Removing rust – the experiments (iv): liquid rust removers

To test the liquid solutions, I used a series of  vintage blades with varying levels of rust – it is challenging to find four blades rusted in exactly the same way. Each blade will be submerged halfway in a rust removing liquid – vinegar, molasses, citric acid, and oxalic acid. The blades were chosen for their ingrained rust – rut that had been on the blades for years, perhaps  more than a decade (or two, or three?).

Experiment 1: Vinegar

Liquid: 250ml of white vinegar

The first experiment involved placing a blade in vinegar. I used white vinegar – although I would imagine cider vinegar would work just as well. After about an hour you can physically see the vinegar working, with small bubbles forming in the solution. The vinegar stripped the rust from the blade within 8 hours. The rust was almost lifted off the surface of the steel, forming sheets of precipitate, which slid off the blade into the base of the jar.

Vinegar seems to be extremely effective in removing rust, and leaving a very clean surface. It is also probably the cheapest form of rust removal there is, however one has to be somewhat cautious, as it is an acid, and parts left too long in the solution might experience some etching. If you look closely at this blade, there is substantial pitting, but in this case that is the long term action of the corrosion itself.

A little too much pitting perhaps?

Experiment 2:  CITRIC ACID

Liquid: 25g of powdered citric acid to 250ml of water

The citric acid also stripped the rust from the blade in under 8 hours. Unlike the rust flakes produced by the vinegar, here the rust came off the blade in small particles, and settled to the bottom of the jar.

A cautionary note here, that citric acid is corrosive, so care has to be taken when using it. This blade also had pitting, again the result of long term corrosion.

Experiment 3:  Evapo-rust

To be honest I was not going to bother with using Evapo-rust, largely because of the previous post on the Stanley No.15 rust-heap – we know it works very efficiently. However, from the perspective of speed on these plane blades, it seems like the Evapo-rust is one of the slower performers. After 48 hours there was little to no activity on the blade, and I tried a second blade in another jar – it too showed little activity in the 24 hours it was soaking. To test that I am not loosing my mind, I placed a rusty lateral adjustment lever in EvapoRust from the same container – and it actually worked (see next post). I then checked the blade from the Stanley No.16, and noticed it too had mediocre rust removal. The image below, like those previous is the original blade on the left and the post-rust removal blade right. It’s hard to effectively tell them apart. It has removed some basic surface rust.

My conclusion from this is that possibly EvapoRust does not work that convincingly on hardened steel, but works great on iron, or cast iron plane parts, e.g. bodies, lever caps, etc. Hardened steel might not be the right consistency to produce the chelating effect that Evapo-Rust relies on (ideas/comments? – I could find any info anywhere, and am yet to receive an email back from Evapo-rust Canada).

Experiment 4:  Molasses

Liquid: 50ml molasses to 250ml of water

With a ratio of 1:5  this was the slowest performing of all the liquids. I had this blade soaking for 48 hours in the molasses, after which I gave it a scrub with a scouring pad. The results are quite good, with the rust being removed from the blade. I imagine leaving it for 72 hours would be ideal.

I would say that if you had some rust that needed a long soak, that molasses may be the way to go, even with boosting the ratio to 1:4.

FINAL remarks

Below is a close-up of all four blades. I would have to conclude that the vinegar produces the best result on plane blades, and I would imagine the cheapest means of removing rust. Citric acid is a close second.

And for those interested, here is what the residue looks like for the vinegar (left) and citric acid experiments:

Vinegar vs. citric acid rust residue



Rehabilitating a Stanley No.15 (i): de-rusting (with Evaporust)

A while back I talked about identifying a block plane, that turned out to be a Stanley No.15. The plane itself is a rusted piece of trash that I bought for $1 in Maine. The first step in rehabilitating the plane is de-rusting it. Then maybe some of the seized parts will be easier to deal with. Here’s a picture of it as it looks now.

The only parts that can be removed are the lever cap and blade. The front and rear brass knobs are seized, as is the mouth plate. The lever cap is damaged, and will be replaced.

I’m going to de-rust it by dunking it into a bath of Evaporust. After the first 24 hours, I was able to remove the front thumb-rest, and the mouth plate. The rust on the sole, and two sides was also gone at this stage. After an additional 24 hours, the rust on the inner portion of the plane had been removed, and much of the Japanning. The machine screw holding the lateral adjustment lever had loosened enough to remove it (unfortunately the screw required the use of vise-grips to remove, and will have to be replaced). Here is the plane (or at least the non-damaged parts), after de-rusting.

Looking a little closer, one can see that the rust has effectively been eliminated from the front portion of the plane, with some japanning left in place. In most regions, the rust obviously formed under the japanning, and was stripped off with the chelation action of the Evapo-rust.

