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How to Remove Rust the Easy Way

Kevin is picking old railroad spikes out of a 55-gallon-drum for a railroad spike sculpture. Rather than standing at a bench grinder all day or using a hand-held angle grinder to clean off the rust, he has a tool!

Kevin goes inside his art studio, where a machine on his workbench is making a lot of noise. The tool is a vibrating tumbler. It's usually used to polish rocks for making jewelry and such, but Kevin Caron has found that it's good for cleaning rust off of metal, too.

Anything that's small enough to fit inside the drum can be thrown in. He shows two spikes that have been tumbling for 20 - 30 minutes next to one that is still "virgin." It's easy to see the difference.

The tumbler gets all the flaky rust, dirt and grime off that was on the spikes from being outside on the railroad for so long. Once they have been tumbled, there is just one more step before welding.

Kevin puts on some safety glasses and steps over to the wire wheel to clean off the end of the spike he wants to weld. The spikes should now be pretty close to what he needs, although he may want to come back and touch them once again to get some shiny metal for easy welding.

Pre cleaning them in the tumbler, though, saves him a good 3 - 4 minutes per spike, and some of his spike sculptures have hundreds of spikes in them, so it adds up pretty quickly. Says Kevin: "Let the machine do the work while you're doing something else."

Kevin got his 28-pound vibratory tumbler at Harbor Freight for about $150. There is a 5-pound version, too.

In the machine, you use tumbling medium. Kevin is using some ceramic polishing bits as well as some smaller medium for rust removal. He throws both kinds in along with his spikes, puts the top on, and walks away.

Kevin usually puts the tumbler outside to keep most of the noise out there. That also puts the tool closer to the raw spikes, so he can bring in the clean ones to work with, and then grab some dirty ones to throw in.

You can use a tumbler like this to clean other things, too. Kevin removes rust from his smaller bugs, ants and spiders by just throwing them in and letting them tumble. It cleans them up and gets rid of any slag, which also is helpful for anything that's been stick welded (arc welded).

Kevin is ready to take the tumbler back outside so it can clean spikes while he gets back to work, but you might want to stick around for another moment to see why sometimes it's the little things ....

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