Cleaning great-grandpa’s tools…

I decided to try my hand today at cleaning my great-grandfather Herbie’s tools that my dad donated to the shop around Halloween.IMAG2192

As you can see they’re pretty rusted and well used.  The hammer is clearly missing a handle and the two chisels definitely need new handles (one is broken off in the cone, the other has it’s handle but that thing is so dry rotted it hardly weighs anything).

After some research on the internet I found a couple home-remedy ideas (I don’t have the budget to go buy some rust remover at the BORG).  One that I thought I’d give a try was vinegar and baking soda.

You (in theory) mix baking soda with vinegar until you get a thick paste.  This paste then is applied to the tool and it is left to “soak” for a while.  The website I got the tip from suggested 5-10 minutes.  They also suggested soaking the tools in pure vinegar for a while (30 minutes).  Both of these seemed reasonable so I thought I’d give ’em both a go.

First up the hammer head took a bath in a bag with straight up vinegar and let it soak for 30 minutes.IMAG2297

Kind of hard to see, because I wasn’t sure how to proceed, I wrapped a bowl in tin foil and put the vinegar and tools in a ziplock then put that in the bowl.

At the same time, I mixed up some baking soda and vinegar (ooooh, fizzy!) and got a nice thick paste that I coated the ball peen hammer with.IMAG2298This I let soak nearly 45 minutes.  This picture was taken about 30 minutes in…you can see that the paste that was pretty thick is now more liquid-y.

I pulled out the hammer head and washed it off in warm water.  I was very surprised to see that a good portion of the rust had vanished.  I expected that with this much rust gone, the vinegar would be a different color but it really wasn’t.  There was just the slightest hint of coloring to the vinegar.  But here’s the result:IMAG2293

Note the corners where it’s really shiny was my attempt at using sandpaper before this process started…I wanted to see what would happen, lol.

Here’s some other angles:IMAG2295IMAG2293

The rust you see on the inside of the slot there in the above photo is what most of the hammer head looked like before this started!  It’s not a perfect solution, but hey, it’s a nice improvement!!

So, I tried the chisels and clippers and put them in the vinegar bath.  Meanwhile, I pulled out the ball peen hammer, scrubbed vigorously with my thumb on the paste and watched as it turned rust red instantly.  After a while, I ran it under some warm water and it was remarkable—the places where I had rubbed my thumb over the paste were REALLY clean:IMAG2299

You can see that the bits that are left are in spots I couldn’t get my finger into.  Had I known it would have worked like this I would have had a brush or something on hand.  This may require a second attempt with the proper implements of destruction.

After a half hour, I decided to try something else—I took the remaining tools out of vinegar bath and made the paste and put them in for round #2.  Oddly enough, I got the same results as if I had just put them in the paste to begin with:IMAG2303

I would estimate that 75-80% of the rust is gone now!  Pretty nifty.  I want to do it again though to get those last bits of ugly rust off these tools.  Dad suggested salt and vinegar so I’m going to try that as well. If nothing else, I’ll figure out how to do this when I find something at a garage sale…

Oh—one last thing.  When I pulled the clippers out of the paste and finished scrubbing them—I saw a makers mark!  IMAG2300I can’t quite make it out, but it surprised the hell out of me.  It reads “H—ER & SON(-?).  There is a little fleur-de-lis and under it “H” and under that a “6”.  I have tried researching this manufacturer online but I’m coming up empty without those missing letters (and I can’t tell if it’s Son or Sons).  Looks like the part that’s missing has been compressed or chipped off in the past.  I really want to know about this manufacturer now.

Any of you tool gurus out there have any idea where to start my search?  My great-grandfather was a blacksmith’s apprentice  in 1892 and listed as blacksmith in the census for 1900-1920.


About Steven M. Vaught

A native son of Delaware, now living in Illinois, Steven is a writer, family historian, amateur astronomer, sometimes-gardener, woodworker, father to three wonderful children, husband to a wonderful wife, and caretaker of one cheeky vizsla.
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