The frog is also in reasonablely condition.

The best way to determine how well the Evapo-rust performed is to compare regions of the plane before and after de-rusting.

Even the lateral adjustment lever has been completely stripped of rust:

Overall, the Evapo-rust performed extremely well. In the overall scheme of de-rusting a rust-bucket of a vintage plane, that cost me US$1, the outcome is tremendous. As you will notice, the rust has been converted to a gray coating over the entire body of the plane. There is also a good amount of micro-pitting on the plane body from the effects of the corrosion. However, on the upper portion of the blade, where there was more corrosion, the remaining japanning will be removed, and the plane repainted. The sole and sides have minimal pitting, and will be sanded back to produce a smooth finish.


Removing rust – the experiments (iii): oxalic acid

This one was a tricky one to run an experiment on, because the best source of oxalic acid is Bar Keeper’s Friend (BKF), which comes in liquid form, and also in powder form. BKF is an acidic cleaner used to remove rust stains from bathroom fixtures, and so is likely ideal for removing rust from metal. To test its usefulness in removing rust, I masked off a section of the sole of a rusty block plane, and made a paste of BKF powder and a little water. I then applied it to the exposed portion of the plane sole. The paste dried over a period of six hours, and to be honest, I wasn’t really expecting there to be a good result here. No doubt using BKF with a scouring pad and some elbow grease would provide some reasonable results, but just having it sit there, somehow absorbing the rust?

Well, I have to say I was intrigued after scrapping off the dried crust of BKF. The surface rust had been  removed from the sole of the plane, as is evident in the photograph.

I took this photograph without washing the de-rusted region of the sole with anything, hence the residual paste at the top and bottom. A close-up of the border between the rusted and de-rusted regions is shown below.

The oxalic acid paste really does work very well (it is stronger than vinegar), and I would recommend it for large objects that cannot be immersed in a liquid rust remover.


Why dating block planes can be difficult

Dating block planes can be challenging, more so for Stanley than other manufacturers because Stanley often changed components of their block plane, as new mechanisms appeared. It is also that Stanley’s timeline of planes is longer than most other manufacturers. Millers Falls also manufactured a whole series of block planes, but they did not appear until 1929, and were built until the early 1970s. Sargent manufactured planes from 1887 to 1964. Millers falls plane numbers were stamped into the sides of the plane, whilst Sargent often added the plane number to the markings on the blade.

Also, while exceptional type studies exist for Stanley bench planes, similar extensive ones for block planes do not. There are some exceptions to the rule, for instance, there is a type study of the Stanley No.103 block plane, and another one on the Stanley 110/120. Dating (and identifying) block planes is also more challenging than bench planes because the adjustment and holding mechanisms were often more diverse, and parts were exchangeable,  e.g. replacement of a knuckle-lever cap with a standard cam-clamp lever cap. There may also have been many changes made to the block plane throughout it’s history, for example narrowing of the blade width from 1-3/4″ to 1-5/8″, as in the case of many Sargent block planes.

Consider the ubiquitous No.9½, built from 1873 to 1973. The plane started out looking like this, the Bailey’s Patent Adjustable Block Plane:

The No.9½ in 1879: 6″ in length and a 1¾” wide blade

and morphed into this:

A contemporary No.9½: 6″ in length, a 1-5/8″ wide blade, Hand-y, and a lateral adjustment lever

Obtaining an approximate timeline involves understanding when features were added (or removed). Here are some rough guidelines (specifically for the No.9½) :

  • The Hand-y depressions on the side of the plane did not appear until 1898.
  • The lateral adjustment lever was added about 1895, unlike in bench planes where it started to appear in 1885.
  • The throat adjustment eccentric lever (patented in 1894) was not added until 1897.
  • The Excelsior design with the “hump” in the planes sides (or cheeks) biased towards the rear of the plane as opposed to the centre, disappeared around 1900.

But there is also changes in the design of the lever cap, changes in the blade depth adjustment mechanism, and markings on the plane body (e.g. foundry markings) and blades to take into account. Dating a block plane is often less of a science, and more of an art. Then of course there is always the problem of someone replacing a part on a block plane with a part from a different era.

P.S. Type studies on a series of Stanley planes can be found in John Walter’s Antique & Collectible STANLEY TOOLS Guide to Identity and Value, which has a third edition coming out in 2018.

Stanley foundry markings on block planes

Some of Stanley’s bench planes had foundry markings on them to identify which foundry the plane was cast in, typically subcontracted by Stanley. This is indicative of the Type 7 planes manufactured from 1893-1899 which has an “S” marking – some speculate this is from the Session Foundry in Boston. On the bench planes it is found on the bed, frog and sometimes the lever cap. The Type 8 Stanley’s (1899-1902) eliminated the “S” castings, but had a “B” casting, which again disappeared by the time the Type 9 appeared in 1902.

