Arrrgh! Rust Never Sleeps…

Mar 15, 1999
Okay guys, I've screwed up rather badly…

A couple of months ago, I realized that I would be out-of-town for several weeks due to business trips and vacation. I attempted to prep some of my "better" knives for storage by cleaning them, giving them a coat of Renaissance Wax, wrapping them in clean cloths and packing them in a storage chest with desiccant packs. Last night, I got the urge to "fondle" the collection and was mortified to find small patches of (gasp!) rust on two of my beloved Randall knives
! After an extended cursing session, I removed as much of the rust as I could with soft cloths and metal polish (Simichrome). Unfortunately, a small portion of the rust remains (I'm not sure if there has been any significant pitting yet). Of course, my "using" carbon steel knives (which I normally wipe down with a Tuf-Cloth) are completely rust-free (I guess I should be grateful for small favors).

Which brings me to my question…do any of you have any recommendations as to how to remove this rust without completely scouring the blades? I know that Randalls are not considered the pinnacle of collectible knives, but I've made a substantial investment (for me) in these pieces and I have a sentimental attachment to them. I'd hate to completely ruin these knives by using an overly harsh abrasive and destroying the remaining finish on the blades. The Randall catalogue recommends using a fine emery cloth or steel wool with oil to remove any rust spots; I guess I'm just afraid that these methods will seriously compromise the blade finish (although that may be inevitable now
). I don't have access to any serious buffing or polishing equipment and I have little confidence in my mechanical/artisanal skills so I'm somewhat hesitant to charge off on a rust-removal crusade without seeing if some of the more experienced Forumites have any suggestions. Any inputs will be greatly appreciated…

Also, do you have any suggestions as to how high-carbon steel collectible knives should be prepared for long-term storage? I had been pretty happy with Renaissance Wax in the past, but I may need to rethink my position. I'm not sure what I did wrong to cause these blades to rust; the only thing I can think of is that the cotton cloths the knives were wrapped in may have served as "wicks" to draw moisture into contact with the steel. I'd hate to ruin any more knives if it were avoidable.

Thanks for your help…If there is no way to remove the rust and preserve the finish of these blades I guess I'll just have to reconcile myself to having two new "using" knives (although I'm not sure that there are many practical applications in today's world for a Randall Smithsonian Bowie

Jim (aka "Rust Boy")
I have never used the polish you mentioned so Im not sure my ideas will work any better. I have had good luck with rust removal with Flitz metal polish. Put it on, let it sit a few minutes then buff it off with a rag. Ya gotta put a little elbow grease in it, but it should take care of it unless its pitted badly. Also for long term protection I have had good luck with Turtle wax, like ya use on your car.

I am not a knife collector(I only have two knives, 1 fixed, 1 folder) so I don't really know what to suggest as a means of storage and display.

However, I am a long-time user and fan of carbon steel. I have never had it rust out that quick on me. The only thing that I know of that can do a knife in that quickly is storing it in a leather sheath that hasn't been heavily treated with oils. I've even taken carbon steel knives out into swamps and salt water and never really had a problem with them as long as they got rinsed and dried quickly. So I really can't even speculate on how those spots developed.

I hear a way to remove such spots is with an ink eraser. They are like a pencil eraser, but have a certain degree of grit in them. I don't know what sort of finish they leave.

The best way I know to keep carbon steel from rusting is to keep it clean and dry. Rinse it off with fresh water, wipe it down with a clean cloth. If I have to leave it a while, I give it a light coat of machine oil. I've never used Tuff cloth or Renaisance wax.

An alternative you might try, but it's up to you and I take no responsibility for it(unless it turns out really good
), is to buy some of that "blueing in a bottle" stuff they sell at gunstores and blue the blade. It could look good. Blued and color-case- hardened blades were not unknown historicaly.
When called away at short notice, I took my personal knives and coated them with RemOil (that's all I had) and wrapped them in Saran Wrap (the stuff you cover left overs with) and put the knife on top of the sheath and both in the box.

After 9 months in a motel and another 3 months locating my possesions, I opened the boxes with knives inside to find them in pristine condition.

I now use Sentry Solutions Tuff-Cloth to protect everything and have been pleased with its performance.

As to "fixing" your blades, you might want to call Randall and ask them what they recommend. For minor surface discoloration, you should be able to clean them up without anyone ever knowing the difference if done properly. Pits would be much harder to deal with.


