electrolytic rust removal restoration of an antique coal iron

January 20, 2012 in restorations

Enterprise MFG CO No 50  Antique Coal Iron

Last summer, I took my niece and nephew up to Clark’s Trading Post in Lincoln, NH to see the bears.  While there I went through Clark’s Florence Murray Museum of antique items and oddities.  There in the display cases I saw a few antique coal irons and realized I had one exactly like them, except rusty in the loft of the barn.  I made a mental note to restore mine so it looked as nice as the ones at Clark’s trading post.  This post shows how I restored my Enterprise MFG Co. No 50 Laundry Iron.

Above shows the iron as it was when I re-found it in the barn after my visit to Clark’s Trading Post.  The Coal Iron is marked ENTERPRISE MFG CO  PHILA PA  along the outer edge with NO 50 on the inside.   Enterprise Manufacturing Company was an iron works located at Dauphin St, American St, and Bodine St (SW corner) in Philadelphia, PA in the late 1800’s.  They manufactured a variety of household devices, including coffee grinders and laundry irons.  A bit of research shows my laundry iron  is missing it’s handle as you can see in this picture of the same iron from the Okawa Museum.  Even missing parts I felt  my rusty hunk of metal was destined for restoration. Perhaps I’ll make a replica handle for it someday.

electrolysis rust removal on antique iron     electrolysis rust removal supplies

My rusty antique iron was the perfect candidate for rust removal by electrolysis.  The great thing about electrolytic rust removal is that it only removes the oxidized metal.  Unlike sandblasting or other mechanical means of rust removal, none of the good metal is removed during the rust cleaning process.  Having learned more about electorchemistry then I ever planned while working on my phd research, I figured this was a good time to put some of it to use.   All that is needed is a 12v source (another voltage is fine but keep it somewhat low to avoid excess heating and electrocution risks), a bucket,  some sacrificial electrode (steel rebar cutoffs work great), Arm and Hammer Washing Soda, some steel wire and a plastic bucket.

A few words on supplies.  Washing soda is what you want, it is also called sodium carbonate, Soda Ash or Na2CO3 .  It’s more or less benign and doesn’t break down into any harmful chemicals during the process.  Do not be tempted to substitute Borax, or baking soda.  Washing soda was somewhat difficult to find locally but Rocky’s Ace Hardware still sells it.   Another caution: do not use chrome plated or Stainless Steel anywhere in your set up.   The heavy metal ions are toxic making the waste solution very bad for you, me and the environment.   The waste solution with only washing soda and iron in it is harmless when you are done.

My rusty Iron is suspended by some steel wire twisted tightly about it to make a good electrical connection. I wire brushed the section where I attached the wire to allow for better electrical contact.  Mix the Washing Soda at about 1 heaping tablespoon per gallon.   Be sure to connect your 12V power source correctly.  The NEGATIVE (often labeled – or black) lead goes to the part you wish to restore.  The positive lead (often red or +)  goes to the sacrificial electrodes( aka steel rebar scraps).  If you reverse this you will dissolve and ruin your part instead of restore it.  It’s an important step so be careful not to reverse the polarity.


After a long time in the electrolysis tank, the bulk of the rust was removed.  The top cover was loosened up enough it wiggled but the seized screws were not freed up.  Sometimes you get lucky with rust removal by electrolysis and it will free up bolts.  In all likely hood, I didn’t let the process go to self limiting completion or possibly the electrical connection between the top plate and the base of my iron was not good.  A nice feature of rust removal by this electrolysis is that it self limits, never harming the good metal underneath the rust.

I decided  it was quicker to clamp down and use an end mill to remove the heads of the screws rather then stick the iron back in the electrolysis tank.   I use a center cutting end mill for this type of work as drill bits tend to wander and move off center.   The goal is to remove just enough metal so that you can pop off the head of the screw.  If you aren’t careful you can very easily damage the part you are trying to restore and save by drilling/milling too deeply.

The rusty screw stubs were seized into the iron.  The best trick for removing a siezed rusty screw is to weld a nut onto the stub of the screw.  The heat generally breaks free the bolt/screw and a wrench provides plenty of torque to turn it out.  I’ve never had a bolt I couldn’t remove by this method.   Sorry, I skipped photographing the next steps.  After I pulled out the screws, I cleaned up the threads with a good quality 1/4-20 tap and then put the two halves of my iron into the sandblasting cabinet.  5 minutes of abrasive cleaning took off the surface rust that formed on the parts while they sat out in the shop.  I then immediately cleaned them with solvent and painted them with some high heat low gloss black paint.

