Rust Prevention with a Hint of Shop Safety

Learn quick, cost-effective methods for preventing rust on your tools.

Last edited: 8/30/2019

Rio Grande is located in the high desert (nearly a mile high, actually). Our average humidity here in Albuquerque is 59% in the morning and 29% in the afternoon. Because of our low humidity, tools won't rust unless they're left out in a rainstorm (yes, we do occasionally have rainstorms here in New Mexico). But jewelers in high-humidity areas deal with this issue on a daily basis.

The key to preventing rust on your tools is keeping moisture and atmospheric pollutants away from them. There are several methods you can try:

  • Coat your tools with a light oil such as 3-in-One® oil or WD-40®. Wipe off any excess oil when you need to use the tool and reapply when you are done using the tool.
  • Place seldom-used items in airtight containers or a plastic zipper bag with a packet of moisture-absorbing silica gel. (These are the little packets that come in boxes of new shoes or OTC vitamins.) This is great for dapping sets or specialty pliers. Remember, before the tool is placed in the container or bag, make sure it's completely dry — you don't want to trap moisture in!
  • Make sure polished tools stay polished. Rust has a hard time forming on smooth surfaces.
  • For frequently used tools like files and burs keep a couple of silica gel packets in your bench drawers. Some machinists keep regular chalkboard chalk in their toolboxes to help absorb moisture.
  • Have a healthy respect for oxidizers, patinas and other chemicals. Chemical pollutants can drastically accelerate rusting. If you use oxidizers, or any other corrosive material, make sure that the lid is kept on tight so that it can't permeate the air unnecessarily and never leave it open or unattended.

Following any or all of these methods will help keep you healthy and your tools working well for years to come!

Speaking of respecting chemicals, remember to always store them properly. The book The Complete Metalsmith by Tim McCreight suggests, "Store acids in narrow-necked glass or plastic jars with glass or plastic lids. Store in a cool dark place; never store up high."

Now, I'm not a chemist, but I do understand that chemicals need to be treated with respect. Always use good ventilation when working with any kind of chemical. When in doubt, wear a fume respirator. Just think, if a tool can rust by being exposed to chemical vapors, what are those vapors doing to you? Always ask for and read a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for any of the chemicals you have on hand. The SDS tells you what safety precautions are needed and what to do in case of a spill or ingestion. All SDSs are available on our product pages.

Who'd have thought that rust had anything to do with shop safety? In one way or another, shop safety touches on everything you do in your shop. It pays to keep safety in mind always. For an excellent resource on shop safety, check out the book The Jewelry Workshop Safety Report, by Charles Lewton-Brain. Just about everything you need to know about workshop safety is covered in this book.