How to Clean and Organize Your Tools

Cleaning and maintaining your tools isn’t just about wiping the grease off them, but about preserving them for years of use. To do a basic cleaning, you only need water, detergent, and degreaser. With all-metal tools like sockets and ratchets, a solvent like brake parts cleaner can quickly clean your tools. However, even if you use your tools often, moisture in the ever-changing garage environment will eventually have its way, and corrosion will set in. In this article, we look at how to not only how to get the rust off tools, but how to keep them maintained and well organized.

How to Clean Large Rusty Tools

Cleaning large tools is a huge task in and of itself, and many of these tools are different in the ways that they are cleaned.

What does that involve?

1. Find the Work Space

Place the tool in a warm and dry location. This can be outside your workshop.

2. Disassemble and Document

Disassemble the tool to expose the corroded parts. If you are disassembling the tool for the first time, take photos at every step of the disassembly process to ensure you can put it back the way it was. Many times, bolts need to be soaked in penetrating oil for days before disassembly.

3. Dust

Use compressed air to clean out the inner parts, such as motors, that are not corroded yet but are dusty.

4. Start Removing Rust

You can use a commercial rust remover such as Metal Rescue to clean smaller parts, whereas larger parts often will need to be media blasted, or wire-wheeled to clean rust and old paint. A cup brush on a variable speed drill will also do the trick.

5. When You Need to Be Precise

When restoring flat metal surfaces that need to be precise, like a table saw deck or drill press, using a sanding disc with 220 grit sandpaper and penetrating oil for lubricant works fantastic. It’s messy, and you’ll need to frequently spray, work, then wipe off the rusty oily access, but you are then left with a smooth, rust free surface.

6. Reassemble and Test

Assemble the parts and tune and align the tool so that it is back in working order. Test the functioning of the machine and do more tuning if necessary.

Corroded and Rusty Hand Tools

Like large tools, hand tools also corrode if they are not used for a while, so it’s important to learn how to get the rust off of tools of all sizes, and keep it off. The steel parts of tools are always prone to corrosion, and wooden handles rot and sometimes fall off. You can remove the rust and get the tool back into shape using the steps below.

How to Clean Rusty Hand Tools

1. Remove Handle (If Applicable)

If the tool had a wooden handle, remove what is left of the handle. You can do that by cutting off the handle and then knocking off the bit that remains using a hammer while the tool is clamped in a vise.

2. Soak the Tool, or Use Rust Remover

Soak the tool in white vinegar for four hours so that the vinegar dissolves the rust and makes it easy to remove. Again, a commercial rust remover like Metal Rescue works fantastic here. If you use the remover, follow the directions from the manufacturer.

3. If The Tool is Really Stuck

If you’re dealing with a seized tool (usually a pair of pliers or wire cutters), a great method to get the tool working is to take a large, 1 gallon Zip-lock style bag and place the tool inside the bag. Flood the tool with a penetrating oil like WD40 or PB Blaster. Zip the bag, and set the tool aside in an old bucket or waste oil container in case it leaks. Every day, check the tool’s ability to move by working it back and forth (sometimes you can even do this through the bag) and spray more lubricant on it if necessary. The bag acts to keep all the lubricant close to the tool and prevents it from drying or running off. Usually after several days, the tool will work itself free.

4. Remove Rust and Buff

Steel wool works excellent for a final buffing and final rust removal. The steel wool buffs the tool to leave it shiny and smooth.

5. Rinse and Dry

Rinse the tool in clean water to remove the commercial rust remover or the white vinegar from the tool. Wipe the tool dry.

6. Smoothing it Out

After all the rust is gone, some tools will still show severe pitting. You can use a disc sander with a 100-grit sander to smooth the tool, then work up to 150 and 220.

7. Lubricate Joints

Next, any joints in the tool (like pliers or cutters) need to be properly lubricated with WD40 or 3-in-1 oil. Let them soak and work them back and forth to get the oil to penetrate. If you chose to prime and paint the tool, do this before any final lubrication.

8. Fit a New Handle (If Applicable)

If your tool had a handle that’s been removed, fit a new handle.

9. Prevent Future Rust

Finally, the most important piece is prevention of future rust. In this case, penetrating oil like WD40 works fantastic to keep your tools properly oiled and maintained every few months. Spray the tool down, then wipe off the excess. This layer will help resist moisture, which then turns into corrosion.

Maintaining Your Tools

Tools lead a pretty thankless existence. They are expected to do exactly what they are designed to do every time, and for most folks, they are simply tossed back into the tool box, cabinet, or shelf without much thought after the task is done. Maintaining your tools is a simple process – follow these steps below.

  • Any tools with bare metal parts that are not chromed need to be properly lubricated once every few months. WD40 or penetrating oil should be sprayed on the tool, and gently wipe off the excess.
  • Any tools with joints (like pliers) need their joints lubricated. A drop or 2 of 3-in-1 oil will keep these joints properly lubricated. If you have a vise on your workbench, open it all the way up, spray the drive down with lubricant, and close it back up.
  • Any flat, deck surfaces, like table saw decks, should be sprayed down with WD40 and gently wipe the excess off. This will keep a thin layer of oil on the metal deck and keep corrosion at bay.
  • Any tooling with a motor will collect dust over time. Take compressed air with a blow-gun and find the cooling vents or ducts on the motor. Blow compressed air through these, which will force any dust or dirt out.
  • Certain motorized tools like Air Compressors and Canister Vacuums have air filters. Don’t neglect them!
  • Many small tools use batteries of various sizes, from 9V on down to small micro-batteries. A good practice is to take inventory of all the different batteries your tools use and the respective part numbers. Always keep ample inventory of each type of battery on hand. Nothing is worse than needing a specific tool, like a Multimeter for example, only to find out the battery is dead and you don’t have a replacement on-hand.

How to Organize Your Tools

Before you learn how to organize tools, you need to learn how to store them. You should always clean and dry your tools before storage and if you live in areas of high-humidity or temperature change, keep them properly oiled. While your garage or basement is the perfect place for the tools, these areas tend to be humid. If such is the case with your garage, consider investing in a dehumidifier, or in the summertime, a small A/C unit will also keep the humidity out, and make it more pleasant to work in during the hot summer months.

Your garden tools should hang on the side walls as moisture can get to them from a concrete floor. For power tools, consider storing them in their original cases. Any tools stored in a cabinet, consider that you can always use desiccant, or silica gel to absorb moisture near the tools.

There are different ways to organize your tools:

  • Pegboard or slatboard wall organizer
  • Wall-mounted containers and baskets
  • Wall bars with pegs and hooks
  • Mobile workbench for tools you use often
  • Hooks to hang tools in a cabinet
  • Jars or stackable trays for storing bolts and nuts
  • Plier racks to store pliers upright and save space
  • Socket trays to keep your sockets upright and organized

Even if you do not have a garage, a wall in your basement or shed will accommodate most tools.

While taking care of your tools, do not neglect the toolboxes, cabinets, bags, belts, and cases. Empty these storage spaces and clean them according to their materials. Ensure that the storage is dry before you place your tools in them. If you only use your tools in summer, occasionally check on them, wipe the dust, and make sure moisture does not settle on them.

For more information on how to clean tools, contact AutoZone.

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