Rust Box Advice

I picked up this lovely old toolbox full of tools at a yard sale recently. Any advice on reviving some of those rusty tools in there? Please add your favorite refinishing/de-rusting tips in the comments.

90 thoughts on “Rust Box Advice

    1. The phosphoric acid in the Coca-Cola dissolves the rust. Basically, Naval Jelly (rust remover, available at any hardware store) is phosphoric acid. Phosphoric acid will probably also remove any remaining finish on the metal, which may be some sort of bluing.

      1. Thanks Yuri and Ming, I’m going to try out a few different methods — first up is Coke or Pepsi.

  1. WD-40 or machine oil and steel wool. It’s a lot of work, but it’ll let you see if any of them will actually stand up to cleaning with a dremel tool … plus it should help with loosening any hinges or screws

  2. I have had good success using electrolysis with baking soda to remove oxidation from steel and iron items. Basically, you make a solution of baking soda and water in a plastic container. Get a battery charger and connect the negative lead to your rusty piece and the positive lead to a piece of stainless steel with a good amount of surface area. Suspend your item and the stainless steel in the solution and turn on the battery charger. Let it run for a while, and the rust will be removed.

    Be sure to only do this on steel and iron items. Items made from aluminum, brass, or other exotics may be damaged using this process. It would be a good idea to remove any wood handles or to at least keep the wood out of the solution.

    There are a lot of places online that have a full, step-by-step process for doing this. Here is just one that I found.

    A quick Google search should yield plenty of sites and videos on this process.

  3. I have seen one gentleman disassemble the tools, soak the rusted metal parts in mineral spirits, then rub everything with with steel wool soaked in mineral spirits. This process was repeated many times. Steel wool won’t get rid of any deeply pitted rust marks. For pitted non-painted surfaces, you can use wet-dry sandpaper soaked with WD-40 working your through coarse to fine grits. It goes without saying that you should wear gloves and work in a well-ventilated area.

    -Dug North

  4. Vinegar + cookingSalt.
    Immerge the rusty object in it.
    It’ will clean rust without dissolving metal.
    But, you have to use a lot of vinegar and salt for a big rusty toolbox. As much salt as it is possible to dissolve.
    Do not touch liquid directly (clorhydric acid) or breath vapors !!!
    Do not throw the resulting liquid anywhere, it will contain metallic ions (even heavy metals !)

  5. My first inclination would be: don’t bother restoring them as some of them look too far gone. Instead, I may be inclined to use them for some sort of decoration. Those block planes, cleaned up just slightly, may make nice LED wall sconces.

    But the goal here is restoration.

    For rust, I’ve had had good luck with Naval Jelly as a rust remover and inhibitor. Following with a good brushing with a wire wheel and a buffer on a bench grinder. Then, for tools to be sharpened, use (extra) corse through (extra) fine, purpose-made diamond sharpening tools to get a razor sharp edge.

    From the looks of the photo, the wooden handle on the electrician’s screwdriver looks like it might need to be replaced. That would be a fairly simple lathe project. The coping saw’s handle could probably be saved with a light sanding and a good wax.

    In all cases, obviously, taking care of the tools of great importance. To keep any set of tools for several lifetimes, there are a few things my father taught me: use the right tool for the job; keep edges sharp; keep tools clean and away from moisture; periodically wipe down all metal surfaces with a light machine oil; wood handles and metal and wood work tables should be waxed.

    Good luck with the restoration! It would be neat to see some before and after pictures of those.

  6. electrolysis works really well i have used it several time with good results. also naval jelly works well just be careful with this one.. also once you get the heavy rust off lapping the plane blades and soles on a piece of glass with sandpaper on it work really well to flatten the back of hte blade and sole of the plan. also a wire wheel on a bench grinder will work on oddly shaped tools just make sure you wear a face shield

  7. Coca Cola contains some carbonic acid, which does attack rust but it can take days and is not too effective. Stronger carbonic acid chemical treatments can be found at autoparts (like Napa) store. But I just tried something new recently called ‘ Evaporust’ and was very impressed with its ability to remove fine and coarse rust via just soaking. It was almost magical and left not nasty residue on the steel surface like other treatments do You can find it now at Harbor Freight for about $9 a quart, and it is worth it.

