Here is how I go from the plane on the left to the one on the right
The Process

One of my preferred methods of rust removal called electrolysis. It uses the effect of an small low voltage electric current and a suitable electrolyte (solution). It has advantages over the old standbys, like vinegar, Coke, muriatic acid, Naval Jelly, wire brushing, sand blasting etc -- These methods all remove material to remove the rust, including un-rusted surfaces. With many, the metal is left with a "pickled" look or a characteristic color and texture. The electrolytic method removes nothing: by returning surface rust to metallic iron, rust scale is loosened and can be easily removed. Un-rusted metal is not affected in any way. The plane shown is a stanley handyman and these pictures are from my first attempt to use electrolysis for rust removal hence the use of an inexpensive plane. I have since done this process many times and would not hesitate to use it on any iron tool. As you can see from the picture below the plane has quite a bit of rust and is a perfect candidate for electrolysis.

Step One: Setup of the Electrolysis Bath

To do electrolysis you will need a few simple to find items:

1. A bucket or tub to do the electrolysis in.

2. A piece of scrap steel or iron to act as an anode.

As you can see from the picture below I use a plastic tub about 14" wide by 24" long and about 12" deep. I have a piece of angle iron bent into a square with a leg sticking up at 90° angle to the square so it sticks up out of the electrolytic solution (more on that in a minute)

To make your electrolyte you will need water and a substance that contains sodium carbonate. I use Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda

I fill the tub to about 6 inches so that I get good coverage on all the items I will de-rusting

Now that I have the tub, anode and electrolytic solution I will need a small DC power supply alligator clips and some stranded wire.

Now some sites will suggest using a battery charger for your DC power supply and this will work but there are a couple of problems with using one.

1. Newer battery chargers have smart circuits designed to protect the charger when it is placed on a damaged battery. Unfortunately this electrolysis method will appear to the charger just like a bad battery and the charger will stop functioning.

2. The amount of voltage that is applied to the system will directly affect the speed of electrolysis process and faster is not always better. You will get much better results if you use a lower voltage and take more time to do the electrolysis.

I use an old Laptop power brick as my dc power supply. I have 4 wires connected to the negative wire from the power supply that end in alligator clips to connect to the parts and a single wire ending in an alligator clip that connects from the power supply positive to the anode where it sticks out of the water. You should try to keep the connection from the supply to the anode out of the water because if the alligator clip is in the water it will get corroded. this power supply provides 6v at about 500ma.

Step Two: Disassemble and Clean Plane

You next need to disassemble the hand plane. You will want to separate the parts placing the non iron parts in a container to keep them together. This is very important when doing more than one plane at a time so the parts from different planes do not get mixed up. Take care when disassembling the hand plane so as to not break any of the fasteners. It can be very difficult to remove broken fasteners from the bed of the plane and sometimes is is nearly impossible to find replacement parts. Once you are left with just the iron parts You will want to give them a light cleaning to remove any heavy deposits of grease or oil.


Step Three: Start electrolysis

So here I have the body the frog and the iron in the solution and connected to the power supply. You will notice that I have the items setting on small pieces of wood to keep them off the bottom and they are not touching the anode. Since this first experiment I have replaced the wood with plastic as it works better in the water.

I now have the power supply on and you can start to see small bubbles rising from the parts. This indicates that the process is working.

In this close up you can see the bubbles more clearly.


After a while you will start to see a red substance floating on top of the electrolyte this is ferric oxide and this means the process is working well.

Step Four: Final Clean-up of Iron Parts

After the parts have been in the bath for a day or so depending on the amount of rust. I take them out rinse them off and clean them with a gray scotchbrite pad to remove the black sodium oxide coating that is on the parts. After they are clean and well dried I polish the parts of the body that will not get recoated I the rn re-coat the parts of the plane that were coated new (frog and body) in this case since it is a Stanley Handyman I cover the machined areas with 3 day release tape and prime and paint the inside of the body and the frog black. I then wax all of the exposed machined surfaces (side of the body and sole) If the sole needs to be flattened I do this before I wax. Remember if you are going to wax any tool use a good paste wax made for wood such as johnson's paste wax. Never use a wax that contains silicone like car wax as the silicone will contaminate any wood that you use the tool on.

I have a new weapon in my arsenal of rust removal, a Harbor Freight spot blaster

This cost me $14.99 and does a wonderful job of removing rust and japaning from large pieces and hard to reach spots on smaller pieces.

Step Five: Cleanup of Non-Iron Parts

While the parts of the plane were in electrolysis I cleaned up the hardware and sanded and refinished the tote and knob.

To refinish the knob and the brass hardware I made a couple of mandrels for my lathe. The pictures below show the mandrel as it is configured for doing a knob

I mount the knob with the base against the flat washer and the collar inserted in the counter bore on the top of the knob. Then with the lathe running I we sand the knob up to 400 grit and then use a gray scotchbrite pad for the final sanding. After this I will sometimes just coat the knob with finishing wax and buff while still on the mandrel. With some knobs I will stain the knob and poly it.

To use this mandrel for the brass nuts and knobs on a lathe I have adapters that screws on the end of the mandrel and has male threads that are the same knob and the brass nuts. A little work with some 400 grit wet dry sand paper and they shine like brand new. I then wax them so they will not dull with use.

Step Six: Putting it all back together


This is what the plane looks like after it is back together.