Last year I picked up a Sandvik saw from the front yard of one of my neighbours. I was just going to harvest the bolts from the handle. When I looked at it the other day I realized it was quite a good saw. It’s missing a bolt, but it has the cool scrolling serpents on the handle. Likely it was once a Sandvik No.277, 26″ (12 PPI/11 TPI) saw. But the markings on the saw are all but gone, largely because they are not etched, but screened on. There is nothing really remarkable about these saws, largely because there are so many of them out there – but the Swedish steel is good.
Now the saw blade had a good amount of rust on it, and the conundrum with saw blades is how to remove the rust? Rust on a blade can make for a very dirty cut, and a saw that tends to stick in the kerf. Not good. It doesn’t matter the quality of the steel if the tool doesn’t actually work. Now a traditional route for removing saw blade rust is various grits of wet-and-dry sandpaper (silicon carbide), and some form of oil-based lubricant. Not exactly green though, and I don’t use stuff like WD40 unless I have to. Evapo-Rust is good, but frankly it isn’t exactly cheap, and things like saw blades need a fair amount of coverage. What is the cheapest, easiest way of doing this? Vinegar.
Part of the problem with saw blades is inherently their awkward shape. The best option would be a long (plastic) tray to lay the blade in, like a boot tray perhaps? An alternative is a plastic bubble-mailer cut open and turned into a trough. Remove the handle, place in a tray, add vinegar, and leave the blade to soak for 6-8 hours. The vinegar does its job, stripping the rust, and leaving a smooth gray surface. I found that generally the rust and any other contaminants on the blade end up as coagulated sediment in the liquid. After taking the blade out of the vinegar, you can neutralize it with some baking soda.
The downside? It stripped away what remained of the markings. But there are limitations to every treatment. It also leaves a layer of black (Ferric) acetate on the blade, which is quite messy to remove, but a scrub with a scouring pad under water will wash away most of it (I would wear gloves, because the acetate is kind of messy). I have also use Barkeepers Friend to scrub the acetate off (careful to scrub it off quickly, as it too is acidic). The blade can then be finished with some 400 grit silicon carbide paper to provide some sheen, and then waxed to prevent further corrosion (I use Veritas Tool Wax). There is little point to shining saw blades to a pristine condition, as old saw blades will likely never achieve this, and frankly who cares, if they are to be used.
Vinegar is cheap, biodegradable, and easy to use. It’s not instantaneous, but it does work. The vinegar I use is plain old grocery store vinegar at 5% acidity. You can also use cleaning vinegar, which is circa 12% acidity, but I don’t know if it works quicker or more aggressively. Some info on the web adds salt to the mix – salt (NaCl) + vinegar (acetic acid) produces HCl, which is a stronger acid, but frankly it isn’t warranted, and isn’t exactly safe.
If you want to check out what happens to a bunch of tools left in a bucket of vinegar for 19 months, check out this post Vinegar rust removal, 19 months later.