Sunday, September 11, 2016

How to clean a rusty table saw

The $60 table saw that I scored on Craigslist was in pretty good shape, but the rusty cast iron surface definitely needed some TLC to bring back its luster. There's many ways to clean a rusty table saw, but here's a quick DIY tutorial that you can use to refresh your tool surfaces with basic household items.

What you'll need:
  • Scouring pad
  • Steel wool (#0 fine seems to work well)
  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda or something to provide a bit of grit
  • Lots of paper towels
  • Water
  • A 250 grit waterstone/whetstone or an orbital sander if you dare...
  • Paste wax (hardware stores usually have it on the cleaning supply aisle. Alternately, check the paint section where they have the hardwood floor stains)



First, a warning
A level surface is critical on a table saw. Never scrub a single spot with extra force because this could create a depression in the saw surface. A good rule of thumb is to apply medium pressure, evenly distributed across the entire surface.

Now, let's remove the thinnest layer of surface rust. 

This is the quickest and easiest layer to remove. It will help you gauge how aggressive you'll need to get to refresh the shine on your saw.

Spray the top with vinegar and let it sit until the rust turns black. Then, simply scrub the top with a scouring pad and wipe clean to check your progress. Only apply medium pressure. If progress is slow, ditch the scouring pad and move on to steel wool. A sprinkle of baking soda will provide a bit of extra grit to help scrub away the rust.

It's important to neutralize the vinegar by wiping the surface with a damp cloth. If you don't, the vinegar will keep eating away at the saw.

Next, tackle the deeper trouble spots.

The surface should be showing some signs of improvement. Take note of any dark splotches where the rust has eaten deeper into the surface. Use these as your gauge. You'll want to use the least aggressive method that clears these trouble spots.

The safest and best option is to use a waterstone. A perfectly flat waterstone is good because it applies pressure evenly across a large area. This method helps to avoid creating any depressions in the surface of your saw. I found this to work best:

  1. Soak the stone for 10 minutes. (flatten the stone if needed)
  2. Lightly spritz the surface with water.
  3. With both hands on the stone, run it along the surface until a slurry builds up.
  4. Then use grade #0 fine steel wool, rubbing the entire surface evenly.
  5. Wipe away the slurry with a paper towel.
  6. Spritz with water and wipe it dry.
  7. Repeat if necessary.

Alternately, you could use an orbital sander...this is a more aggressive measure that necessitates caution and reasonable judgement. Orbital sanders can badly mar the surface if used improperly. Only attempt this method if you are competent with orbital sanders.

Finally, apply a layer of paste wax to protect the surface from rust.

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