[This message has been edited by Sid Post (edited 15 June 1999).]
You might want to try oil (3-in-1, preferably) and 0000 steel wool. Make sure you buff lightly, and do so in the same direction as the polish strokes.

Sean Perkins
JIM: I would agree with Sean. 0000 Steal wool or Crocus cloth (VERY fine emery cloth).
Be sure to go in the same direction as the grind lines & blend. If your knife is a mirror polished finish, then do-not use the above items. A buffing machine would be your choice. I dont know why they "rusted" like they did. Purhaps you are right about the Wik action of the cloths, strange. I made a mirror polished knife & also the sheath for it. I thought the sheath was dry, after working it. Placed the knife inside. Several hours later I pulled the knife out & to my surprise it was actually wet, from condensation. Wiped it off, & to my horror, there was actually small pit marks in the blade. No probs. I thought, I can just buff them out. Well, I had to go back to 320 grit belt to get rid of them. then re-polish. I was a little pissed off, & this was in ATS-34 stainless...& only after a few hours!
As for storage, I would use a good quality gun oil. Made for firearms or fishing reels. I would not use WD-40 & never use Vaseline.
Store in a cool dry place. Good luck getting rid of those marks. I know that "regular" people say, what marks?, but to a knife nut... they stand out like a sore thumb!

Happy Knifemaking...
Let me start off by saying I am really surprised that you came back to rust especially after coating them with Renaissance Wax. This stuff is so good at staving off rust and so many custom makers use it to protect their knives. I've used it for long term storage, (carbon and stainless steels), and it has never failed me in four years.

My suggestions would be that after you cleaned them there was moisture trapped on the knives somewhere. There was also something in the "clean" cloths that you wrapped them in, (chemicals, small amounts of moisture, etc.). Also as you alluded to, cotton IS a moisture wick, (great terminolgy, by the way). Carbon steel should NEVER be wrapped in cotton, (or, of course, left in it's leather sheath). Believe me, what has happened to you has also happened to me, (and many others), in the past.

I will be honest with you, there is nothing you can do with the pits in your blades, unless you want to actually polish or sand the metal BELOW the pits. Being that these are carbon steel blades, they will always be prone to rust easily.

My recommedation to you is just coat them LIBERALLY with Renaissance Wax and let them lay with NO wrapping and make sure they have room temperature air flow. You can also, (as Sid Post stated), coat them heavily with machine oil and wrap them in Saran Wrap or a Baggie, (this would be for LONG term storage). What a hassle though if you wanted to pull them out to play with or wanted to show to a friend.

Carbon steel IS a great knife steel! I love it's ease of sharpening, it's flexibility, and it's heritage. Just be aware that it takes some dillegence in it's care.
Just liberally coat the blade with oil, wrap in a poly-pro cloth, and stick inside of a gore-tex baggi
I wouldn't use the Renaissance wax again. I'm suspicious that it might have been a bad batch or contaminated. If you got enough wax directly on the blades and had a dry atmosphere (desicant packs) around the knives I would expect a little moisture to be evaporated before there was a problem. The type of contamination that would get through the wax would need to be rather corrosive. Sulfuric (battery) acid tends to get concentrated as water evaporates out of it. Copper sulfate is virtually as corrosive to iron and would do the trick. Black powder would leave residues that are both corrosive and attract moisture.

I just don't see you having contaminants like these on your rags. It seems like something would have to be in your wax or the wax wasn't doing its job hardly at all. Could someone have blended some other liquid in with your wax? Or could you have grabbed the wrong stuff?

The other classic way to cause corrosion is galvanic (battery) reactions. If you put different types of metals in contact with each other in a moist atmosphere differences in their affinity for electrons causes a current to flow between them. The flow of electrons causes corrosion. Stainless steel might cause carbon steel to corrode. Aluminum or copper in contact with the carbon steel might encourage corrosion. It still needs moisture.

PS. One other way I have had this happen is if I used a cleaning compound that had ionic components and didn't get it completely removed before puting on my protectant. The cleaning compound may prevent the wax from getting to the surface (it repels wax/wax repels it). This would leave holes in the wax that also had rust promoting ionic contamination that would promote rust.

[This message has been edited by Jeff Clark (edited 16 June 1999).]
It is very surprising that these knives developed rust so quickly after such care.

I would think that, if properly applied, the wax would have kept them from rusting that quickly, even in a very humid environment. So, while I don't know how you applied the wax, I'd suggest you double-check your usage of it.

