Question:  Can old rusty steel tools and corroded steel items be restored to service?                    

Les Boulton Answers: Yes!                

Vintage items made of various grades of rusty steel such as workshop tools, gardening tools, vehicle parts and old military items can be restored to almost new condition. The cleaning and rust removal techniques for steel that are used to achieve a good result vary depending upon the detail required on the item and whether the implement is to be returned to service or just kept.

The procedure (outlined in full below), that is often employed involves a combination of mechanical abrasion to remove loose rust, and chemical cleaning to detach adherent rust. Afterwards the steel item can be polished and treated to ensure that rust does not return due to corrosion by atmospheric moisture.

A vintage rusty steel hatchet-hammer that requires restoration.

A vintage steel hatchet after mechanical and chemical cleaning in white vinegar. The steel was finished with a scotchbrite pad polish and the wooden handle was treated with linseed oil.

A Quick How To

Step One

The first stage is to carry out some form of mechanical abrasion to remove loose surface rust such as (a) stiff bristle brushing, (b) wire bushing, (c) grit blasting, (d) scotchbrite scouring, or combination of these techniques. 

Step Two

Chemical cleaning is then carried out using a variety of chemicals of which the most common and successful are (a) white vinegar containing acetic acid, (b) oxalic acid dissolved in water, (c) citric acid dissolved in water, (d) phosphoric acid solution. There are also many proprietary chemical rust removers on the market as well. As most of these chemicals are dangerous (e.g. acids) appropriate safety equipment should be employed when using them.  

Step Three

After the rust removal has been carried out (e.g. vinegar may take 12 hours immersion) the steel item should be thoroughly washed with water, dried, and treated with a corrosion prevention compound (CPC) to avoid the return of rust.

A Demonstration

You can find many great examples of these rust removal procedures used for restoration of corrosion-damaged steel tools and similar items on youtube.

Here’s a great example!

Thanks to Les Boulton for sharing this Q&A which first appeared in the ACA NZ Branch Newsletter September Edition 2021


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