Enterprise MFG CO No 50 Antique Coal IronI’m quite happy with how my restoration of this antique iron went.  All told I think I only spent 1 hr of actual time on this project, but it was in little bits and pieces spread out over a month and a half.  This antique iron will be a nice addition to my cool old stuff I’ve come across display cabinet.

Cherry Medicine Cabinet

January 5, 2012 in around the house repairs and DIY fixes, Woodworking and Furniture

Last fall I ended up overhauling two of the bathrooms at the house.  Both seemed to fall apart at the same time which is not surprising as they were some 40 years old.  One of the bathrooms got a shiny new vanity along with the new floor and other bathroom items.  The vanity I selected had no option for a  matching medicine cabinet.  No store bought cabinet would fit the atypical opening in the wall.  Months of staring at a gaping 2’x2′ hole in the wall  got old.  I decided that the first of the year would be well spent making a new medicine cabinet to fill the ugly hole in the wall.  It actually took the 1st and 2nd day of the year to build. I blame that on having only 3.25 hrs sleep on the first due to fun new years celebrations.


I chose basic construction practices for the design.  I made the entire project from a single cherry board I milled back in the summer.  The tree had been 2 years dead standing prior to my milling it into a board and the wood measured dry enough.   I used basic rabbit butt joints on the box with some 1.5″ brass screws I had on hand.  I assembled the face frame with pocket hole screws.

pocket hole screw joints  

Pocket hole screws (above left photo) are one of the best things ever for cabinetry and quick strong construction.  I bought my KREG pocket hole jig  (above right photo) when they first came into their own while still in high school.  Pocket hole screws are put in at a 15 degree angle and quickly clamp and secure wood pieces together.  The KREG jig is the greatest of all modern woodworking innovations in my opinion.  It allows you to quickly build cabinets, boxes, face frames, etc.  I’ve used it to screw in studs and braces in rough construction. I have built many cabinets with it.  I even used it when I built my regatta winning boat one summer because of it makes for quick easy joinery.  It used to be, one had to go to a woodworking store to buy the pocket hole screws and jigs but they are now sold at Lowes everywhere.


The cabinet came out well.  I had to invert the cabinet hinges to make them work with the mirror.  The cherry I selected matches the wood on the mirror well enough that you might think they came together.  I added shelf pins and bought some 1/4″ plate glass at Granite State Glass in Concord for the middle shelf.  I may get a second shelf, and drilled the holes for one.  Right now I think I like it with just the one shelf.  Granite State Glass is the place to go for any of your project glass or mirror needs in New Hampshire.  They are friendly, affordable, and always willing to help me when I’m not certain what grade/thickness I might need.

I’m pretty happy with how my cherry medicine cabinet came out and with how well it matched my St Pauls Chelsea vanity/sink.  Now all I have to do is come up with or select a light to put over the top of my new cabinet/mirror to complete the bathroom renovations.

How to make a Venetian Mask

January 1, 2012 in Arts Crafts and other, Halloween Costumes

Finished Colombina Venetian Mask

Happy New Year everyone!  I went to a Formal Masquerade party last night to ring in 2012.  As a masquerade I of course needed a venetian mask.  I borrowed several very nice Venetian Masks from family and friends, and tried on several blanks at various stores to no avail.  It’s tough being a big guy, I don’t fit in chairs (or just break them) and apparently standard masks don’t fit me.   I decided the only thing was to make one.  I had about a week before the party so I hit the internet for some quick research on styles, form, materials, etc.  I decided I wanted a Colombina style Venetian Mask for myself and set about making one.

Supplies used to make the venetian mask base   Rough venetian mask blank

First I gathered some basic materials,  plaster impregnated cloth tape is sold at Walmart, Michaels, and other craft stores inexpensively, some gloves, scissors,  paper, and a helper.  I used saran wrap to wrap my head from the upper lip up.  I layed down on the floor, had a helper wet and lay the plaster strips over my head.  My helper put on several layers and I took a nap on the floor for 20 minutes until my base mask hardened enough to safely be removed.


This part was tricky.  I had a hard time finding a center line on my mask blank.  Eventually I came to use a card stock strip to mark a center line vertically up the nose.  I think used the same card stock strip and a small ruler to make guidelines horizontally on the venetian mask blank.  I roughly drew a symetrical mask based on the pictures I found onlone and made a rough cut well away from the drawn in mask.


