Alloy Artifacts

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

This section summarizes the more common inquiries received by this site over the years. If you still have questions after reading our site (and checking the index!), you may be able to find an answer here.

Still can't find the answer? You might want to consider joining one of the tool discussion boards listed on our External Links page. These discussion groups have some very knowledgeable members who may be able to answer your question, or at least provide additional information. We monitor the discussion boards from time to time, and if there is some topic that enough people think should be added to the Alloy Artifacts site, we'll consider it as time permits.

Site Policies

  • Q. I just found an XYZ tool at a yard sale. What is it worth?

    A. Alloy Artifacts does not offer appraisals or price estimates for tools. However, when we buy tools, we're able to find a wide variety of interesting older tools for $2 or less at the local flea markets or used tool stores.

  • Q. I have some tools that aren't listed on Alloy Artifacts. Can I send you photographs to use on the site?

    A. Thanks for your consideration, but our current policy is to use only tools in the Alloy Artifacts Collection for the website. We want to have the original tool available in case any additional questions arise -- sometimes it's easy to overlook a small marking or construction detail that later becomes important. Also, if at some point we're able to open a physical tool museum, obviously we'll need to have the artifacts available.

    Keep in mind that we have a large backlog of tools to be added to the site, waiting for the alignment of our limited time and those elusive round-tuits. If you feel that the site could be improved by adding coverage for a particular tool, please let us know and we'll try to acquire the item (if it's not already here) and bump the priority on adding it.

  • Q. I would like to donate a tool to Alloy Artifacts. Do you accept donations?

    A. Thank you for your kind offer. Currently we're having a storage space problem and are unable to accept donations at this time. We still have piles of tools purchased in past years that need to be cleaned, sorted, and catalogued, and we need to build more storage shelves to get everything organized. In addition, we have a backlog of several years for tools to be photographed and added to the web pages.

  • Q. Does your museum have a physical location?

    A. No, Alloy Artifacts operates only as an online virtual museum.

  • Q. Do you offer telephone support?

    A. No, not at this time. This is a hobby operation and the time required for telephone inquiries would significantly reduce the time available for improving the website.

Tool Companies

  • Q. I have an XYZ tool in need of warranty service. How do I get it repaired/replaced?

    A. Please note that Alloy Artifacts is not a dealer or representative for any of the companies mentioned on the site. If the maker of your tool is still in business, you would need to find a dealer for the company, or contact the manufacturer directly.

    Many of the older tool companies covered here are no longer in business, and therefore it's generally not possible to get warranty service on their tools, even if the company offered a "Lifetime Guarantee" when it was in business. In this case your best bet for replacements or repair parts would be to check on Ebay, currently the largest marketplace for used tools.

Tool Identification and Cleaning

  • 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. However, 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.

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