Sunday, 9 September 2012


You may have guessed by now that I'm fairly fond of woodworking tools. In fact pretty much all hand tools and especially old ones. Sometimes you're lucky enough to find old stuff in great condition but on the odd occasion you'll find something that is not quite what it used to be. Covered in rust, scale or both, but perhaps there's something about it, it's rarity or another quality, that make it worthy of attention.

A few weeks back I was driving through Chewton ( little old 1800's gold mining town ) with a few minutes to spare and popped into one of the local antique shops to have a quick look around. A quick scrounge in one of the tool boxes and voila! Two old Cooks Patent auger bits. Nice. Only one problem, they were heavily covered in rust. I could see that there was some semblance of writing on the drill shaft but there was no way of making out what.

Here is a couple of pairs of H.V. McKay cast gate hinges, uncommon and worth cleaning up. The drill bits were in the same condition, but I didn't get a 'before' photo....

Although some old tools require cleaning to become serviceable again or 'users,'  it's always disappointing seeing a great old piece that has been destroyed by over zealous cleaning, usually with a wire brush wheel on a bench grinder. The end result is a gaudy, bright, over polished silver lump without any of the detail that may have existed under the rust. Not the answer. And especially when you are talking about the ultra fine spiral tip on a Cook's bit.

                                                   Mmmm, a drum full of black goodness

On the way home I recalled something that my Uncle put me onto when I was a kid, wanting to clean up all manner of junk that I was collecting at the time. Molasses . Yep, jet black, sickly sweet smelling molasses. So a quick detour via the stock and feed agents around the corner and a 20 litre bucket of Queensland's finest was procured. At around 52% pure sugar this stuff is made to eat rust. There's no special secret. Just tip the molasses into a larger drum and add the same volume of water. Mix it thoroughly until it's an even solution. Ideally you would just use neat molasses, but this stuff is so thick you would spend half your time trying to submerge anything in it!

                                                        Freshly rinsed and dried

Then just put what ever it is you want to clean into the drum and make sure it's fully covered. Then just sit back and wait. Depending on how thick the rust is, it can take between two to four weeks. Then just fish out the offending piece of metal and rinse off all the molasses. You'll notice that all of the rust will have gone and the item will be a dull matt grey, possibly with a yellowish scale as well. This can be removed with a very light rub with some 0000 steel wool or a scotch brite pad.

The result two very clean Cooks patent bits, with a light coat of machinists oil to stop the rust returning. The sharp detail all still present and the makers names, I Sorby and Thomas Turner & Co. as clear as a bell. The gate hinges are due out next week, along with a a couple of very old spades and a set of cast castor wheels. Cheap, easy and just the stuff to clean up any thing metal that has succumbed to rust. I wouldn't recommend it on your pancakes though...


  1. My grandmother used to recount an unfortunate incident in which a heavily encrusted cast iron frying pan was left too long in a vat of molasses and was completely consumed… along with an elderly scullery maid.


    1. Serves her right Jack for lying about on the job !

  2. A neat little tip worth it's weight in black gold! Thanks, I had no idea about using molasses to clean up rust. Awesome.

    1. Thanks Fi, your more than welcome. How's the book coming along? Hope all's well with you.

  3. Mental note: Don't substitute Molasses for other sweet treats when rummaging around the kitchen of our esteemed Chewton forager...

  4. It's ok Dave I have it clearly labeled by virtue of the 44 gallon drum sitting in the back yard ......although it does smell liquorice-ly awesome!