Rust Box Advice

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. Yuri Numerov says:

    I have seen people using coca-cola to remove the rust from locks and small tools, you could try with that.

    1. Pete Rippe says:

      thats interesting because i remember an experiment where cocacola rusts nails away in the matter of a week

    2. Ming Wu says:

      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. John Edgar Park says:

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

  2. Alan Ball says:

    I’d use a dremel steel brush it’d make em primped pretty and sharp.

  3. Tim Saylor says:

    Having just sharpened and lapped the sole of a hand plane, I feel your pain at having three in that condition to do. There goes your weeknd.

    1. John Edgar Park says:

      Yes, I bought the toolbox and contents for $20. That is, $20 plus the right to sink hundreds of dollars of my own time into fixing them up.

  4. Hippie Deb says:

    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

  5. T says:

    small (hobby size) sandblaster and then soak em in 10w30

  6. Duane Hofstetter says:

    I’ve not used one yet but Ive seen videos of using a soda blaster to clean metal parts without scratching the metal..

  7. Anonymous says:

    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.

  8. Dug North says:

    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

  9. Paul Balez says:

    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 !)

  10. John says:

    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.

  11. thawkins says:

    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

  12. Brent Rushing says:

    This first time you see how well this stuff works, it will blow your mind.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I used this instructable ( to make an electrolytic rust remover. I’ve had great success with it.

    You can see my build and some of the results here:

    1. John Edgar Park says:

      Nice build Tom, this looks like much more fun than scrubbing tools down by hand.

      1. Anonymous says:

        The big advantage is the way it de-rusts pitted metal.

    2. Steve Hoefer says:

      I suggest electrolytic removal too. also has a good writeup and some truly amazing results. (Though for the planes I’d buy new blades anyway and hope the bottoms were still smooth after electrolysis.)

  14. S Hutch says:

    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.

  15. Krystal Satterfield says:

    I remembe my husband using steel toothed prushes for this kind of thing…..

  16. Halfvast Conspirator says:

    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?

  17. Tony Olsen says:

    Soak items in white vinegar, then wash and oil. finish will be black

  18. Tony Olsen says:

    Soak in white vinegar, wash soap and water, finish will be black.

  19. Christopher Biggs says:

    +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)

  20. Jeff Wolski says:

    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?

  21. Ren Tescher says:

    Google “galoot” and follow the links for Old Tools archive

  22. jonathan says:

    +1 electrolysis. Seen it work on a 100 year old vise. Worked great.

  23. Bob D says:

    Rust remover products are sold at most automotive stores. Some are rust converters, others eat rust (phosphoric acid based).

  24. Anonymous says:

    I love that colorful pocket knife in the center section. That alone makes the whole purchase worth it.

  25. Bcook65 says:

    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

  26. Clare says:

    molasses, 1 part molasses + 3 or 4 parts water.

  27. Erich says:

    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.

  28. Anonymous says:

    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. :)

  29. Anonymous says:

    Check this out. Most of everything you would need to remove rust or even blue the metal can be found in your kitchen or garage.

  30. JosephW says:

    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.

  31. uhh yeah says:

    +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.

    1. Alistercrawley says:

      Anodic electrocleaning doesn’t produce hydrogen embrittlement on the level typically seen with other forms of electrolysis.

      But if worried about hard edges, like that of a saw or chisel, an hour or so at 300F should do the trick.


  32. Tim Lewallen says:

    I have an electrolytic rust removal setup that works great. I use it for tools, cast iron cook ware and rusted motorcycle parts. Nothing is easier.

  33. Arya Bahrami says:

    be great for working on your fixie, heck you can even put some of those in your exterior side-bag pockets so everyone knows you make things.

  34. Mark Harrison says:

    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 :)

  35. Anonymous says:

    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.

  36. Anonymous says:

    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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