I do have another theory to offer. I suspect the cause was actually the desiccant packs! Those things are, pardon the pun, a double-edged sword. They absorb moisture. If you didn't properly bake them before putting them in the container, they may have been full of moisture and may actually have given off moisture in the box causing the rust.

While you'll want to check and follow the manufacturer's instructions for the product you have, most need a 16 hour, that's 16 hour, bake at 250F to get the moisture out before being put into a sealed container.

I really don't know what happened to your knives to make them rust as you seemed to have done things right to prevent rust. I have used carbon blades for years and I've never even treated them unless I stored one for several months, I use Tuff-Cloth. Like the one post, I just rinse & dry a blade off after using it. Before Tuff-Cloth I just put some gun oil on the stored knives and never had even a hint of rust!
I have had rust to appear on guns before and I just use very fine steel wool with some quality gun oil and that worked. I hope you can remove the rust without hurting your finish.
Alot of what Jeff Clark stated is sound but I disagree about abandoning the use of Renaissance Wax. The stuff is great and again, I swear by it. So many custom makers use it and that is why I started using it in the first place. I have had great success with it on carbon and stainless blades for the four years I've used it.

I agree with Chuck that desiccant packs can aborb a lot of moisture and have heard reports of problems though it's never happened to me.

I still say don't wrap carbon blades in ANYTHING. They need air circulation. Just make sure that air is DRY.
Oops, let me clarify what I meant about the Renaissance Wax. I only have reservations about the bottle you have on the shelf, not Renaissance Wax in general. You might run a test of this particular bottle on some cheap steel. You did shake the bottle before using didn't you? If the wax seperated from a solvent medium you could accidently just coat the knife with a useless volatile liquid. I would generally recommend the use of R-Wax.

The ink erasers you mentioned are sold my Smoky Mountain Knife Works. They call 'em rust erasers. And that they do better, and quicker, than most things I've tried. They do okay on a satin finish, assuming you rub with the grain of the finish. I had to use one on an old (pre-1960) Case knife that had dropped into a dark corner of my toolbox. I had to soak the darn thing in WD40 just to get the blades opened. It was completely caked with rust. The eraser took care of it in no time, but the blade no longer has a mirror finish. It looks like a poor man's satin finish. It sure was a waste of a collectible knife, but it is once again a good work knife, albeit with a few pits. TufCloth now protects it.
Thanks, guys…I really appreciate all of the suggestions. I decided to take the advice offered by Mr. Perkins and others and use 0000 steel wool and oil to polish out the rust/discoloration. The results were much better than I had hoped! While not perfect, all of the rust was removed and the remaining imperfections on the blades are virtually indistinguishable. I was delighted to be able to salvage these knives; it's hard to reconcile yourself to damaging your own prized possessions when you thought that you had taken all of the necessary precautions.

I'm still not sure how the rust started in the first place. Like some of the other posters, I've used Renaissance Wax for a long time and have never experienced any problems prior to this. The only thing that I could think of that may have compromised the protection on these knives is the fact that after being cleaned, waxed and wrapped I placed them in a chest with some other (similarly protected) knives on top of them. I suppose that it's conceivable that pressure from contact with the other wrapped knives may have abraded the wax coat and allowed moisture to come in contact with the steel (???). In any event, I cleaned and dried the knives and wiped them down with a Tuf-Cloth. Now I just need to find some non-cotton cloths to wrap them in…

By the way, Chuck, you were absolutely right on target about the potential risks of over-extended desiccant packs. I examined mine and sure enough, the indicator on the package shows that the silica gel IS saturated.
I'm currently drying out the pack in the oven. Live and learn…

Once again, thanks for all the suggestions and comments. These forums are a tremendous resource!

To everyone engaged in the no-win battle against entropy, here is a poem:

Arthur Guiterman

The tusks that clashed in mighty brawls
Of mastadons, are billiard balls.

The sword of Charlemagne the Just
Is ferric oxide, known as rust

The grisly bear whose potent hug
Was feared by all, is now a rug!

Great Caesar’s bust is on the shelf,
And I don't feel so well myself.


I just got back from an antique store, where I picked up an old cleaver and an old machete. The cleaver has rust pits > 1/8” deep on one side. It has probably been hanging in someone’s barn for the last 40 years. But it is still serviceable and the edge is in good condition.

The machete blade is black with God knows what. I think it would last for many years in the jungle with its protective gunk coating.

I don’t know why I search these things out and buy them. I think I’m fascinated and charmed by the processes of aging.

Well… I’ve got to go now, I have something to do. Where did I put that bottle of Grecian Formula?