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 to 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.
Follow These Electrolysis Rust Removal Steps
Here’s a Bailey #4 hand plane I picked up for $25. The 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.
- – 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
- – Measuring spoon
- – Scotch Brite pad and soft bristle brush
- – Wire leads
- – Rubber gloves
Wash the tool you’ll be treating. Make sure there isn’t any oil or wax on it that will prevent the electrolysis process from working. Give it a good bath with soap and water.
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.
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 backward, 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.
After some time the top of the vat will be covered with sludge. This is a good thing. The sludge is the rust coming off the tool.
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!
Photos By Author