metal as possible. There are some fine articles on the subject. WWGOA , americanwoodworker , and a ton of or lj’s have posted on the subject, here is just one..
There are many ways to do this and if I was to use another I probably would choose citric acid. [thanks Dennis]
Now today I have an old sargent plane that I found at an antique shop. I had cleaned it up rather quickly and tuned the iron. I used it for about a month and have found myself grabbing it first. So the need to put a real cleaning and tuning came about. I broke the plane down tied the main pieces together with copper wire. I was in the mist of doing a glue up. You know the drill , glue wait, glue wait….... I then grabbed a plastic container, fixed it up with a good solid method for attaching leads to. Then I went looking for a power supply. Most of the articles tell you to use a car battery charger. The new style charger is designed to charge a car battery. The technology is smart enough to tell if there is a load attached to it. So the new ones will not even come on unless you place a battery in the loop. I happen to have a good old 12 volt power supply that will crank out about 15 amps if needed. Leftovers from working in the oil fields. I placed the plane in the plastic bin and turned the power on. She started the process instantly.And the cost was nothing. I used materials that were on hand. To me that is the beauty of it. I will take some pictures of the finished plane a post when it is done.
Here is a video of the cooking process, its about a minute and a half.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

57 comments so far

View swirt's profile


3417 posts in 3171 days

#1 posted 01-08-2012 06:20 AM

Interesting to watch the bubbles in the video. I’ve been using Evaporust with good results. But its not cheap.

-- Galootish log blog,

View hhhopks's profile


654 posts in 2576 days

#2 posted 01-08-2012 06:39 AM

Electrolysis is cheaper but the initial cost is more.
Once you got it set up, it’s the way to go.

-- I'll be a woodworker when I grow up. HHHOPKS

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 3039 days

#3 posted 01-08-2012 06:45 AM

Thanks you swirt. This was one of those I have got to find something to do while the glue dries. I wasn’t going to run up to the store and grab some chemicals. Note, nearest store with Evaporust 30 miles. I had everything on hand. I have used this process a few times before and find it easy and noncorrosive. Thanks for the read.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 3039 days

#4 posted 01-08-2012 06:48 AM

hhhopks, that would be true if you had to buy all the materials from the start. Power supply’s are everywhere. I have seen a guy using a computer power supply, bucket, and washing soda.
Thank you for the comments

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15694 posts in 2817 days

#5 posted 01-08-2012 07:33 AM

Right now, it’s evaporust. I do plan to try electolysis ‘someday’ though. So until then ‘prefered’ is ‘only.’ :-)

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View wolflrv's profile


85 posts in 2570 days

#6 posted 01-08-2012 07:45 AM

I’m a die-hard Evaporust fan…LOL! I’m quite sure I’d blow myself up if I tried the electrolysis method…but I feel fairly safe working with the Evaporust. I was always lousy in science class…:)

-- Handcrafted toys, models & gifts at --

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 3039 days

#7 posted 01-08-2012 08:02 AM

Got ya Smitty, as always thank you.
wolflrv my kids mascot is a wolf and when I read that all I could picture was the school mascot on fire running. That is funny stuff. Really its not that dangerous. You get more flammable vapor when you use denatured alcohol to rub something down.
Its just water and soda. A basic electrolytic. Just add electricity and don’t think about the Hindenburg ;)

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View Don W's profile

Don W

19007 posts in 2766 days

#8 posted 01-08-2012 04:08 PM

I’m an evapo-rust guy too. I’ve tried Electrolysis and agree it works, but I’ve got the new style battery charger, so until I fuss with a computer power cell or find an older charger, its evapo-rust for me.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 3039 days

#9 posted 01-08-2012 04:50 PM

Thank you Don. Looks like the Evapro is in the lead. To me if I was doing a saw that would be the way to go. The wife would look at me funny with an old saw in the bathtub. That would be the only place I could fully submerge it. ;)

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View Don W's profile

Don W

19007 posts in 2766 days

#10 posted 01-08-2012 05:09 PM

I agree. I’ve been married a long long time, but that may be the end. If you scroll about half way down you can on this blog you can see what I did. I made a tray out of aluminum flashing. I actually made it for cleaning rifles before bluing, but its found its second life.

I recommend you keep the evapo-rust out of the bath tub, but thats just me.

By the way, my charger will work, it just seems to take longer. I assume its not putting out full amperage. It may be ok for battery’s, but sucks for Electrolysis.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View EEngineer's profile (online now)


1117 posts in 3812 days

#11 posted 01-08-2012 05:17 PM

My first choice is Evaporust too. The biggest reason is it won’t touch paint.

