Big rusty lock + Electrolysis + a fun How to guide


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May 23, 2019
I figured in posting this next find I would include a little How-to guide since the last couple of months have put a lot of questions about electrolysis on here. So here it is!

For those unfamiliar with all of this and to answer the question of "why electrolysis?" This is using electrical energy to clean my iron relics. I use this method instead of acids because it gets things as close to surface clean as we can by having the electrical current remove the iron oxide from the objects.

First thing we need is a giant ugly ball of rust some people call relics around here. Luckily on my last hunt (here) I located this baseball sized iron lock...or maybe a lock..we'll find out.

Once we've saved the old stuff from the ground, the first step at home for me is letting it sit in water for a few hours. This wets the dirt and I scrub off what I can with a thick nylon brush. My goal here is less dirt and debris, and to clean up a contact point or two for the wire I will add later on.

Once some of the external debris is cleaned up I get my electrical source ready. People use a wide range of battery chargers, cell chargers, etc. I prefer to use a Desktop DC Power Supply (Like this one). I love using this for two reasons 1) Modern battery chargers have fault switches that will cut off the power when you plunge your items in the tank; these power supplies do not, 2) I can control exactly how much amps/volts are running into my items and slow the process down for delicate pieces.

With that being said, my power supply came with some plug in alligator clips. To add length and keep the factory clips out of the water I use an extension wire with a more aggressive alligator clip (everything available at Home Depot).

***now we get to electricity and water DO NOT touch wires, water, or items without turning off the machine***

Now for the tank setup. Most people like to use a tub of water and washing soda (or salt) with a piece of sacrificial iron inside. If I run my tank this way, I usually use precut rebar from HD. For today's item I will be using a metal bucket. This method requires a bit of extra prep, but I like this because the electricity attacks more evenly around all sides rather than from one side, ie the side facing the stick of rebar.

The extra prep with the metal bucket. You will need to suspend the item so it can't touch any part of the bucket. You will also need to put metal bucket in a plastic bucket because it will develop holes and leaks. Once inside, hook (-) negative wire to the item, (+) positive wire to the sacrificial metal.

Now we turn everything on. For a thicker wall, more solid piece of iron, I will run my power supply around 7amps and the voltage automatically adjusts to its needed setting. If an item is more delicate and I want to run slow, I will run around 3 amps.

What your looking for is bubbling coming from the item. In these photos the item is shallow so you can see what we dont want, bubbles around the connection point only. Then what we want, bubbles from the object (you'll still have bubbles on the clamp. If you're not getting bubbles from the item, you need to remove the item from the tank and scrub a good connection point with a wire brush. When I do large artillery shell pieces, sometimes I will drill into them and insert a nail as the connection point so metal can touch clean metal.

What we don't want

What we want

Now you let it sit for as long as you need. Be sure to check it and add water as it will steam off. This is also a good time to remind you that you should be doing this outside of the home since it will off gas steam and chemicals.

Now this is my lock after 48 hours at 7 amps.

Since the tank was filthy, I gave the lock some love with a nylon brush to see how much more time it needed, changed the water, and tossed it back in for another 12 hours. Once I pulled it out the final time the last steps are fresh water and a heavy steal brush to knock off the black iron coating left behind.

The below photos are the finale! I will be adding a chemical paint that inhibits rust which will blacken it up a tad. But the latch works again and the lock looks incredible compared to its start.

Hope you enjoyed!
Really appreciate the details. My set up is a electric kids car charger. I use burned up paddle bits for the iron. They get a crust that needs cleaned off or the charger goes to " Charged":lol:
OK now that is very cool. Love how the blob of rust did indeed turn into an old lock. :rofl2: All kidding aside what you did worked very well. Very impressed for sure. I have cleaned some logging chains by soaking them in a bucket of white vinegar for about a month. That did work, but what you did you looks great.
Thank you. It was definitely a shock that any of the lock survived. I really thought I was going to document it all and then it was going to dissolve in the tank. Thanks again!
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