There is a trap bloggers sometimes fall into (myself included) where we are so keen to show all the esoteric knowledge we have accumulated, that we neglect to talk about the basic things too. Nothing is so basic (yet vital) as good tool care, and I’ve been meaning for a while to write a brief explanation as to how I approach this topic for a while. This week has provided the perfect opportunity to write my thoughts on tool care, as I cleaned the tools I took on the Woodworking with Thomas Jefferson course.
I tend to split tool care into two elements; rust prevention (or tool maintenance), and rust removal.
The primary ingredients of rust are dust and moisture, and so rust prevention is necessarily focused on keeping these away from my tools. My Anarchist’s Tool Chest is the first line of defence against rust, as the close fitting lid and dust seal form a very solid barrier. With the GoldenRod fitted I’ve not had any incidence of rust (or even of brass discolouring) for several months. A tool chest alone, no matter how solid, is not sufficient to completely guard against rust and there are a couple of simple steps which can help keep rust at bay. My rust prevention kit is very simple; a nylon bristled brush commonly found at most hardware stores (a tooth brush would work just as well) removes dust and wood shavings without marring the tool, while a spritz of camellia oil wiped on with my Sterling Tool Works microfiber woobie provides a protective coating from moisture.
The trick with a woobie is to allow it to become impregnated with your rust barrier of choice, and to avoid washing it unless it becomes contaminated with metal filings or other hard detritus. My current woobie has been in service for a year now, and having been sprayed with camellia oil regularly as well as used to wipe 3-in-1 onto my vice threads or other machinery, has become well impregnated with various rust barrier solutions. The result is a cloth which now only needs the occasional top up spray to keep it imparting essential rust barrier oils to my tools.
Simple tools such as marking knives and chisels only require a quick wipe down before they are returned to the tool chest. For planes, or other tools with moving parks, I disassemble the tools (including removing chip breakers from blades), wipe all of the components, and reassemble (being careful not to put the newly cleaned tool back down in any stay pile of shavings). The final tool in my rust prevention kit is a fine tipped air blower, which is run off a compressor at a gentle 15 PSI. The fine nozzle allows me to remove dust from parts of a tool where my fingers or the nylon brush can’t reach.
However, sometimes despite your best efforts some rust does appear. My first choice for rust removal is a Garryflex fine grit abrasive block. This is essentially a rust eraser which removes light rust while leaving the healthy tool metal untouched. For my own tools this is always sufficient thanks to the rust prevention methods discussed above. But where I am cleaning up an older tool (for instance some of the tools which previously belonged to my grandfather) with more stubborn rust, a more aggressive approach is needed. For this I use a stiff brass bristled brush which so far as removed all but the very worst patches (and I will write about tool restoration and widespread rust removal separately).
Rust prevention, and removal, do not need to be complex processes. In fact, I think that the hallmark of a good rust prevention regime is one which is simple enough to become part of your workshop routine, without the need to dedicate additional time or resources.