This article is two-fold. First, I’m going to show you how to use electrolysis to remove rust from tools. Secondly, this is the first installment in a series of articles that will take you through the rehabilitation of a hand plane including finding replacement parts, tuning, and sharpening. You can watch as I get the plane back in working order.
Ever get to an auction or flea market and stare lovingly, but in despair, at a hand plane that you’d love to own, but are going to pass on because it’s too rusty? There’s a solution for this problem. Electrolysis. It’s crazy cool, and easy to do. Here’s the overview; submerge the tool in a solution of baking soda and water, connect a battery charger, and let it sit overnight. By the next day the rust will have sloughed off.
The beauty of using electrolysis for rust removal is that you’re not abrading the tool and removing metal. It’s better for the tool, especially if you’re concerned about its value, if you don’t hit it with sandpaper or a wire wheel. This, and the ease of doing it, makes electrolysis the perfect answer for restoring old tools. Electrolysis provides a very easy way to get rust out of a tool’s nooks and crannies.
I picked up the plane in this story cheap. You’ll see it go through the rust removal process here and, in future stories, get to follow along as it’s restored and tuned up.
Here’s a Bailey #4 hand plane I picked up for $25. Last patent date on the body is April 1910. It’s sound, but has a lot of surface rust on it, and is unusable in its current condition. I’ll remove all the parts from the body and use electrolysis to remove the rust.
Gather your electrolysis supplies together –
An electrolysis vat that is non-conductive. A plastic five-gallon bucket works well for most tools.
An anode (I’m using a coffee can)
Auto battery charger
Baking soda or washing powder
Scotch Brite pad and soft bristle brush
Make an anode. You need some kind of sacrificial steel for this. It’s best if the anode surrounds the tool so the electrolysis can happen from all sides. The anode will get eaten up by the electrolysis process, and will need to be replaced after being used a few times.
Connect a lead to the tool. You’ve got to have a good connection or the process won’t work well. This can be challenging with a rusty tool. You may have to clean a small section of the tool with sandpaper to make certain you have contact.
Make up the electrolyte solution. You need enough water to completely submerge the tool. Add one tablespoon of baking soda or washing powder (either one will work) per gallon of water. Mix the solution to dissolve the powder.
Start Removing Rust. Connect the clips from the battery charger to the leads on the tool and anode. Make sure you get this right. With the charger unplugged connect the positive to the anode and the negative to the tool. If you do this backwards your tool will become the sacrificial anode. Set the charger on a 2-amp charge and plug it in. Don’t let the connections from the charger touch the electrolyte solution.
The vat of electrolyte solution is pretty benign stuff, but will burn your lawn if you dump it all in one spot. It’s best to dilute the liquid before disposing of it.
Now that the rust is gone from the plane body it’s time to do some shopping. In the next installment we’ll have a look at the replacement parts I purchased for this tool.
Photos By Author
Related video: Removing Rust with Electrolysis