- Q. I have a mystery tool -- can you help identify it?
A. Due to time constraints we're not able to help identify tools at this time.
Our site has many photographs of obscure tools,
some of which were once "mystery tools" here as well,
and you should check carefully to see if your tool (or something similar) is shown.
Our Trademarks and Logos page offers a table of
Stamped or Forged-in Logos commonly found on tools,
and these marks may be very helpful in identifying your tool.
If your tool has readable markings with a brand or company name,
you might want to do a thorough search of google books.
Beyond that, we would suggest posting a question to one of the tool discussion boards
listed on our External Links page.
- Q. How can I recognize a cadmium finish on tools?
A. Cadmium was widely used as an inexpensive plated finish for tools (and other metal items)
from the 1920s or earlier into the 1970s or later.
Since cadmium metal and its compounds are toxic,
its use has now been greatly curtailed,
but there are still a lot of cadmium tools out there.
Cadmium is a light gray metal with an appearance closer to zinc (galvanized) finishes
than to brighter chrome or nickel finishes.
Cadmium finishes often have a dusty oxide coating on the surface,
which when combined with grease and oil can give a tool a very dirty appearance.
Although cadmium resists corrosion fairly well,
once the surface is breached the tool may develop a blotchy appearance,
with darkened (almost black) or rusty areas where the plating is gone.
If present, these blotchy areas help quickly identify a cadmium finish.
Cadmium is a soft metal and will easily leave a mark on paper if scraped along the surface.
(Obviously the tool needs to be clean before making this test!)
Once a cadmium plated tool has been identified,
it's important to exercise caution in handling.
Rubber gloves should be used when cleaning cadmium plated tools,
and wet sanding is preferred to reduce dust generation.
Never use a wire wheel for cleaning cadmium finishes,
as this may generate vast quantities of metal dust,
which is toxic if inhaled.
It's a good idea to avoid letting children handle such tools,
and everyone should wash their hands after handling.
- Q. What is your recommended method for cleaning tools?
A. We don't claim to be experts at tool cleaning,
but will offer these observations as someone who has cleaned way too many tools over the years.
When cleaning tools for display here,
we try to remove all the dirt, grease, and rust that obscures the tool's features,
while preserving as much of the original finish as possible.
Obviously these objectives may at times be in conflict --
for example, it's often not possible to remove all the rust from a tool while
preserving the remaining original paint.
To simplify this section, we'll consider de-rusting as a separate topic (see below).
The basic methods for tool cleaning are hand wire-brushing to remove large accumulations
of dirt and grime,
followed by wet sanding using WD-40 as a lubricant.
For wire-brushing you'll want to have several sizes and types of brushes to handle flat surfaces,
sockets, or recessed areas.
An old style dental pick is another useful cleaning utensil,
especially for removing dirt from cracks, slots, or hidden areas.
The wet sanding step serves to remove remaining dirt and grease,
and will also polish the remaining plated finish.
We use wet-dry paper with 300 or 400 grit,
which works well for most tools.
Also at this step you may want to file down any burrs left over from hammering
or other abuse of the tool;
such burrs can result in cuts when the tool is used,
and most mechanics would prefer to avoid this.
(And of course almost everyone abuses their tools at some point.)
Tools with only small patches of the original finish remaining may require special cleaning.
It's better to underclean a tool (or leave a rusty area) in order to retain some original finish,
as the finish may be important in estimating the manufacturing date.
- Q. How can I remove rust from tools?
A. Anyone with an interest in older tools will have to deal with rust at some point --
and generally sooner than later.
Most tools are primarily composed of iron (as steel),
and iron will rust easily unless protected by a finish or kept very dry.
So given the need to remove rust,
there are a number of methods that can be used, with various advantages and disadvantages.
Our preferred technique for rust removal is electrolytic de-rusting,
an inexpensive method requiring only a battery charger, a plastic tub,
and baking soda from your kitchen.
There are fairly extensive resources on this technique available online,
so we would recommend that you first do a search for "electrolytic de-rusting" and read through
some of the articles.
The remainder of this section will assume that you understand the basic concepts.
Once a tool has been treated in the de-rusting bath,
it's important to realize that the rust hasn't been removed,
but rather converted to iron powder.
The iron powder immediately starts rusting again,
but the important difference is that now the iron or rust powder can be brushed off
easily with a wire brush.
After the electrolytic treatment,
the tool can be cleaned using the steps outlined in the previous section.
An important feature of the electrolytic technique is that it won't damage any bare metal
or remaining plated finish.
Thus whatever finish or marking detail is still present on the tool will be preserved
during the treatment.
most painted finishes will not be preserved by the electrolytic treatment,
whether due to the slightly alkaline nature of the baking soda,
or the presence of hydrogen bubbles under the painted surface.
Another technique for derusting is the use of a commercial chemical product called "Evaporust".
We haven't used this here,
but have heard from reliable sources that it works quite well.
Our main reservations would be with the cost and with the need to dispose of the spent liquid,
which would be loaded with iron.
One more effective -- but not recommended --
method of rust removal is by sand or bead blasting.
Sand blasting is very fast,
but is very harsh on old finishes,
and may even remove some stamped markings.
Therefore this is not recommended for tool cleaning,
except perhaps for items of purely utilitarian value.