Thursday, July 28, 2016

Tools and Rust

Many preppers have tools and supplies cached or stored for use after TSHTF. Personally, I have a large selection of hand tools at my primary BOL, with a smaller collection at the secondary BOL, and an even smaller collection that ride in the pickup with me. Hand tools are great to have if you repair things as often as I do, and after TSHTF you won't be able to go to the store to replace that broken chair, firearm, or backpack; it will be reuse, repair, recycle instead of replace.

You'll need to know how to repair the things you use and have the tools needed to effect the repairs. Power tools are faster than hand tools, but I don't expect to have the power to run them in a crisis, so I collect hand tools.

Storing tools has a few problems, rust being the main one. Stainless steel is a wonderful invention, but there are only a few stainless alloys that are suitable for use in tools, and it is three to ten times the price of carbon steel. I'll be focusing on carbon steel for this article. 

Storage and Maintenance
On large equipment (plows, bulldozers, etc.), rust isn't much of an issue since it will be scoured away as soon as you start to use the equipment. Smaller equipment needs more TLC, and the smaller it is, the more attention you have to give it.

Larger hand tools like hammers, axes, mauls, hand saws, and shovels should be stored clean and lightly oiled. Oil evaporates over time, so you'll have to check them occasionally and re-coat them. If oil is not available, a fine coating of wax will work just as well. Long term or cached storage, where you don't have easy access to the tools, will require a coating of heavy grease or cosmoline. The goal of all of these is to keep moisture and air from getting to the metal.

Smaller hand tools like wrenches and screwdrivers need to be kept clean and dry, preferably stored in a water-tight container. A good tool box should not allow rain or spray inside once the lid is closed. Be careful buying the cheap tool boxes and look them over carefully. Dollar store plastic food containers work, as long as you keep them out of the sunlight (UV degrades the plastic rapidly). Look for pasta containers to hold your longer tools.

Cutting tools like files, rasps, and drill bits are hard to reproduce and should be treated with care. Always store them separate from each other, since hardened steel bouncing around in a drawer or tool box tends to dull itself. A layer of fabric between files is sufficient as long as it stays dry, which is why you used to see them stored rolled up in canvas “tool rolls” where each had its own pocket. Simple to make from an old pair of jeans, a tool roll will prevent damaged and lost tools.

Gripping tools like pliers, pipe wrenches, and adjustable wrenches like to rust where the moving parts meet. It's harder to clean there, and getting them oiled becomes more important.

Tiny tools like sewing needles need to be kept in water-tight containers. Rust on a needle will make it difficult to pull through fabric and they're a PITA to clean. Precision screwdrivers and other small tools are almost as bad as sewing needles.

Rust Removal
If you have a tool that is already rusty, there are ways to remove the rust and save the tool. I actually look for old tools (they havebetter steel) that have rust or grease built up on them at farm sales and antique stores. As long as the rust hasn't damaged the structural strength of the tool, I can usually get it working again. They're also cheaper than clean old tools.

  • Sandpaper is easy to mimic using actual sand and a piece of leather.
  • Placing a rusty part in a box full of sand and then shaking the box mimics the effect of a sand-blaster (just a lot slower) and is about the only way to clean chain mail and other intricate metal assemblies.
  • Sand is just rocks that have beat each other to pieces. If you don't have access to sand, bashing two rocks together will produce some. It also works wonders for venting frustrations, but watch your fingers.
  • Steel wool stores well as long as it is kept dry. Metal shavings from a drill, mill, or lathe will cut like the coarsest steel wool.
  • Files are handy for sharpening cutting tools and can also be used to remove rust from surfaces. Check your files to see if they have a “safe” edge, which is an edge with no serrations. These are  handy for working on a surface without removing anything from adjacent areas.
  • Scrapers work best on large, flat surfaces. I managed to resurrect a 10” table saw by scraping the rust off with a large paint scraper, followed by using the back edge of a commercial (railroad, actually) hacksaw blade which was 24 inches long. The long blade helped take down high spots and kept me from gouging the surface. The table was then coated with wax, since oil would stain any wood I was cutting.
  • Using the back of one tool to clean another eliminates the need to buy/store/maintain specialized scrapers. Broken saw blades are hardened steel and make good improvised scrapers.
  • Acids will remove rust, with the stronger acids attacking the metal as well. Use with care.
  • “Naval jelly” is a chemical compound sold under various names that converts the rust to a stable compound capable of sealing out moisture and air. I've used it once or twice and it worked as advertised, but I didn't care for the appearance of the tools afterwards.
  • There are a few newer chemical systems on the market, but I haven't had a chance to play with them. Check the local auto parts stores.

Once the rust is removed you need to get something on the metal as soon as possible to keep moisture and air away.
  • Paint works if you have it available, but making your own paint is an extensive project that I wouldn't try without the resources of at least a small town.
  • Wax is a natural product that is fairly common. Beekeepers will be very popular after TSHTF.
  • Grease doesn't have to be petroleum based, but be aware that animal fats oxidize and go rancid unless they have a preservative added. Lanolin, which is the grease removed from wool, works well but has a low melting temperature. Lard and such need to be rendered down and cooked to drive out all excess water, since you're using it to keep water away.
  • Vegetable oils work for coating tools, but evaporate quickly and may polymerize into thick goo if applied too liberally. Olive oil beats out corn or soybean oil for general lubrication.

Tools are handy to have for making repairs and for trade goods. For example, once the chainsaws run out of gas, those old hand saws and axes are going to be the only way to clear fallen trees and cut firewood. Learn how to use them and take care of them now, while you have the chance.

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