  8. Those planes MIGHT be worth saving depending on what kind they are. You will have to work them over pretty good to get them tuned up and the blades sharp, and even then if they are cheapies they might not work very well. The box looks pretty far gone. The rest of the stuff is, uh, not much more than, uh, junk. Is there more below?

  9. +1 Electrolysis.

    I use Sodium Carbonate (Washing Soda).

    The mnemonic for remembering which way to put the leads is “Put the Bailey on the Black”
    (Bailey is the original manufacturer of the planes Stanley made famous, and the Bailey name is usually
    still on the castings)

  10. When it comes to the wooden tray and tool handles, don’t refinish it! I say dust it off, wipe it down with a *slightly* damp towel, dry it off, and rub some oil on it. Done.

    Are you planning on using the planes?

  11. Use a dry soda blaster. It is extremely gentle and is often used on aircraft because it will not damage the metal but is effective in cleaning surface deposits and prepping for refinishing. And second, it is eco friendly.. Just plain ole baking soda. Use a good penetrating oil to clean all metal surfaces and seal with bees wax.
    A little sandpaper on the wood box and wood wax sealer

  12. Once the rusty metal is degreased, phosphoric acid works well to remove the rust (iron oxide), leaving a black ferric phosphate residue which can be scraped or brushed off.

    Be careful if degreasing aluminium or die cast parts in caustic soda, as it is exothermic and will dissolve the aluminium over time.

    A cheaper and simpler way to remove rust is to stick the rusty iron in a solution of molasses. The molasses apparently contain chelating agents which help to dissolve the iron oxide. The resulting solution is good for typically iron deficient citrus trees in clay soils.

    You can also sharpen rusty files his way.

    The cleaned metal will rust quickly if not oiled, painted or phosphate primed quickly.

  13. If you don’t want to keep the patena, On the box and the tools I would use a brass wire brush on a electric drill to get the worst of it off. If you want to get it all off, find some ‘Naval Jelley’, an acedic jell that you brush on and then wash off in plenty of clean water). Once you get it clean, use a light oil (like a small amount of WD40 or similar, and wipe it off with a soft rag.

    To make the planes usable, go look at some web sites like Hock Tools for information on tuning and sharpening your planes. Ron Hock sells some great tools, and provides quality information to anyone. ( his sites are and for his blog – I am just an interested person with no ties)

    If you want to work on the wood handles, clean, a light sanding, and make them very smooth to the touch, then use a clear shellac or polyurethane.

    Personally I like your picture showing some well used tools. But to me it would look better if they showed recent use. :)

  14. Im restoring tools now as part of my woodworking hobby and I have extensively used evaporust on all my tools. I have quite a collection of old hand planes from various companies that were made anywhere from 50 to 100 or more years ago. does my heart good to know they still have use.

    I have a blog where i post general stuff on and often list tool restoration projects.

  15. +1 for electrolysis. Check out “hydrogen embrittlement” as an after-effect though. Got to heat embrittled metal in the oven for 4 hours or so (can’t remember what temperature) to counteract it.

  16. A 10% solution of Citric Acid is what I use. You can buy it in the baking goods section at the supermarket.

    Make up the solution and dunk the disassembled rusty object. Any paint remaining is unaffected. I then clean it up with a Scotch ™ Pad. Rinse off, dry in a warm place. I’ve been known to warm up the oven slightly and place the items in there to finish drying when Mrs Harrison was not there :)

  17. I don’t know if anyone has recommended oxalic acid aka wood bleach. I use it for my rusted bicycle parts. Just get a bucket and fill it with hot water until it covers the tool and add a tablespoon or two of oxalic acid and wait a few hours to see if the rust is coming off.

  18. I don’t know if anyone has recommended oxalic acid aka wood bleach. I use it for my rusted bicycle parts. Just get a bucket and fill it with hot water until it covers the tool and add a tablespoon or two of oxalic acid and wait a few hours to see if the rust is coming off. After i wash it off with cold water and use a brass brush to remove any rust that might still be on the part.

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John Edgar Park likes to make things and tell people about it. He builds project for Adafruit Industries. You can find him at and twitter/IG @johnedgarpark

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