Real Estate News

Ask the Carpenter: How to rid tools of rust, keep them that way

Rob Robillard tackles readers' questions about rusty tools and cracking caulking.

Associated Press

Q. I’m looking for advice on how to refurbish old tools. I inherited a toolbox with a nice assortment of wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, etc.; however, they are a bit rusted and in need of lubrication. Not sure whether steel wool or sandpaper should be used on the rust. Should I “oil’’ them, and if so, what should I use? The toolbox itself is also in need of care.

AMS, Westford

A. I know you inherited these, but a word or two on caring for tools might benefit other readers. It is much easier to protect your tools from rust than to deal with the consequences. The three main ways to protect your tools from rust are:


■ Controlling humidity;

■ Not allowing them to get wet;

■ Applying a protective coating.

When my tools do get rusty, I use a wire wheel on my grinding stone and sandpaper. As long as the rusting has not pitted the surface, you can clean it off. If you have a stubborn area or slight pitting, you can try steel wool or a steel-wire brush with some WD-40 as a lubricant. Once the surface is clean, rub on a good quality paste wax to protect the surface.

Control humidity

If your hand tools are susceptible to rust, try adding a moisture-absorbing gel pack to your toolbox or drawer. These silica-gel desiccants absorb excess moisture and reduce the humidity level in enclosed areas.

You can also try a vapor-corrosion inhibitor (VCI). They are water-based, nonpolluting, molecular coatings that protect metals in enclosed spaces for a year or more at a time. The VCI vapor fills the enclosed space and electrochemically bonds to metal surfaces, sealing out moisture and protecting against corrosion and rust. The beauty of using VCIs is that they protect any metal surface that air can reach, including those nooks and crannies where you can’t apply a protectant.

Avoid getting tools wet

It goes without saying that you should try not to get your tools wet. Contractors who set up their tools outside struggle with this.

Apply a protective coating

I also treat all metal surface tops, like table saws and drill presses, with butchers wax, which helps keep the metal tops rust-free for a longer time. You can buy wax at your local hardware or automotive store. Look for and select automotive-paste-type wax. Wax regularly to keep the rust off. I do not recommend oily sprays (they tend to stain the wood), and I also do not like the oily residue it leaves on my hands when working with the tools.

Employ my rust removal-and-prevention formula

1. Sand or scrub with a Scotch-Brite pad, fine steel wool, orbital sander with sandpaper (220-400 grit), or a wire wheel on a grinding stone to remove any surface rust.


2. Use a small amount of mineral spirits to help remove grime.

3. Sand again until all of the rust is gone.

4. Wipe clean with a rag, and keep applying clean mineral spirits until all of the dirt, wax, and rust have been removed.

5. Apply a light coat of oil (machine oil is fine) over the entire metal surface. Wipe off excess.

6. Polish with a clean rag.

Note: There are other commercially available protective coatings that work well, such as Bull Frog products or Boeshield T-9 spray. Hope this helps.


Q. A few years ago I installed wood crown molding in an older brick high-rise condo with popcorn ceilings (circa 1970). From the onset, I have had problems with the caulking cracking along the ceiling and wall. I have had it repaired several times. I understand wood will shrink and expand, but the result is quite unsightly. Is there any solution to this problem?


A. It’s possible that the molding was not installed or fastened properly. It difficult for me to tell without seeing it. Did the installer preprime the molding and all cut ends? With crown molding there may not always be a joist to nail to at the ceiling. I sometimes install a backer board, which is a custom-cut, angled piece of wood screwed into the studs for the entire length of the wall. This provides a continuous place to secure the molding.


Do you control the humidity in the house? Preventing large humidity shifts may also help. Lastly you can always replace with PVC, Fypon, or a plastic molding to avoid this.

Rob Robillard is a general contractor, carpenter, editor of, and principal of a carpentry and renovation business. Send your questions to [email protected] or tweet them to @robertrobillard.


This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on