Cleaning up rusty hand tools is pretty straightforward if you have the necessary supplies on hand. Trying to figure out how to remove rust from power tools is another matter altogether. Power tools involve cords, motors, and plenty of moving parts – all of which have to be accounted for.
Despite the potential pitfalls, you can remove rust from power tools without causing any harm to yourself or the tools. The secret to success is using your head. Rather than rushing into things based on a hunch or your best guess, take the time to think through what you are doing. Avail yourself of online research before you start working on any tool.
This post will cover the topic of how to remove rust from power tools in a general sense. Though it will mention certain types of tools by name, the information you glean here can be put to use with virtually any power tool.
If you’re ready, let’s get to it. Below is a step-by-step process for cleaning up rusty tools.
1: Determine the Extent of the Rust
You’re going to want to come up with a plan for removing as much rust as you possibly can without compromising your own safety. In order to do so, you have to determine the extent of the rust. This means thoroughly examining the tool in question. You may have to take it apart, at least to some degree.
Maybe you are looking at a table saw. All the rust you are dealing with appears on the top of the steel table. It is a pretty easy situation to assess. On the other hand, maybe you notice that the blade is rusty as well. That being the case, there may be additional rust you can’t see located inside the motor housing.
This is where you have to determine whether or not it is worth taking the entire thing apart. If so, it is a good idea to go online and see if you can find disassembly instructions for your particular make and model. Someone may have already done the work for you – and cataloged what they did with pictures!
2: Devise a Plan of Attack
Once you know the extent of the rust, you can step back and devise a plan of attack. Again, let us use the table saw as an example. You have decided not to take the saw apart. You are just going to clean the tabletop and the blade.
Your plan of attack will probably include at least detaching the blade and motor housing from the bottom of the table. That way you can get to the blade more easily. You’ll also be able to clean the top of the table without having to worry about accidentally cutting yourself.
Your plan of attack will differ depending on the tool you’re talking about. For instance, cleaning the rust off a vintage steel-cased power drill is not going to be as easy as cleaning up the table saw. You are going to have to be extra careful with the drill unless you are willing to take it apart in order to separate the case.
The thing to remember here is to take it slowly. If your cleaning plans involve taking a tool apart, go as slow as you need to in order to prevent damaging the tool or losing individual parts. Take photographs at each step of the disassembly as well. They may prove invaluable when it’s time to put the tool back together.
3: Choose Your Cleaning Method
You may have read another one of my posts discussing how to remove rust from hand tools. All of the methods mentioned in that post are applicable here – at least in terms of the materials used. You might want to take a look at it (if you haven’t already) to better understand the different methods for removing rust.
At any rate, the third step in the process is to choose your cleaning method. Let’s talk about the table saw again. Where the table top is concerned, WD-40 and some steel wool should do the trick. Spray the table top with the WD-40 and allow it to soak for at least 10 minutes. If the table top shows excessive rust and pitting, you might want to wait up to 30 minutes.
After the allotted time, scrub the top with the steel wool in a circular motion. This should loosen all the rust so that you can wipe it away with an absorbent rag. That’s really all there is to it. This solution will work on most metal parts with mild to moderate rust. It should work fine for the blade too.
You can clean the steel case of that vintage power drill the same way, but only if you have elected to take it apart. Choose another cleaning method if you decided that taking it apart is not a good idea. You do not want to risk the WD-40 seeping through cracks and getting inside.
In the post about removing rust from hand tools, I suggested things such as:
- baking soda paste
- salt and lime
- white vinegar
- potato and liquid soap.
All of these solutions can be applied more easily with a rag or toothbrush. They are less likely to work their way into the drill case and cause problems. Try them before you turn to WD-40.
4: Get to Work
The obvious next step is to actually get to work. Make sure the cleaning method you choose accounts for the type of tool you are cleaning. Take care to avoid getting cleaning solutions too close to electric motors. Also avoid anything that could possibly damage electrical cords.
A good rule of thumb here is to treat your power tool as though it were extremely fragile. Think about how slow you want to go, and then go even slower. You need to go especially slowly if you decide to disassemble the tool you are working on.
Let’s say you are working on a bench grinder with a rusty case, shank, and guards. In all likelihood, some disassembly will be necessary to properly clean it. Go slow, take pictures, and pay attention.
The guards you can probably soak in white vinegar once you get them off. They are also good candidates for the WD-40 and steel wool method. You can either clean the shank in place or remove it from the grinder as well. Removal obviously makes cleaning easier. As for the case, you’ll probably be able to remove the upper part for cleaning. The lower part will have to be cleaned in place.
5: Lubricate, Polish, and Protect
Regardless of the cleaning method you choose, you are going to be left with parts in the end. Now, don’t rush and put everything back together right away. The tool you are working on might need some lubrication. Grab the owner’s manual and take a look. There may be lubrication information in it. If not, look online.
Many power tools don’t need lubrication at all. So don’t stress out if you can’t find any information on it. The point here is simply to consider lubricating before you put everything back together. If your tool does need lubricating, now is the time to do it.
This is also the time to protect your tool against future rust. How do you do it? With a specialized tool polish. You can buy polishing products at DIY stores and specialty tool outlets.
Note that some people recommend WD-40 to prevent rust. Such suggestions are understandable given that WD-40 is primarily a water displacement product. But its ability to inhibit rust doesn’t last very long. It is better to use a tool polish designed specifically to prevent rust.
A typical tool polish is applied to the tool and then allowed to sit until it sets up. It is a lot like car wax. Once fully set up, you buff the tool until it is clean and shiny. Now those metal surfaces will be protected for some time into the future. How long depends on the product. The instructions on the packaging should tell you how frequently to apply the polish.
With all of that done, you are ready to put everything back together. You have successfully figured out how to remove rust from power tools. Hopefully, the tool you just cleaned will look as good as it did the day you pulled it out of the box. It is a job well done and one deserving of a cold drink in your favorite chair!