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The ancient question of a fastidiously-organized tool chest or spreading wrenches and pliers willy-nilly has been done to death, so there’s no point in starting that one up again.


The question this time is: what little tricks do you use to keep your tools in good condition? Those of us in the Rust Belt have a rough time keeping everything in good shape. Moisture creeps through even the tiniest gaps, turning carbon steel into an orange-flecked wreck. Every one of my chest’s drawers has an oil-soaked sheet beneath a foam liner, and a silica gel packet to keep moisture at bay. Each tool gets an occasional spritz of lightweight. The catch is, this doesn’t work. How do you keep rust and corrosion at bay when even those measures aren’t enough?

(Thanks to Flickr user Swanee 3 for the great photo)

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15 Responses to Reader Question: Tool Storage Tricks

  1. Mac says:

    Um, get rid of the moisture. Air movement helps, if you can help it.

    I find silca gel effective, but not for long. (You can recondition it, but seems like a PIA to me.)

    Other ways:
    1. Wood, preferably cedar. Keep some wood in your storage drawer, cabinet, toolbox, whatever. You’d be amazed at how well this actually works. The wood will soak up moisture from the air. You have to rotate out the wood to dry it out from time to time.

    2. Coat tools with something. I use Break Free CLP, Eezox, and marine grade CorrosionX with success. CLP is the cheap (available at Walmart now). A miltary friend gave me some of it a long long time ago. Eezox and CorrosionX are not cheap, but are very good to me. Eezox goes on all my nicer stuff. A little bit of it goes a long way. CorrosionX goes on other stuff. It’s pretty thick and coat stays on pretty well for a decent length of time.

    Sorry for the long post. I’m not a big fan of oxidation either.

  2. Michael says:

    I have lots of carbon steel stone tools. I just rub paraffin wax over the surface. I haven’t had any rust problems living here in Cincinnati.

  3. Kaden says:

    I’m a recent convert to motorcycle chain lube for keeping toolage April fresh and corrosion free. Of course, all my friends have been using it for years and didn’t tell me about it until last month.


  4. johnnyp says:

    From my point, this subject is a little silly. I am a tool designer , I can tell you that this is not a priority at least not for the Navy. Functionality not aesthetics is number 1. Mil specs do not allow chrome finished or cadmium plate. Black oxide, yellow zinc plate and in some cases stainless steel, there is also a water based coating that is sometimes used which far out lasts yellow zinc. I’ve seen tools that are close to 50 years old, not pretty but still do the job. From a personal point I have hand tools that are close to 100 and have spent most of their life in New England within 2 miles of the ocean, again not pretty, but they do the job. I suppose if you left you tools outside in the elements uncovered , we’d have a problem, but
    not something a little scotch brite can’t fix.

  5. John says:

    furniture wax for my big equipment (jointer, etc) and wd-40 coating for most small tools in the bag or bin. I just spritz some in the bin/bag/box when I’m done in the shop. for long term storage, you could always get a can of cosmoline spray or the tub form and slather it on, but it’s a pita to get off later, so best for long term, I’m not touching this thing for a year or more cases in my view.

    for chronic cases, you might want to look into getting a dehumidifier for the shop.

  6. Dano says:

    Mineral oil? I know this is used in a lot of cookware storage and can found in the drug store for cheap.

  7. Toolhearty says:

    Old machinist’s trick: camphor blocks in the toolboxes. Not sure how, but it works.

  8. toby says:

    Use them more often!!

  9. Lenny Nero says:

    I’m only 30 and I’ve been using the old camphor block trick for about 15 years now… It really does work! Keeps your feeler gauges clean but rust free!

  10. Cameron Watt says:

    If you have electricity where you are, just put a trouble light in the bottom drawer. Please use a little sense when you do this and if you cook/burn something to the ground unintentionally just treat it like a learning experience.

    A small bulb will keep a good sized locker toasty through much of the year. It doesn’t necessarily need to be hot, just above the current dew point.

    I’ve spent much of my work life working in unheated shops, tents, and most recently a lean-to. As long as you’re out of the rain, the worst of your troubles are avoided…actually security is the biggest issue when you work in a tent…new thread?

    Most of my work is as a welder, I don’t use precision tools often so they’re kept at home and brought out on an as-needed basis. For the rest, I oil anything with threads, slides, or cutting edges(except files) and everything is fine; like johnnyp said, “…not pretty but still do the job.”

    I’ve heard that some motor oil additives are hygroscopic. The big question is even if they are, does it actually matter? Does anybody out there have some facts on that?

    As for wax, I consideried waxing some of my tools but my rust problems have never been bad enough to spur me into making the effort. Just remember that to get wax to stick properly, the item being coated needs to be at least as hot as the melting point of the wax. If you know a trapper, ask him how he waxes his traps….heck, consult trapper google.

    I’ve never heard of the camphor trick for tools….I believe you guys but if I ever get my hands on some it’s going in my closet, not my toolbox.

  11. rg says:

    I have some larger (3′) pipe wrenches which I keep in a tool drawer in the back of a pickup all year long. I use a kind of motorcycle chain lube spray called “Chain Wax”. It seems to put a thin coat of paraffin on the metal. I like it because it’s dry and doesn’t pick up dirt, or come off all over the place like oil or WD40.

  12. DocN says:

    What’s rust?

    As nonintuitive as it sounds, up here in often-snow-covered Alaska, the average humidity is fairly low. As long as your stuff isn’t physically out in the rain, hardly anything rusts. The only special measures I’ve had to take, in a small machineshop full of bare steel, is to keep my shop-made QCTP blocks oiled- and even here that’s only because I used chemical cold-blue on them, which produces the color through controlled oxidation.

    Now, that said, I know lots of guys with garage shops, and things rust badly when you park a slush-covered car (or worse, a truck with a bedful of snow) in the same garage as the tools.


  13. Shopmonger says:

    I use engine oil for tools not used but more than once a year….

    But for tools in a drawer…..just put those silica packs you get in packaging…..they will absorb the moisture,,, if they get all fluffy, set them outside on a hot non-humid day……… or near a de-humidifier. They will release the moisture and then are ready to go back………

    I never have rust problems…..

    On big tools, i use wax for the beds, keep your tools clean


  14. Cameron Watt says:

    DocN: It’s all about the dew point. While the temperature of your tools is above the dew point, that moisture will stay in the air.

    This might not be an issue where you are. Bitter cold winters are usually dry as well. I find that once you get below 14 degrees Fahrenheit the humidity issues really start to diminish.

    I grew up in a rain forest (~80 inches of rain/year) and condensation along with the related corrosion problems were horrible. If you stood still too long, moss would grow on you….

  15. Jim says:

    Living in Southern China (near Hong Kong), rust hits within seconds of exposing tools to the air. Probably isn’t helped by the pollution, either.

    I keep everything in a 6′ X6′ workroom with a large dehumidifier running non-stop. It warms the room, and keeps the RH at just over 20%. When I turn on the A/C to work in there, it actually raises the RH to about 30% (cooler air can’t hold as much water, so the percentage goes up).

    Some might say it’s too dry – but it sure feels good compared to the sauna outside (we actually had fog at over 80 degrees the other day!)

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