So how does this translate to block planes? Well, it gets kind-of muddy here because while Stanley block planes do sometimes contain foundry markings, there is very little information with respect to whether there is a correlation with the bench planes. Foundry markings on most plane bodies are hidden. In bench planes they can sometimes be found in the bed, under the rear handle. In block planes it is harder to hide markings, so they can often be found on the surface of the adjustable mouth plate, where they would be hidden in normal use, and only revealed when the plate is removed from the plane. Here is an example, showing two foundry markings, both “S” and “B” – which doesn’t really give any clarity to the situation.



Removing rust – the experiments (ii): gel

The second rust removal experiment I performed using  Restore Rust Remover Gel. This gel contains both etidronic acid, and trisodium nitrilotriacetate. Both are chelating agents, pH neutral. For testing the gel, I used the sole of a plane body covered with rust. The choice of a plane body for the gel makes sense, as it is most likely that the gel would be used for larger objects, that can’t be submerged in a liquid, e.g. saw blades.

The original plane sole.

To test this gel, I brushed a layer of it onto the sole of the plane, which has quite ingrained rust.  I split the sole in half using painters tape. The instructions say that “Application is by means of a scouring pad (not supplied) which is moved gently over the surface until the rust is removed and the surface is left bright and clean.”. This is not a “thick” gel, I would agree with the manufacturers description of a “thickened liquid”. First off I thought I would test leaving the gel on the plane for 20 minutes.

The gel applied, and the scouring pad used.

The end result was that the gel actually dried in 90% of the test area, so obviously the best approach is to scrub. I then followed the instructions exactly, using an abrasive  “Chore Boy® Golden Fleece” scrubbing cloth. The results were… underwhelming to say the least.

Test 1: Before and after (the region below the white line).

The orange flash-type rust was vanquished, as were the black regions. The deeper rust? Still there. Does this product actually remove rust? Maybe, the kind of rust that is surface rust, and may be just as much attributed to the scouring action than to the gel itself. For all the scouring action involved, it would have been easier to sand the sole down.

Just to be sure I wasn’t going crazy, I tried a second test on another block plane sole (I have a bunch of these relics in a box – think spare parts). The rust on this sole was much lighter, and it was possible to still see steel. The results show less surface rust, but were again, not great.

Test 2: Before and after (the region below the white line).

After two tests that didn’t really produce the results I had hoped, I would not use this product, nor recommend it. There is also a liquid concentrate for soaking which makes 5 litres of solution, which I did not try. In reality, both products are C$39.50 which is super expensive. A litre of Evapo-Rust is C$14.50 (and a 5 gallon pail (18.9l) is C$108 on

Here is a photo of the sole of the first plane, to give an overall perspective.



Maintaining our everyday tools

Sometimes the tools we use everyday are the ones we tend to forget. The paring knife that is the workhorse of the kitchen, but need a sharpen, the file that needs a clean, or the everyday blockplane that just needs some TLC. That was my Veritas everyday blockplane, the workhorse around my house, used to trim this, smooth that. I had forgotten the last time I really gave it a clean. Sure, blades need honing to maintain that uber sharpened edge, but sometimes the other moving parts get forgotten. a bit of sawdust trapped here, some slight surface rust there.

When I opened up the plane, I noticed that the Norris style blade depth/lateral adjustment mechanism barely moved in its housing, some of the planes crevices has accumulated a bunch of sawdust, the toe-plate had gummed up a little, and the sides and sole of the plane had suffered from what one would associate with “patina”, but was likely the odd drop of misplaced glue, and pine resin from a some wayward board. The first thing I did after disassembling the plane was attempt to remove the Norris adjuster. Not an easy task, and I imagine that was attributed to a combination of surface rust, and old lubricant. Once it finally came loose, this was, it seems, the case. Because the adjuster has a hollow inner cavity, it is likely over time that some surface rust would appear. The adjuster shaft also had some surface rust.

The rust I dealt with using some Camellia Oil and a simple kitchen scouring pad. This will get rid of the surface rust, protect the surface, and provide some lubrication for the joint. I used the Camellia Oil to clean the whole inside of the plane as well. If there is tougher surface rust, then I use a 1000 or 2000 grit Silicon Carbide sanding sheets. The adjuster cavity also needed a clean-up:

I performed the same technique on the adjustable mouth,  cleaning off the gunk, then giving it a slight sand.

The last bit of maintenance has to do with the body. Here I use a 2000 grit sanding sheet in combination with the Camellia Oil to remove some of the grime from the surfaces, and on the sole in combination with a surfacing plate.

The end result is a clean, well-lubricated tool, which can get back to the day to day work around the house.