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Electrolytic Rust Removal

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Oldfast

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Post Mon Sep 10, 2012 1:58 am

Electrolytic Rust Removal

First off, this is by no means a how-to tutorial. Instead, I just wanted to share with you some of the
amazing results this process can produce and why this summer time project meant so much to me.

I first came across some info on electrolysis a couple years ago when looking into options for bringing old locks back to life.
It wasn't until recently though that I was inspired to give it a shot. I acquired a decent amount of hand tools that belonged
to my grandfather. We were very close, and I was blessed to have worked side by side with him for about five years. He
died nearly six years ago... his house has been empty for almost twice that. Early this summer I went into his garage and
slowly gathered up all his tools... and said, "I'm going to put them to use grandpa." It was a very sentimental moment.

I'm not a chemist or an electrician... and I know very little about metals. But here's the jest of it:
A direct current supply is passed through a conductive solution. Our rusted piece is submerged & suspended in this
solution and is connected to the negative lead. Sacrificial anode(s) are positioned to surround the piece... our positive
current will be set up to flow through these. This process is known as electrolysis. It allows us to gently remove rust,
and to some extent, will return some of the surface rust back to iron. When an iron object is exposed to air and moisture
it undergoes an electrochemical process... rusting. With electrolysis we're able to, in essence, reverse this process.

Now obviously ..lol.. anytime we decide to mix electricity and water, there in lies some inherent danger.
I may be able to help with any fairly general questions you may have. But for the most part, I'd be more comfortable
and you'd be much safer to refer to one of the articles I've included. Also, the byproduct created from this process is
hydrogen and oxygen. When mixed, these gasses can become highly volatile - especially if allowed to build up in a
confined area. I alleviated this risk altogether by simply bringing the entire project outside on my front porch.

I've seen this process downsized to a small drinking glass. I've also heard of it being upsized to such an extent
that an entire truck frame is de-rusted in a swimming pool while using an arc welder for the power source! lol

I thought I'd start out with something just a bit more.... simplistic. lol

ImageImage

Once I knew I had contructed this properly and everything was in working order,
I wasted no time in adding additional leads so I could do multiple pieces at once.

Image Image

Though the results are amazing, this isn't a "magical bath". There's still a good deal of work to be had after the piece is taken out.
This process simply changes the chemical composition of the rust to a softer state. A wire brush will remove
a good majority, followed up with some steel wool to bring it to a finished product.

Image Image Image

ImageImage

As the weeks went by, hundreds of dollars worth of tools began to emerge. What started out as fun & interesting,
quickly become tedious and time consuming work. Worth FAR more than the dollar value though, or the deep
satisfaction of bringing something back to life, was the sentimental value these tools hold... priceless!

Image
Image

Worthwhile notes:

This process works through line of site, so every area of the piece must be exposed to the anode(s).
Turning and/or re-hanging the piece periodically throughout the process may be in order.

Some tools consist of multiple parts (ie pliers, channel locks, pipe wrench). You cannot assume there'll
be good conductivity simply because they're in contact with each other. At the very least, connect a
lead to each piece. Ideally though, the parts should be seperated and done individually.

The amount of time required to complete the process will obviously vary depending on both the size of
the piece and the amount of electricity you're running. I was running 2 amps from a battery charger
for the majority of tools I cleaned. On average, 3-5 hours was more than sufficient.

One of the most important things to know, lest your hard work is undone in just a short time;
Electrolysis leaves the piece particularly vulnerable to rust when initially taken out of the solution.
Each piece should be thoroughly dried immediately after cleaning. Then, either paint the piece or apply
a coating of light oil as soon as possible. From my experience, 3-IN-1 oil WAS NOT sufficient. Small rust spots
began forming within just a week or two. Instead, you might want to take a look at TC-11 Initially I thought it to be a
bit pricey for the amount you get. But I found it takes very little to coat each tool & the results are sound and long lasting.

Image
Image
Image
This was my final piece. She put up one hell of a good fight. lol
After disassembling, I degreased any parts that needed it prior to de-rusting.
The three major pieces each took 12-14 hours in my 'electro-monster'.

Image
Image

ImageImage
ImageImage

She's now ready for many more years of service :)

Image
Image
Image

After reading many articles online, I found these two the most useful and reliable:

THIS one I found to be the most practical in terms of the actual construction of what I now call my 'electro-monster'.

And the author of THIS one seemed by far to have the most experience. As an archaeologist, his approach
is more subtle in an effort to preserve as much of the piece as possible. Less power and more time.
Also, more in-depth detail can be found here in regards to the chemical aspect of all this.


