I won't go into details about how electrolysis works, as a google
search will explain it better than I can. But I will relay my
experiences with it, and any observations I can make that I think might
be helpful. Anyhow, starting about March 1, I took everything
apart and set up the electrolysis bath. I started with the
cabinet doors, thinking that they are indestructible and
mistakes wouldn't hurt much.
Before stripping, I removed all the name & info tags from the bed,
gearbox and gear cover, they're held in place with little "screw-nails"
driven into holes. Some are in through holes which you can punch
out from the rear, others are in blind holes. For the latter, if
you sharpen the tip of a sacrificial
screwdriver, you can tap the edge underneath the head of the screwnails
and slowly work them free. I'm not sure yet what I'll do about
restoring the tags, I'm not into repainting every letter, yet they are
kind of a mess. We'll see.
update 1/2005- I finally
got around to cleaning up the threading chart. I used lacquer
thinner and fine steel wool to polish the brass and clean off the
oddball paint smears. The red highlight on the IN/OUT labels came
off too, but the black background paint remained intact. So I
declared victory and gave the chart 2 coats of shellac and reinstalled
it after drilling and tapping the 4 holes for 8-32 brass screws.
Don't drill thru on the lower right hole, just deepen the hole enough
to tap it.
The bath is a mixture of water with some baking soda and sodium
carbonate based washing soda (Arm & Hammer in my case).
I experimented with a number of cleaners, the best were those with
sodium carbonate. Sodium bicarbonate worked fairly well, various
other sodiums were less effective. I settled on Arm & Hammer
Washing Soda- mostly because that was the only one at the local
supermarket with sodium carbonate in it. I tried some 50% sodium
hydroxide (lye), but it didn't seem to make anything go
faster. If you keep with the milder stuff, you won't need
gloves to reach into
the water- though maybe you do anyway, it gets gross before long.
Observe the ground cable is attached to the panel being cleaned-
polarity is critical. I have 2 stainless steel anodes
suspended in the solution, powered by the positive
cable- they're connected together with the yellow wire. I try to
arrange the electrodes so all surfaces of the part can get a
line-of-sight connection to an electrode; the idea is to get lots of
current per square inch of the part's surface. The closer an
anode gets to the part, the more current it will pass, sometimes its
tricky to get all the anodes going more or less equally. OTOH, an
anode closer to a quite dirty/thickly painted surface will clean it
faster. You can also see
where the copper anode wires change to stainless before going under
water. Electrolysis will dissolve copper and aluminum very
I imagine brass and bronze will suffer too, so be careful what you
clean! I gave it a whirl with a rusty 1930's beer
can my brother gave me to test with- electrolysis ate all the paint
right off the can, cleaned up
rust and lifted a wax coating off the bottom of the can; all in 30
minutes or so.
The white foam on the panel is formed by hydrogen bubbles forming on
the submerged metal and floating free- its this effect that does the
cleaning. If you brush away the foam with a stick, you'll see the
off the part- and off the anode as well. I think of electrolytic
cleaning as the bubbles forming between the metal and
paint, wherever the bath water and electric current can reach, slowly
breaking up the paint & crud. As the surface coating breaks
exposed, etc. Rust on the part undergoes something of a reversal
chemistry, you won't get original metal back, but the rust will become
more "metal-like", and large bits of it will decompose and break
up. I electrolized the micrometer dials & handwheels which
good deal of surface rust, they came out with the rust turned to a dark
coating that easily came off with an oily rag and a bit of wire wheel,
leaving clean metal underneath.
The brown, rusty looking foam is not caused by rust on the electrodes,
they get covered with it too, but its more of a deposit than surface
oxidation. This discoloration seems to come out of the
solution. The brown foam is a mixture of oxygen and carbon
dioxide bubbles. Ensure good ventilation; there probably isn't
all that much hydrogen coming off, but you don't want it to
Since electricity drives the process, the more
current you can drive through the circuit the better. This bath
was going at something like 20 amps- the water will get quite
warm. CUT POWER BEFORE STICKING YOUR HANDS IN or
you'll get shocked. If you forget this point, don't worry,
you'll learn quickly enough... ;)
Although the part is not eroded by the process, the anodes are.
Plain steel will rust really fast, stainless lasts longer, but it still
erodes. Check with SWMBO before raiding the silverware drawer or
electrolysis will be the least of your problems! The last few
baths I ran, my electrodes were mostly dissolved, so I tried some
stainless steel spoons from my wife- they erode very
quickly. The best electrodes seem to be of hard stainless steel;
springs are good, stainless pipe would do well too. I used 2
tired stainless springs and 2 discarded stainless pipe clamps my
brother gave me, the springs essentially dissolved and the cross
sectional area of the pipe clamps is reduced by half in a couple
If you suspend the anodes in the
bath with wire, use stainless steel wire. Home Despot sells
stainless steel picture hanger wire, which works fine, but you'll have
to quadruple it to take the current because the wire has a fairly high
resistance- and change it out from time to time as its eaten
through. If the anode power connector is anywhere near the water,
ensure it can't fall in if anything comes apart. I tried using
rebar as an anode for a while, but it ended up being
clumsy and rusted so quickly its resistance went up and cut the
current I could pass.
