Controlling Rust in a New Shop?

Controlling Rust in a New Shop?

notice in my magazine, all the photos show clean shops and tools that shine. Only once have I seen a craftsman with a bandage on his finger. My world is slightly different. I had all my tools — drill press, table saw, band saw, etc. — in my garage until I finally got my dream shop, a large steel building at 30 by 80 feet. All of a sudden, I have rust on the band saw table, drill press shaft and metal rulers, and I can’t control it. I never had the problem in the wooden garage, an I live in San Diego County about 50 miles from the ocean. Humidity is usually about 20 to 50 percent here and rainfall is less than 15 inches (usually about 9). So it is hot and dry. I have cleaned the rust off and tried several kinds of sprays, all to no avail. Help! – Jerry Meloche

Tim Inman: Forgive me for referencing my late friend, Bill Jones, twice in a row. He was a very old man when he passed last summer, but he still considered himself a “working” turner. Here is a link to his book, Notes From The Turning Shop. The cover photo on the book is Bill, in his shop. That photograph is his entire shop — where he made his entire living. I have spent many evenings with a magnifying glass looking at Bill’s collection of tools, special materials, his five lathes and the wooden board he stood on in his earthen floored shop. He was a working master turner making a living at his trade — not “playing at it” as he would have said about hobbyists.

I experienced the rusting problems you’re describing in my steel-sided shop building in Wisconsin. I have a similar building in Iowa now, and I don’t have the problem. What’s the difference? I’m not sure, but I suspect it is because I actually use my shop building here every day. I was in my Wisconsin building only on weekends. Condensation from stagnant air and temperature fluctuations is my guess. If you’re using a “swamp cooler” or evaporative cooler, that would be adding tons of humidity to your air. I know firsthand what a disappointment it is to have fine tools, well cared for, rust and corrode.

Chris Marshall: Jerry, since the air outside your shop is pretty dry, I’d try more ventilation in the building. Open those windows or doors whenever you can, and get the fresh air exchange happening. You can always put a dehumidifier in there to pull even more vapor out of the air. Was there a vapor barrier installed under your new shop’s concrete slab? If not, it’s possible that ground moisture could be wicking up through the slab, but not very likely given where you live. Or, if the ambient air inside the shop becomes significantly cooler than the outside air, condensation could be happening that way. It’s hard to say for sure. Whatever the cause is, seems it’s also time to get some rust preventive spray or wax and give the metal some coating protection, too. Rust is a frustrating enemy.

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