In memory of my Grandfather, William: An amazing & wonderful man, husband, dad, and navy man.
(respectful nod)....... I love you Grandpa
" Enjoy the journey AS MUCH as the destination."
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Josh66

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Post Mon Sep 10, 2012 2:00 am

Re: Electrolytic Rust Removal

Wow - Impressive results.
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jfw

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Post Mon Sep 10, 2012 2:08 am

Re: Electrolytic Rust Removal

Very VERY cool!
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elbowmacaroni

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Post Mon Sep 10, 2012 3:31 am

Re: Electrolytic Rust Removal

It's been far too long since something's been stickied, much that was worthy has been neglected. Sorry to those who that was the case for.

This is a great post and just screamed at me to be stickied. So, it's stuck.
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Altashot

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Post Mon Sep 10, 2012 5:19 am

Re: Electrolytic Rust Removal

That is really neat!

I bet you are glad to see these old tools shine again!
I know I would be.

You Grampa would be proud too!

Nice work!
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whizdumb

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Post Mon Sep 10, 2012 5:23 am

Re: Electrolytic Rust Removal

Fantastic post. I would love to see it done on an old padlock.
Image
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BOLT

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Post Mon Sep 10, 2012 6:31 am

Re: Electrolytic Rust Removal

Thanks Mike
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MBI

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Post Mon Sep 10, 2012 7:14 am

Re: Electrolytic Rust Removal

Absolutely stunning results. Thanks for sharing it.

As a continuation of this project, if you wanted to further preserve these tools have you considered parkerizing or bluing any of the pieces? Brownells carries the supplies if you wanted to look into it, but it can be a rather intensive process, and quite an initial investment in a full setup to do it right.
http://www.brownells.com/

If you didn't want to invest in a full hot-bluing or parkerizing setup, there's always the cold bluing process. The results are not quite as nice or long lasting as hot bluing, but if you're careful with it you can still get good looking results, and it's much cleaper, faster and simpler. For best results, make sure to THOROUGHLY degrease the piece before applying the cold blue solution, and be generous with the solution.

I keep a bottle of cold blue in my garage with my tools and give a treatment to most rust-prone tools I run across. I even cold blue the tips of my spring steel lockpicks after I sand and polish them, just to avoid rust.
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keymaster1053

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Post Mon Sep 10, 2012 9:09 am

Re: Electrolytic Rust Removal

Electrolysis is also useful for removing other corrosions besides rust. I as a Metal detectorist, have found many a metal object encrusted with sometimes decades of sediment. Coins especially, they say don't clean coins and as a rule I don't. if it's valuable leave it be, but for common pocket change you are going to spend anyways, it's great. and the bank teller that you go to turn these into appreciates it! Copper turns Green with certain corrosion, so the pennies come back to life after this project. I even did take some collectible copper cents that were in a house fire, and they all had black plastic melted onto them, as the plastic was originally the holders the coins were in. I used electrolysis and removed all traces of the plastic, and didn't harm the patina of the coin at all. it works great. Very cheap to make as well. Great work Oldfast!!
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KentM

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Post Mon Sep 10, 2012 4:55 pm

Re: Electrolytic Rust Removal

Amazing job and write up!!

Kent
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gnarus8429

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Post Mon Sep 10, 2012 6:08 pm

Re: Electrolytic Rust Removal

Wow. I'm fairly certain your grandfather would be proud.
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nozza36

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Post Mon Sep 10, 2012 8:20 pm

Re: Electrolytic Rust Removal

Must be SERIOUSLY satisfying mate , to say the least Oldfast !
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Aedalas

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Post Mon Sep 10, 2012 8:56 pm

Re: Electrolytic Rust Removal

elbowmacaroni wrote:It's been far too long since something's been stickied

Like 8 days? :D

Great post Oldfast. Really like this idea, I'm a bit ashamed that I had no idea you could do that, I'm familiar with electroplating just not the reverse.

How much can the anode collect? Does it stop taking on more plating after being completely covered or does it just build a thicker layer? I've never really looked into how it's manufactured but I deal with "rust" daily, iron oxide is one of the best pigments there are and even comes in a few different colors like red, yellow, brown and black (those are all I'm really familiar with currently). Oxides of other metals as well, titanium dioxide is hands down the best white pigment you can get and zinc oxide is probably second,and much cheaper, though there is a little danger in using that one as it can be fairly toxic in high quantities (also the zinc chills).

