Design & DIY

Cottage Q&A: How to rehab rusty tools

Close-up of a rusty saw By Helena Maksyom/Shutterstock

We have a totally rusty handsaw and cross-cut saw. Is there any way to restore a rusty blade to make it usable again, or is it okay to use it as is?—Stella Traveller, Huntsville, Ont.

Well, it’s okay to use a rusty saw. And the rust will start to come off as soon as you start to use it, says Peter Nietlispach, the owner of Peacock Woodcraft in Temagami, Ont. “After about eight cuts, a lot of that rust will disappear.” So, problem? Solution!

But rust will make the saw’s teeth dull. It’ll be harder to push back and forth. In other words, “the sawing would be a less-than-enjoyable experience,” says Cottage Life project builder Wayne Lennox. “Ideally, one strives to prevent tools from getting rusty in the first place.” Well, yes. But too late for that. Lennox has had success reviving a rusty saw with 3-in-One Multi-Purpose Oil and scrubbing away the rust using steel wool. That said, “in a pinch, you could just oil the saw’s teeth to at least get the job done,” he says.

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Presumably, these saws live in a tool shed where “the moisture levels can go up and down,” says Nietlispach. That’s a recipe for rust. Coating the clean, dry saws with a silicone spray—“it acts like an outer seal,” says Nietlispach—and storing them in a tool box will create a barrier against the moisture. (In the past, we’ve recommended storing tools in a sealed, wooden box; wood absorbs water.)

But wait: how rusty is “totally rusty”? If it’s going to take professional help to rehab the saw, it might be simpler and cheaper to retire it and replace it, says Nietlispach. “Then, if you really love that old saw—maybe Grandpa built the original cottage with it—paint it black and hang it on the wall,” he says. “Let it become a decorative piece.” Grandpa would be…okay, maybe not proud. But he’d be flattered.

This article was originally published in the March/April 2023 issue of Cottage Life.

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