My last restoration was a Homecraft bandsaw. The stand was rather rusty. I built a PVC tube to soak the legs of the stand. When I pulled the first leg out of the tube, I couldn’t believe my eyes – Evaporust had stripped all the rust from the leg and left the original paint! The leg looked almost new except for the feet which looked like they had been standing in water for a long time. I still primed and painted the legs but I was impressed with the initial job by Evaporust!

-- "Find out what you cannot do and then go do it!"

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3314 days

#12 posted 01-08-2012 05:45 PM

nice cooking Dave , like your use of electrolytic capacitors :-)
one thing though , from what I remembering having read (don´t trust my brain .. lol )
I think you are cooking with too much power and simply blow the rust of instead of
letting the rust be rebuild as I have read shuold be possiple with electrolysis by using
alot lower Volt and amps to do it with and with the size of the plane I think it was under a ½volt
and 100milli amp and then let it cook over several days instead
I think it was mentioned in a blog Wayne C made about electrolysis down in the comments … (not sure
if it was in that blog .. just 90% ) :-)

when I come around a labritory power supply I deffently will try the elctrolysis metode myself
since even the Citrus Acid seems to be a little too agressive for some iron and have hard time
removing some of the very old rust that seems to have made a protecting layer over the surface
speciel in the holes we call pitts in the ironsurface
and the electrolysis metode shuold be able to take care of them by rebuildding the metal
but I have to look into it alot more before I´m 100% sure :-)

take care

View Viking's profile


880 posts in 3394 days

#13 posted 01-08-2012 05:57 PM

Another vote for Evaporust. It’s simple to use and safe. Best place to buy is at Tractor Supply for about $20 per gallon. You can also get it at Harbor freight but their regular price is almost $30 though they do put it on sale once in a while.

You can use it over and over and I occasionally run mine though a coffee filter and get rid of the residue. When it no good you can pour it down the drain.

-- Rick Gustafson - Lost Creek Ranch - Colorado County, Texas

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2686 days

#14 posted 01-08-2012 06:43 PM

I’m a great believer in electrolytic de-rusting.
I’ve been using it for years in repairing pieces of antique engines and have never used more than a 10 amp battery charger…. My 2-10-50 was $30 from a hardware store in North Dakota about 13 years ago.
I use washing soda, (Arm and Hammer). This isn’t soap or detergent, it’s more of an enhancement to the detergent. It comes in a yellow-orange box from the detergent accessory section of the grocery store for about $4.
You can also use baking soda but you need to put it in a 305° oven for a few hours to let it release the extra oxygen molecule in the chain.

One thing to be careful of….. electrolytic de-rusting creates hydrogen gas. Those are the bubbles you see on the positive end. There isn’t much, but if it gets concentrated in a small space you may find that you have removed the rust and a whole bunch of facial parts, especially if you are a smoker or light your way with a candle.

Here are some pictures of a couple of things I have done. One is a really old Plasticut rasp and another is 1940’s Irwin Adjustable auger bit. Gallery
I also did a Sargent 414 plane with this method but never took any before pictures.

Just as a bit of information, an old fellow I know… (he probably makes the oldest one here look like a New Years Baby), has de-rusted entire engine blocks, including pistons, crankshafts and miscellaneous parts all at once with this same method.

As a final note, using the washing soda it never wears out. You just keep adding more water. Even if you want to change it, it’s biodegradable so you can pour it on your garden. I would also experiment with the amount of soda used. with low amperage use more soda to create a better circuit. I started out using about 2 tablespoons full per gallon of water and now load it until the emulsion can’t hold anymore.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 3039 days

#15 posted 01-08-2012 07:57 PM

Don a great idea for large items. Good blog. Now try to place a battery in line and see if your reaction is better. Two electrodes on the power supply side may help.
EEngineer Yes I agree with trying to leave as much of the original as possible. Most of mine are at a state of needing total stripping. The electrolysis method almost always requires you to remove the paint.
Dennis it is an exact science. My power supply is adjustable by voltage. You can adjust the electrolytic mixture { amount of baking soda} that will adjust the current draw. I have found if you crank it up to much the copper will enter the iron of the plane.
Viking I did not realize it was that friendly. A great price a the tractor store. I will have to look at the data sheet and see what it is made out of. Reusable to.
Dallas a vote for this method, great. Some very nice refurbs in your link. I did not know you needed to cook the baking soda. So you have to cook the baking soda, do you wash the washing soda ;). Thanks for the recipe for ingredients. My mixture was about 2 tablespoons of soda uncooked per gallon. And I would like to see the tube and power supply used for a whole engine. WOW
Thank you very much for your time gentlemen. You are helping me to refine my process and look back at other methods.
May all your tools stay rust free. And as my wife tells me I have a mind like a steel trap, rusted shut;)

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

showing 1 through 15 of 57 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics