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Cleaning vintage jewelers tools

I have some old jewelers tools from the 1940’s. When my Dad got out
of the Navy after W. W.II he took some jewelers classes. They sat in
the barn for 60 years. I got them out to clean them up and use them,
but they are rusted. Does anybody know the best way to clean them? I
have a dapping block, a small hammer and some ring mandrels. I may
not be able to use them after they are cleaned, but it would be nice
to have them cleaned up and on display to remember my Dad. Also
after I clean them if I coat the surface with oil will that be
enough? Also what about a machine shop? Thanks in advance. Marta

I always clean old tools with oiled sandpaper (fine) it works great
but does take some elbow grease. Then just wipe it down afterwards
keep oil on it when not in use. I have some chasing tools that are
over a hundred years old. I am positive there is some thing you can
buy to prevent rust but I just keep it oiled. If you or anyone wants
to get rid of old rusty tools I am always looking. I like the older
tools much better then the new (improved) ones. Best of luck

Most of the tools from your father will be steel. so the main
corrosion to remove is rust.

There are quick ways to do this if you have the right machines.

For example a coarse 4 to 6 in dia wire brush on a motor will take
off the rust and not damage the steel underneath, tho you would need
to wear thick leather gloves just in case the brush should touch your
hands! This will take off your skin if your not careful enough!.

To do the derusting by hand, youll need some thin oil, WD 40 is ok
but a bit thin, its basically kerosene with a nice smell added, then
an old table preferably outside with some newspaper on it.

Gloves for your hands and some abrasive paper like wet and dry 240
grit. put the thin oil on the metal and start rubbing with the paper
keep adding lots of oil to keep the rust from clogging the wet and

wipe off with old rags, they make good fire lighting! work away at
all the rust. It will take time but worth it.

You mention a machine shop, why? What they can do you, that you cant,
is surface grind the top of the dapping block to remove any deep

to keep them from rusting, yes a light oiling occasionally to keep
them clean.

Oil attracts dust.

If your going to use them and your working area is inside your home
then they are unlikely to rust again.

Wooden handles respond well to furniture wax. Tho using a polishing
machine with lustre and a cotton mop will restore wood to its almost
new condition.

For example Millers Falls hand drills and hacksaw frames from circa
1900 they had either mahogany or rosewood handles.

Marples made lots of cabinet makers wood chisels with box wood

Record Planes also had mahogany handles from around that time. All
restore beautifully.

But then antique tools are one of my passions.

Do you have a Dremel tool? They make many attachments that are
frequently used to remove rust and grime from tools. I recall hearing
about someone who made his living buying nasty-looking old hand
planes at rummage sales, using his Dremel to make them all nice and
shiny again, then selling them on eBay. I think a bit of Googling
would help you identify exactly which attachments you want. Many of
them are sold on Amazon and the user comments are you can find there
are very informative about what actually works and what doesn’t.
There is also pretty good email support on the Dremel website - send
them your question and you will hear back from someone within 48

done it right!

You can always go with the classic old Naval Jelly to get the worst
of it. To get them looking nice will take some wire brushing and
maybe some sanding.

If you are just going to display them, a micro crystalline wax like
renaissance wax will do the trick.

Any product that contains oxalic acid will remove the rust. Bar
Keepers Friend, Zud, etc.

I recently inherited some very rusty un-used burrs. I made a
solution of Bar Keepers Friend in water and placed it in a sealed
plastic container. I let the burrs soak in the solution in the sealed
container suspended in my sonic for awhile. I rinsed, dried, and
covered them with WD40. The rust is gone, the burrs are a dark color,
but work and cut beautifully.

Thanks to my late mother who was a chemist for all of her valuable

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.

Jo Haemer

I was gifted a multigenerational 4 generation watchmakers / jewelers
partial studio of tool & equipment recently. Lots a rust on some of
the tools -beautiful swiss files and drill bits in particular. Doing
lots of architectural metals and playing with rust as part of the
aging of new steel I regularly use OSPHO - a phosphoric acid
solution to convert oxidation into a black phosphate. As the say
RUST NEVER SLEEPS. Once it is in steel alloy it is a cancer of

First i used a soft wide brass brush like the kind you might use to
clean wax files. Removed as must lose material as i could. Then
Using a plastic container - large yogurt or cottage cheese is my
standby emmersed the tools in Ospho and watched closely the bubbling
of dissolving rust. Checking them regularly so you dont overdue it
and keep the best serviceability possible. Wear blue nitrile rubber
gloves and protect all counters and surfaces. Ospho chemically
reacts with anything with iron oxide and starts bubbling away
-concrete, grout, blood…

Then let them dry and brush away any excess phosphate (black gum) in
the file groves.,

If you have considerable rust, there will be visible pitting of
material gone to time. Some of the drill bits did not survive for
any metal work. They were probably 100 years old. One file has
severe pitting and cant be used in it entirety.

then on tweezers and the like a light steel wool and then on light
machine or kerosene oil wiped off. Wrap them up in a soft piece of
old terrycloth towel. Tuck them away when not in use.

Old tools are wonderful.


Ospho can be located in a good marine hardware store.


Use Arm & Hammer super wasting soda just like you do to take tarnish
off of silver. Line a bowl with aluminum foil, place tools on foil,
sprinkle washingsoda over tools, then pour boiling water over them.
Let sit a minute. Rinsein hot water and dry with a hair dryer.

Then spray with WD 40 and work plyers or any moving parts until they
loosen up.

I have had to learn this trick because my tools at work rust up all
the time. Also my boss is a cheap so and so an rarely buys me new
burs and bits. They get so rusty sometimes that I am afraid to put
them in my quick release hand piece. I use this trick with them but
before I coat them with oil, I put them in my tumbler.

Another trick is, soak your rusty files in pickle over night. Then
rinse them in baking soda water to neutralize the acid. Use your
steamer to blow out any partials and heat it so it will dry quickly.
This not only cleans up the rust, but it sharpens your old files.

Take note…use Super Washing Soda, NOT baking soda!

Hi Jo, I also have a number of brand new bits that are rusted (not
bad, just surface), but I don’t have a sonic cleaner. You think
soaking and then brass brushing would work? Thomas III

Where do you get OSPHO? Thanks Thomas III

I hadn’t thought of pickle, but I read a Mother Earth News once that
swore you could clean and sharpen old files in battery acid. Never
tried it, but it seemed like maybe… Thomas III


I remember hearing conversations of Navy veterans about having to
scrape rust off chains on Navy ships which must have taken forever.

I would try the large 3M radial disks. They take rust off small

Good luck, MA

I hadn't thought of pickle, but I read a Mother Earth News once
that swore you could clean and sharpen old files in battery acid.
Never tried it, but it seemed like maybe.... 

I can confirm that lead battery acid, ie dilute sulphuric as
recovered from old batteries will derust steel.

Having done lots of acid cleaning not only steel but wrought iron
tools that were made before the Bessemer steel process became

which was developed around 1866/7.

This restoration/cleaning was needed to prepare tools that form part
of my metal smithing exhibition in keeping with the 1889 mint
machine, which is the center piece of this display.

Nice to have it all period.

As for files, dont leave them in for long, otherwise the acid will
eat off all the teeth! Take them out every half hour and wire brush
under warm running water. The smell of acid etched steel is quite

Once experienced never forgotten.

Thomas- Soaking is just fine. A steamer would help loosen any
remaining particles however a brass brush would be just fine since
it’s softer than the steel.


I hadn't thought of pickle, but I read a Mother Earth News once
that swore you could clean and sharpen old files in battery acid.
Never tried it, but it seemed like maybe....

OK, the chemist in me has to come out. Yes you can clean rust (iron
oxide) with sulfuric acid, or hydrochloric acid (muriatic acid),
BUT. you will do more damage than good. It will also eat into the
"clean" iron and activate it for more rust. Best to use a weaker
acid, such as Phosphoric or Oxalic, even Acetic (lemon juice or
vinegar). Phosphoric is my favorite (Naval Jelly). The weaker acids
won’t eat into the cleaned iron, etching them.

Tom Parish
Designs by Suz

Just adding another very easy option. In the dim past, someone on
Orchid mentioned using Coke to soak rusted steel. The phosphoric acid
(Yes, Coke has phosphoric acid in it!) does the work. Obviously, this
is a weak acid.

I just used it to clean up a battery holder for a flashlight - the
contacts were rusted from a leaking battery. I used the diet version
of Coke for about 2 hours. If the item is heavily rusted, you’ll need
to change out the Coke with fresh Coke periodically. Darn cheap and

After the rust is gone, pits will remain. Smooth the surface with
progressive abrasives until it can be polished. Although any oil
will offer protection against further rusting, I like to use Enjen
Joe’s Snake Oil/Brown Polymer. Another option is petroleum jelly -
effective although messy.

Judy in Kansas, who is fighting off bronchitis!! What’s that all
about - in the summer, no less!

I was looking at a tool special and they showed a new product. Yes
I’m a sucker for something new too. This is made by WD40 and its WD40
Rust Remover. I haven’t tried it yet, but the demo clip they showed
looked good.

It looked like it removed light rust. It is a soaking solution that
is supposedly safe to handle. You let the item soak overnight. You
can read reviews at

When it came to the rust that is causing pits, I think a grinder of
some type is needed. You can use Dremel attachments all the way to
bench grinder.

Good luck
Steve Ramsdell