One of the functions of any tool chest is to protect the tools from dust and moisture; the two ingredients of rust. Like most woodworkers, I keep a keen eye out for rust on my tools – these are not just the means by which I practice my craft but also heirlooms which I want to pass on to my children, and hopefully my grandchildren (that all important hand tool heritage). So when I loaded up my completed Anarchist’s Tool Chest in December I decided to err on the side of caution, and included three VCI pots to ward off rust together with a small humidity gauge to keep an eye on conditions within the chest.
After 4 months it became clear that the chest had been very effective at keeping out dust, in large part due to the close fitting lid which includes a significant dust seal. And over the winter, despite being situated in two different unheated (brick and concrete) workshops, the chest maintained a constant relative humidity of 73%. So it was clearly maintaining a steady enclosed climate. However, all of this has not been sufficient to prevent some rust from appearing.
Completely eliminating rust is unachievable unless you keep laboratory conditions in your workshop (not using the tools on wood may also help), but the level of rust I was experiencing was higher than I would have expected, although my no means catastrophic. My regular routine includes wiping down all tools after use with a cloth soaked in camellia oil, and removing localised rust spotting with a brass bristled brush and a 120 grit Garryflex abrasive block. A more detailed post about tool care is on the cards for later this summer. But I very much prefer not to have to take remedial steps, so I started researching other rust preventative solutions.
In the end I settled on a 24″ GoldenRod from Lee Valley. The GoldenRod, despite a name redolent of 70’s porn films, is a low power convection heater for tool chests and gun cabinets, and is designed to keep the ambient temperature within the cabinet above the dew point so that moisture does not condense on the cold metal of tools and cause rust. A few minor adjustments were needed to my tool chest to fit the GoldenRod. First I drilled a 6mm hold through one floorboard to allow the power cord to pass out of the chest. I may fit a rubber grommet to this hole at some point in the future, but at present there doesn’t seem to be much call for this as the cable is a very snug fit. The success of the GoldenRod depends on having good air flow from the heater, so I decided to fit the GoldenRod behind the saw till wall, as I tend to leave the three sliding tills stacked at the back of the chest. Positioning the GoldenRod against the saw till wall therefore gives unimpeded air circulation throughout the chest as there is nothing immediately above the heating element, while situating it towards the back of the chest against the moulding plane corral would have positioned it immediately beneath not only all three sliding trays but also the wedges and irons of any moulding planes I added to the chest. I then screwed the plastic feet of the GoldenRod to the floor of the chest, and fitted a divider of thin pine to keep tools from coming into contact with the heater. The divider is held in place with cleats at each end, and while the cleats are nailed to the chest side the divider itself is just friction fit and can be removed if I ever need to. The final step was running the heater cable to a Goldsource step-down transformer, as the GoldenRod only runs on 110V power rather than the full-fat 230V we get out of the wall here in the UK. So how has it worked? In the 13 weeks since I fitted the GoldenRod I have had no rust issues whatsoever. The temperature in the chest has been kept firmly above the dew point, often by up to 10 degrees Celsius, which means that my tools have remained dry and rust free.
In the course of researching rust preventative solutions, I also came across a handy freeware dew point calculator from General Electric. This app has been invaluable over the past few months, and I highly recommend it for readers who are experiencing rust issues, or just want to understand what conditions in their workshop actually mean. Free to download from the Apple App Store (I have no idea if there is an Android version), you enter the current temperature and relative humidity values, and the app calculates the relevant dew point. Easy as that, and far preferable to wrestling with formulae to work out the dew point yourself.