15 Feb 2016

Cleaning rusty files

One of my students over at Studio E174 discovered recently, after cleaning out her parents' garage, that her father had had quite a thing for files. He had an enormous stash of files in a corner of the garage - huge ones, small ones, one with handles, ones without.....but mostly all quite rusty by the time they were found! Kindly donated to the studio, I set about cleaning them.

So, after careful research (ie lots of Googling), I settled on a method to clean the files. I found a bunch of different approaches online to getting rid of the rust, but most approaches came down to four options:
1. vinegar
2. vinegar with salt added to increase its acidity
3. vinegar with baking soda to make a paste to apply to the files
4. commercial anti-rust products which were mostly on American sites (so I wasn't sure I could get them here in the UK)

After reading lots of blog posts and watching quite a few nerdy tool videos (this one is very interesting, useful information about how to easily remove residue in your files from softer metals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIZll_eqHY4), I went for the vinegar bath approach. I thought adding salt might make it too acidic and eat at the teeth of the files. I couldn't see how the paste would be strong enough, as I sometimes use that for domestic cleaning and it's pretty mild. And lastly, I didn't want to spend much money, so vinegar sounded cheaper than trying to hunt down commercial rust-removers. Happily, distilled white vinegar from Tesco is 39p for a 568ml bottle.

So, step one was to remove all the handles. Step two was to leave the files overnight in a bath of vinegar. Here they are in their bath:

Step three was to (with gloves!!) scrub the files with a steel brush (I got mine from Clas Ohlsson for £2.79, I'm sure most DIY shops will have them). By this time, the rust was loose, so some hard scrubbing with the steel brush was all that was required. Helpfully, the vinegar also loosened paint remnants that were on some of the files.
After this, I foolishly left it a bit long before I dried and oiled the files, so in the end I did a second vinegar bath and a second lot of scrubbing. I think it was useful anyway, as some of the files were very rusty, such as this one:
After the second lot of scrubbing, I dried the files thoroughly by putting them in the oven for 10 minutes at 100C.

After that, I covered them with a bit of oil. I used this oil:
And then I put the handles back on the ones that had handles. Now they look pretty good again and certainly usable.

update: I managed to find some more handles, so now they all have handles too!

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