Getting the shape of the venetian mask blank right was the hardest part of this project.  I used a stationary belt sander to slowly work my way around, carefully eyeballing the final shape.  In the end I didn’t match my drawn in rough mask, instead going with what looked best in the mirror.   Roughing in the eye openings was done with a 3/8″ drill bit followed by a dremel tool with a 1/8″diameter carbide burr.


 With the shape of the mask defined I set about getting the outer surface of my venetian mask blank porcelain smooth.  This was not so easy as I thought. I first tried plaster of paris, but the mask is plaster and it instantly sucked the water from the “wet” plaster of paris before it could be smoothed.  I then tried some Bondo Spot Putty and filler I had kicking around the shop.  It can fill ships and dings on a car and sands glass smooth.  Unfortunately, the spot putty had the same problem as the plaster of paris, the porous mask sucked the solvent drying the putty instantly and making a real mess of the mask.

   painting decorations on my venetian mask

The answer to the smoothing problem was to seal the plaster.  I gave the mask several heavy coats with a gloss white spray paint and cured it rapidly with my trusty shop hairdrier.  From there on out spot putty and sanding produced an acceptably smooth surface.  I made a cardstock template, centered and cut the eye openings to their final shape.  I then sprayed the entire mask with a metalic silver paint.  I used an exacto knife to carefully cut some masking patterns for the next coat of black paint.   It is always better to paint over lighter colors with darker ones, so I started with white, went to silver, and finally black.   If you go the other way you will have bleed through of the darker colors in many cases.


I continued on with another layer of masking and spraying black onto the mask.  The bulk of the design on my mask was applied in this fashion.  I was running out of days and time so I chose this faster method of painting. Originally I planned to hand paint some Baroque style patterns onto the mask.


Every venetian mask image online was trimmed in some form of lace or rickrack.  I figured this was to hide the imperfections on the edge. I picked up a yard each of two different sizes of the same lace pattern in black for the edge on my mask.  There are many types of adhesives and glues out there, choosing the right one for the job is sometimes difficult. I used a solvent based fabric glue as it is quick drying, absorbs some into the fabric and sticks well to smooth surfaces.  It worked well and dries transparent.


I added some additional decoration, a few sparkle fake jewels and a glitter puffy sticker to the black side.  I had thought to paint the lines on the harlequin pattern with a 3d paint, but when I tried that on a test piece it was quickly apparent that I didn’t have time for it to dry so I forwent that detail.  I did a bit of touch up work on paint where the black bleed through the edge of the blue painters masking tape to clean up the lines.  I went with a traditional tied ribbon on my venetian mask  I attached it with 5 minute epoxy and cross layed a few saturated pieces of ribbon to spread the load on the mask.

Finished Colombina Venetian Mask

The finished mask was lined with some red velvet via spray adhesive on the inside.  The soft velvet made wearing the mask much more comfortable.  My Venetian mask was well received at the party, survived the night unscathed, and I was happy it came out as well as it did.  After having worn my venetian mask  for an entire evening I would make some changes if I were to make another one.  I would add a layer of cloth to my face underneath the saran wrap when making the very first rough mask blank to add space for the ribbon attachment inside the mask.  Additionally the eye openings should be considerably larger.   I felt too much like I had sight blinders on me when I was wearing my mask on account of the smaller eye openings.  All in all, the Formal Masquerade was a great party and fun way to ring in the new year.

Me in the Venetian Mask I made at the welcome to the party, now stand here by the door “mug shot”.


My RepRap based 3D printer

November 12, 2011 in RepRap 3D Printer

This post will catch my readers up to speed on my 3D Printer project.   It’s design is loosely based on the current RepRap Mendel and Prusa Mendel 3D Printer Designs.  My goal was to build as much of my 3d printer from what I had on hand.  I started this project back in May of 2011.  I’ve been working on it in my spare time and having my CNC Mill do 95% of the manufacturing of components for this project.  It’s been a good way for me to build CNC programming experience as well as test out the capabilities of my CNC milling machine (based on the popular RF-45 model Mill Drill) to determine Gen 2 upgrades needed to the CNC Mill.

