ARTICLES & REVIEWS
by Bob Smalser, Seabeck, WA
“Rustproof” with routine care, that is…nothing I know of will prevent steel from rusting some when put away wet in warm weather, especially when covered with sweaty, salty fingerprints. If your tools are used indoors and live in a heated shop, you might not benefit much from this other than a good way to hide rust staining that won't buff off. If your tools live and work in wet, open boat sheds, however, then these methods may be of some benefit.
I've been looking for one of these large hand gouges or slick gouges for a long time to complement my heirloom 3” slick. When a good bit of stock requires removal to fit two large timbers together, the gouge works like a scrub plane to remove high spots and set the depth of the cut, to be smoothed afterwards using the slick.
This one is unmarked, and quite old, with both a hammer-welded socket and laminated blade. After rough wire-brushing, you can see the hard-steel, cutting-edge lamination to a softer body, both on the bevel…
…and the back. Used in a shipyard somewhere on the coast of New England, it is badly pitted, although its 20-degree paring bevel is still surprisingly sharp. It also has a hole in the socket to secure the gouge's handle with a screw, a safety measure that was required in many yards.
To put it back into service, the first step is grinding out the pits on the hard, cutting-edge side of the gouge using the belt sander with 60 thru 150 grit belts in succession…
…and the pitting in the softer body and socket steel drawfiled out. Not all of the backside pits could be removed without thinning the lamination too severely, but the few remaining can be worked around in future resharpenings. I do nothing to the gouge's cannel or inside face, because it isn't necessary.
A soft wire brush used against the direction of grinding and filing smoothes the surface…
…and the freshly-cleaned steel is treated overnight with phosphoric acid, which reacts with any remaining rust in the pits to form harmless iron phosphate, which also leaves a gray surface on the clean steel. This is basically the same treatment developed during WWI to “Parkerize” bare steel in military weapons….and is still used today.
While the phosphoric acid is working, I turn a handle…
…and fit it to the socket.
As I really only need the iron phosphate residue to seal the remaining pits, which are magnets for the salt and moisture that causes more rust, I buff off the gray iron phosphate using green rouge on an 8-inch, 1750-rpm wheel to bring the steel surface to a high shine. A soft wire brush can also be used to remove the gray before buffing, but with the danger of digging out the iron phosphate protecting the remaining pits.
Then I degrease, first using mineral spirits to clean off the rouge, followed by trichloroethylene to remove the mineral spirits and bring the steel to a state of surgical cleanliness. Rubber gloves are worn to both prevent fingerprints and protect the skin from the TCE, a strong solvent and suspected carcinogen…and the gouge placed on a clean, paper surface.
When the TCE is dry, I liberally swab the steel with a proprietary phosphate bluing preparation made by Brownell's in Iowa. This isn't just any cold, touch-up gun blue sold at sporting goods stores…you'll find the after rust on those disastrous and their durability and protection minimal. This phosphate blue builds up on the surface of the steel to the point where water puddles on it, and applied correctly, is extremely durable.
Note throughout that I pour the solution into a separate pan so as to not contaminate the container with dirty swabs and expended chemical.
After the first swabbing, I place the wet gouge on a slightly-warm stove for the bluing solution to work for five minutes or so and then to dry. Then I degrease again using TCE and apply a second coat of bluing using a gray Scotchbrite pad vigorously, doing my best to scrub off the first coat of bluing. I repeat the drying and degreasing procedure, and apply a third coat using a milder white Scotchbrite pad. After drying, I hand buff using soft paper towels before applying oil. Each cycle burnishes the steel and adds to the durability of the surface, and you can do as many as you like…
…but I find that three coats is usually sufficient for water to puddle on the surface before any oil is applied. Oiling the steel liberally afterwards is essential for the first 24 hour “after rust” period, then you can degrease using mineral spirits and apply paste wax if that's your preference. As oily rags are easier to come by than paste wax wherever I happen to be working, I stick with oil.
After oiling, I mount the fitted handles using dyed, thickened marine epoxy…
…file and hone a new bevel…
…and try the crossgrain paring of White Oak the gouge was designed for. The gouge isn't as prone to following the grain and digging in like the slick, and both together…
…make a nice, matched pair.
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Oh the joy of living in a place where tools do not rust! Humidity today is 16%.
Another method of stabilising rust deep in pits came from a Museum conservator ..... that of using Tannic Acid to convert the rust to Ferric Tannate. I Am a big tea drinker and I save all the tea bags for a month or so and boil them up in water. After straining, this gives a very workable tannic acid solution. Simply place the tool in and bring to a simmer for an hour and the job is done. I retrieve the tool and, while still hot, scrub off surface residues using wire wool lubricated with thin oil. Wipe clean and apply another coat of oil. I am convinced the oiling while still hot, helps get it down into all the micro cracks and porous area the eye simply can't see.