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Tool Cleaning / Restoring


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Hi all,

I've recently obtained some very old sorby chisels and ibbotson planes.

They're still wickedly sharp, (a testament to old steel I guess), but overall not in the best condition.

The steel had some light rust which I removed using baco foil, but I can't remove the deeper grease and grime from the pitted areas within the steel.

Does anyone have a suggestion for this?

The wooden bodies are in reasonable condition, scratches and pits but no major chips.

They were too dirty to handle on a daily basis but I've cleaned them up using turtle / car wax as is recommended, they still smell of 100+ year old wood, grime & sweat, but I kind of like that.

I intend to use these tools as often as possible, they are there to be worked.

I don't intend to sell them but at the same time I don't want to take any abrasives to them and clean them up beyond all recognition.

I'd like to remove the grease and grime from the pitted areas in the wood and steel.

Can anyone recommend a process?

I have tried a couple of suggestions from woodworking forums but they were just a little too "softly softly" and didn't have much of an effect.

I understand their suggestions, but they were coming more from a collector/restorers standpoint and not from someone who wanted to use the tools as were intended.

Any advice appreciated



Edited by wwood
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Sometimes you have to get medeivel on old iron. If you plan to use those tools then hit them with a wire wheel and lightly rub some machine oil on. To prevent further rusting ie. stop the rusting process at least, for a time, you could paint on some rust inhibitor, clean off later and then the machine oil. This process will do nothing that will degrade the tool's originality and its value as a collectible.

Edited by Southpa
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if i could add a suggestion to southpa's..dremmel makes some small wire wheels that clean very well and aren't too aggressive. i use them for cleaning bridges, rusty tuning machines, etc. and they don't mar the metal. if you decide to use one be sure to use eye protection. they have a bad tendency to shed bristles.

you might also think of trying some goof off paint and glue remover. available at most hardware store. it should remove all of your grime without damaging anything including the wooden handles on your planes.

good luck.

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Honestly, I would very seriously consider using electrolysis on old tools wherever possible. Minimize damage, metal loss, abrasion. For grease and grime, a good industrial/strong soap and water will do that. You need clean, de-greased parts before trying anything rust-removal-y.


Sanding/abrading stuff will do things to the tool's collectibility, but won't affect its function overmuch. After it's cleaned up, you want to oil/wax your tools, and if possible keep them in a relatively dry environment. I quite like Japanese Camelia oil for keeping tools un-rusty.

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If it's the soles of the planes that are rusty, you can have them reground so that they're nice an flat. Don't know what it would do to the value, but they're tools so I'd want them to perform well in the first instance.

AutoSol metal polish for cars brought up all the road poo from the screen surronds of my girlfriends classic car. If it worked for them (only 40 year old though), then it may be worth a try. I used a toothbrush to get the majority of the cack off then buffed for ages with this stuff.

I've also used a parfin bath to clean metal parts of engines and stuff. Works a treat.

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