My Reprap project is partially inspired by the fact that I had a prototype Objet Alaris 3D printer for evaluation for work for 9 months prior to their launching of that product.  It was mostly product testing and a bit of debugging for Objet but it gave me a full taste of having 3D printer access all the time.  I still have and use many of the components I printed out for the house, my zacbuilt engine driven TIG welder, and of course in the Datsun  and Mustang.   3d Printing, also often refered to as rapid prototyping, is the greatest thing to come along since the advent of CNC machining for the fabricator.   It’s often faster to design a part virtually and just print it out then to try and make it by any other means.  It’s a great way to test out crazy ideas, various styling changes, and tactile features of a design.

Reprap Gen6 electronics      reprap CNC machined Stepstruder plastistruder

My RepRap 3D printer will be driven by Gen 6 electronics.  This SMT board drives all three axis, and the stepstruder (aka plastic extruder printing head as shown in the right pic above) all in a small low power package.  My first go at acquiring a Gen 6 board did not go so well and I ended up returning it.  The board had numerous poorly soldered joints and one chip was floating off board at 20 degrees with several pins in the air.  I since decided to finish the mechanical before reacquiring another Gen 6 board.  By the time I’m ready to fire it up there might even be a better next Gen board design available.

I think I’ll close this post here,  I’ll share more about this project over the coming days to get caught up on where I am to date so I can move forward with the next steps.



CX500 Cafe Racer Project Day 1

November 11, 2011 in CX500 Cafe Racer Build


After the first evening of working on this project I’ve got the back half of the bike somewhat torn apart. I’ve got a solid plan as to where the electronic components will go up under the seat pan.  I’ve been looking at tail lights and I believe I’ve found one I like enough to “settle on” for now.  It’s an all in one LED unit with a license plate mount and led plate lights.



  The red line in the above photos shows where I plan to cut off the rear seat frame.   I plan to fabricate a new seat mount to weld in place before I make the cut and finish off the end of the upper frame.   The more I toy with the design in my mind the more I feel like I will either scallop the fuel tank at the back, or possibly fabricate a new tank entirely.


In other exciting news, I got the ugly factory air box off.  The carbs weren’t drained when she was stored and the fuel varnished inside. They are coming out and apart.  How much of a rebuild I do will be determined after I tear into them and investigate their condition.   The right hand carb has the float stuck down and the fuel comes out at a good clip when she runs.


Chainsaw milling by Zac

November 11, 2011 in Milling lumber

zac built Alaskan sawmill


I’ve always dreamed of a sawmill of my very own.  Given the retail price of hardwoods these days I decided it was time to do something about that dream.   A bit of reading, some research,  a raid of the metal stock racks in the shop, and about 2 hrs later I had my very own Alaskan style mini sawmill.   I have a few chainsaws, but the 450 Husqvarna is the one I decided to put this on for now.   I based my design roughly off the Graberg International small log sawmill. I had considered buying one, but in this economy money is tight and the total cost to make mine was 6.95 (for the bolts). Everything else I had as scrap, scrounged from something or left over stock already payed for by some other project.

Alaskain Sawmill on which I based my zac built sawmill design  Home built Alaskain sawmill


Side by side showing the commercial Alaskan Sawmill on the left and the Zac built sawmill on the right

Milling downed trees into lumber has become one of my favorite past times.  Partially because I know I’ll use the wood for some project down the road, and partially because I feel happy knowing I’m turning trees grown on the property into valuable and useful material.   My first few boards were not great as you can see below.

First boards milled with my zac built alaskain sawmill

The number one thing I learned early on is that it’s all about sealing the end grain on the log as soon as you cut them.  Some of the maple I cut up checked faster then I could put down the saw and brush on the sealant.  More on my end grain sealant of choice in a future post.

The Start of the Honda CX-500 Cafe Racer project

November 10, 2011 in CX500 Cafe Racer Build

As it happens, a friend suckered me into this project with an IM link to this page on a 1978 honda cx500 cafe racer build.  We both were very excited by the article at the time.  This was about a month ago, since then I’ve done a great deal of research, reading and a bit of Craigslist hunting.  I finally came across the right bike for my winter build a cafe racer project.  I went and met with the owner, Aaron last night and came home with my project donor bike, 1979 CX-500.   The bike runs well but needs some brake work on the mechanical side.  I’m sure there will be some surprises along the way but for now, I’m really happy with my purchase.


Honda CX500 pre Cafe Racer Build       Honda CX500 pre Cafe Racer Build unmodified