Professionals and Amateurs Together

Preventing Rust


I am constantly working to prevent rusting of my hand tools and stationary equipment. I currently use carnauba wax with mixed results.—Ed Taylor


Bob Couch replies: I have been using Johnson’s Bowling Alley Wax for years with great results. It has become very hard to find but there are now other brands. If you can’t find it in your local hardware store, you can find it on Amazon if you search on Bowling Alley Wax. It is a very hard wax and I apply it twice a year on every cast iron surface in my shop.

Peter Breu replies: I use camellia oil from Japan Woodworker. This is a very fine oil that seems not to create any problems with finishing. Their applicator makes the use of the oil very easy.

Dave Anderson replies: While carnauba or any other wax will impart some protection to steel and cast iron, there are other considerations. Large and quick drops in temperature in a shop have the ability to cause almost invisible condensation to form on the surface of tools. This is particularly true the thicker and heavier the metal. Think of the meal as a heat sink which both heats and cools slowly compared to the air temperature. I have found several products which work well either alone or in combination to delay and minimize rust. Note my wording in the past sentence ˝delay and minimize˝. Rust will occur even with protection if either the conditions are right or if the film is not applied often enough. An attempt should be made to avoid the condensation by covering the tools as the primary defense against rust. Any anti-rust treatment should be the second line of defense.

For a single step treatment, I like Similchrome polish available from Lee Valley since it cleans, polishes and retards rust. I use it on most of my hand tools which are subject to corrosion from the salts and moisture in my hands in addition to atmospheric moisture. My other approach is a two step treatment. First I apply Boeshield T-9 on the surface and carefully buff it to a shine while removing all cloudiness. After that I apply a layer of Top Cote. Both are available from Woodcraft, Rockler and numerous other sources. The Boeshield is the primary rust preventative and the Top Cote provides the slick surface in contact with the wood.

Peter James replies: For many years I have used Johnson’s paste wax and lots of it. I have tried other products but always come back to the wax. The nice thing about the paste wax is that it does not interfere with finishing processes. Also, when I am dealing with wet wood as sometimes is necessary, I put a heavy coat of wax on the machine tables and don’t wipe it off. When I am done, I clean and rewax the table. If you can control moisture in your shop, that helps. Also large changes in temperature work against you.

Fred Chellis replies: Rusting of tools is caused by storage in areas with high humidity and/or wide swings in temperature and humidity, for example in a unheated garage. This results in condensation on the tools and subsequently surface rust. The best way to prevent rust is to keep your tools stored in a semi-controlled environment, like a warm basement or heated building where the temperatures stay between 50° and 70° and the air is relatively dry. Lacking a space like that, there are some products that on a very temporary basis provide some protection, for example WD-40 or paste wax, but they require constant attention. There are also rust preventing mats which are available which can be used on tablesaw tops, jointer’s etc. These act as a vapor barrier and also have rust inhibiting chemicals in them.

Bob Oswald replies: I’m not a fan of wax because it can transfer to the work. I use my tools so much that they don’t seem to want to rust. But spray-on products such as Boeshield T-9 or Bostik DryCote from places like Amazon or Rockler provide a dry coating, lubricate the surface and help keep the surface safe from rust. Google rust prevention on machine tools for other ideas.

Jon Siegel replies: You have an environmental problem in your shop. Either you have too much humidity or you have wide temperature swings. If you correct this situation you will not need to coat your tools with anything to prevent rust. Also you will have fewer problems with wood movement, gluing and finishing.

Steve Costain replies: Fine Woodworking just did an article on this in issue #227, but I have always used butchers wax.

Tags: Rust