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Expert Advice: How to Get Rust off Tools

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Expert Advice: How to Get Rust off Tools

November 25, 2022

I admit it. I was lazy. I had spent an afternoon weeding, and I was hot and tired, so I tossed my treasured carbon steel hori hori knife into a trug on the porch without cleaning it. It was caked with mud, and it was a particularly humid week. When I went to use it again after being away for a while, I noticed the knife had become dotted with rust. Ugh! Since rust corrodes carbon steel, I needed to get rid of it. But how?

N.B.: Featured photograph by Mimi Giboin for Gardenista, from DIY: File Cabinet Becomes Tool Stash.

My rusty hori hori. Photograph by Melissa Ozawa.
Above: My rusty hori hori. Photograph by Melissa Ozawa.

For advice, I contacted Hida Tool & Hardware, the Japanese garden and woodworking tool mecca in Berkeley, CA, where I bought my hori hori and many other garden tools. They recommended the Sabitoru Rust Eraser, fine grit, so I ordered one right away.

The Sabitoru Rust Eraser, Fine Grit, is \$8.90 at Hida Tool.
Above: The Sabitoru Rust Eraser, Fine Grit, is $8.90 at Hida Tool.

According to the package, which is in Japanese, you can use it in three ways depending on what you’re cleaning: dry, with water, or with detergent. (The package also says that it works on kitchen knives and grout. Good to know!) Hida Tool recommended using it dry, so I followed their instructions.

Camellia Oil is \$\16.90 at Hida Tool.
Above: Camellia Oil is $16.90 at Hida Tool.

It works and feels just like a pencil eraser. After a few minutes of rubbing, the rust disappeared. Some light pitting—scars for my sins—remains from where the rust corroded the metal, but it’s minor. And since I’ve removed the rust, it shouldn’t get any worse. I then washed and dried the tool, and applied a thin layer of camellia oil, which I do each autumn after I clean my tools for the season.

Above: My beloved hori hori, rehabbed and rust-free. Photograph by Melissa Ozawa.

I’m so glad I have the Sabitoru Rust Eraser in my kit, but I really hope I won’t have to use it again.

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