Sorry for ranting half off topic, just the whole idea of rust interests me as we find a useful product through what is essentially destruction of a perfectly good metal. That and having literally tons of it around to play with and attempt to shower off daily. It's easier than dyes at least, don't even get me started on fucking sodium fluorescein. . .
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nozza36

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Post Mon Sep 10, 2012 10:58 pm

Re: Electrolytic Rust Removal

Saw a similar item in a classic car mag' and wondered if you could soak blankets or other material in soda crystal solution , lay it on large panels and remove rust electrolyticaly in the same method ? classy classic if possible !
Open Sez Me !
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Oldfast

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OldddffAASSTT the Spin Master Extraordinaire and American Lock Slayer
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Post Tue Sep 11, 2012 3:31 am

Re: Electrolytic Rust Removal

Thanks so much EVERYONE for the kind encouragement!
I too am quite certain my grandfather is smiling :D
And thanks elbow, I always appreciate adhesive :wink: lol

I'm not too 'scientifically inclined. The extent of my scientific resume would be my volcano project that we
all do in 3rd grade! Remember that shit? LOL. So you can imagine my delight that this all worked out so well.

Honestly, the pics are very entertaining, and although I did include a few things I learned along the way.... the credit
goes to the couple authors of the articles I included. This is where you want to look if interested in actually doin' this.
Lots of people loooove to act like they know what they're talking about when it comes to the internet. I did my fair
share of wading through alot of bullshit in order to narrow it down to these couple (not saying there aren't others).

MBI wrote:Absolutely stunning results. Thanks for sharing it.

As a continuation of this project, if you wanted to further preserve these tools have you considered parkerizing or bluing any of the pieces? Brownells carries the supplies if you wanted to look into it, but it can be a rather intensive process, and quite an initial investment in a full setup to do it right.
http://www.brownells.com/

If you didn't want to invest in a full hot-bluing or parkerizing setup, there's always the cold bluing process. The results are not quite as nice or long lasting as hot bluing, but if you're careful with it you can still get good looking results, and it's much cleaper, faster and simpler. For best results, make sure to THOROUGHLY degrease the piece before applying the cold blue solution, and be generous with the solution.

I keep a bottle of cold blue in my garage with my tools and give a treatment to most rust-prone tools I run across. I even cold blue the tips of my spring steel lockpicks after I sand and polish them, just to avoid rust.

Thanks indeed for that bit of info. I'm certainly intrigeud. Although a full set-up sounds quite intricate & costly...
the cold blue sounds like something I'd like to check out. When I do, I'll probably be PMing you with some questions. lol

whizdumb81 wrote:Fantastic post. I would love to see it done on an old padlock.

When I come across a suitable canidate I'll certainly post results. Often times I don't really know
how an old lock should be treated (in terms of preserving it)... so I just don't treat it at all. lol

keymaster1053 wrote:Electrolysis is also useful for removing other corrosions besides rust. I as a Metal detectorist, have found many a metal object encrusted with sometimes decades of sediment. Coins especially, they say don't clean coins and as a rule I don't. if it's valuable leave it be, but for common pocket change you are going to spend anyways, it's great. and the bank teller that you go to turn these into appreciates it! Copper turns Green with certain corrosion, so the pennies come back to life after this project. I even did take some collectible copper cents that were in a house fire, and they all had black plastic melted onto them, as the plastic was originally the holders the coins were in. I used electrolysis and removed all traces of the plastic, and didn't harm the patina of the coin at all. it works great. Very cheap to make as well. Great work Oldfast!!
keymaster1053

So you've been utilizing eloctrolysis for some time?! Very cool. If ya ever think about it, I'd love to see some before/after pics.

Aedalas wrote:
elbowmacaroni wrote:It's been far too long since something's been stickied

Like 8 days? :D

Great post Oldfast. Really like this idea, I'm a bit ashamed that I had no idea you could do that, I'm familiar with electroplating just not the reverse.

How much can the anode collect? Does it stop taking on more plating after being completely covered or does it just build a thicker layer? I've never really looked into how it's manufactured but I deal with "rust" daily, iron oxide is one of the best pigments there are and even comes in a few different colors like red, yellow, brown and black (those are all I'm really familiar with currently). Oxides of other metals as well, titanium dioxide is hands down the best white pigment you can get and zinc oxide is probably second,and much cheaper, though there is a little danger in using that one as it can be fairly toxic in high quantities (also the zinc chills).

Sorry for ranting half off topic, just the whole idea of rust interests me as we find a useful product through what is essentially destruction of a perfectly good metal. That and having literally tons of it around to play with and attempt to shower off daily. It's easier than dyes at least, don't even get me started on fucking sodium fluorescein. . .


No, a very interesting rant my friend! You're obviously well versed with this rust business, most of which is a little over my head.
"How much can the anode collect? Does it stop taking on more plating after being completely covered or does it just build a thicker layer?"
IF I understand your question correctly... The anodes do not actually 'attract' the rust that flakes off the piece. Although the
rods I used for anodes are rusted, I think it's more so just because they've been in water all summer... they're simply rusting.
Also the rust has not affected their ability to carry the positive current into the water.
" Enjoy the journey AS MUCH as the destination."
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