The electrolysis references I found on the internet all gave particular
receipes for the bath. I promptly ignored them and started by
setting up the bath and adding baking soda until current was
flowing. Given a choice, I'd use some laundry detergent with
sodium carbonate in it, if you're cleaning
something oily you'll want some kind of detergent in the mixture- the
soap will help with the grease, which otherwise makes a nauseating mess
the surface. More won't hurt, so just keep
adding & stirring till you get a nice chunky head of soap suds.
The bath seems to work best after its been in use a couple days- don't
change out the water when it gets nasty, the fresh bath will be
noticably slower, even if the current through it is considerable.
The reaction will slowly use up water, you'll probably add water
from time to time and more detergent when the grease/oil wears out
whats in there.
The above part was cleaned to bare metal on both sides after 4 hours or
so, my only involvement was to check on it from time to time. I
cleaned many pieces by leaving them on overnight, then rotating new
parts into the bath next morning. After rinsing the cleaned part,
most of the residual paint can be removed with a wire brush and putty
knife, stubborn pockets can be cleared with a screwdriver blade.
The gear cover had particularly good paint on it- even the oddball
paint was doing well, unfortunately I forgot to get good beforehand
Here is the gear cover after an overnight bath, right after a
brisk scrubbing with a wire brush and putty knife. The oddball
paint is pretty much gone, so is the grease. You can still see
bits of old SB paint, which is tough stuff- but it all comes off.
The wire suspending it is new, I refreshed it so I could put the cover
back in for another few hours.
Nice and clean; after the 2nd bath, the final cleaning was about 5
minutes with a wire wheel
on my power drill.
I also arc welded the belt tension handle which was broken off right
down at the base of the handle. After grinding, I used JB Weld to
fill the gaps
and irregularities. After drying, it filed down to fairly smooth
But at last, you have to get down to it and clean the big stuff;
The bed stand was painted by the previous owner. I think it was
plain latex, the bath cleaned it off in an hour so.
Since I had to shift to a different container, I restarted the bath
with 2 extra electrodes- namely 2 stainless steel springs. Since
the bed was too long, I had to do it a quarter at a time- really
annoying. The nasty mess of oily belt rubbings on the bed right
below the headstock cleaned right off,
which was great- by hand it was as hard to clean as roofing tar.
This tub was big enough for the chip pan, which took a while to
clean. However, while it was cooking, I was able to clean a
number of odds and ends (belt tension spring, bolts, etc..) by just
dropping them into the submerged pan. As it became cleaner, the
little objects contacted better- so they were cleaned just fine and I
didn't have suspend them all individually. Very handy.
I did the base last; all 200 lbs of it, one half of one side at a
time. The bed was easier... The block & tackle rig was
invaluable, you can get the pulley blocks at Ace Hardware. HD and
Lowes won't have them. You can see the gear cover and one of the
base panels primed.
I switched to Trisodium Phosophate for the gearbox, for fear of eroding
whatever bearings it might contain. It works nicely, just keep
water warm. Setting up a hot TSP bath on the kitchen stove is
good for a few
geek points from the wife. Don't use a good pan.
update 1/2005 - in the
course of fixing up the threading chart I finally gave the gearbox a
good cleaning. Its quite easy to work with if you remove the
leadscrew. Inside the gearbox you can see the head of the
leadscrew, with 2 nuts holding the gear onto it. Remove the nuts
and out comes the screw. The gearbox then can be dunked in diesel
fuel and scrubbed to clean out the crud. If one is really
motiviated, a full disassembly would be best, but gearboxes are fussy
assemblies. In retrospect, I should have just pulled the
leadscrew and electrolized the gearbox. There are no brass
bushings I could see in there and it would have reduced the oily crud
by quite a bit. The felt wipers should be replaced wherever
possible, the old ones will certainly be worn and packed off with
sludge- if nothing else just pick out the old stuff and work some heavy
felting back in. Ideally, the shafts would be pulled and new felt
laid, which I ended up doing for two of the gearbox shafts. There
are several little oil passages around the gearbox & shafts,
probably filled with crud, so its a good idea to clean it all if you're
going to the trouble. If the top gear range selector doesn't have
a solid feel to the detents, remove the setscrew visible on the
traveller gear which the selector pushes back and forth and remove the
spring & ball. Don't lose the spring... ;) Open up the
spring a little, only a bit, then reassemble for a much better detent
action. As was pointed out to me, its also a good idea to cook up
a little brass plug to stick into the oil hole at the base of the range
selector handle which otherwise will fill with crud.