How can I store hand tools so they won't rust?



I currently have a small set of hand tools, but do not use some very often. One hand saw that I own (stored on a shelf with my other tools in the basement) has rusted quite a bit on the blade, and I want to avoid that occurring with my other hand tools.

WD-40 seems to be not the best solution, because it stinks and often attracts dust. Is paste wax acceptable for use to prevent rust or corrosion? I'm planning on warming it up and passing it over the steel parts of the tool.

I've also heard that desiccators can be effective to dry out tool storage. Can this be accomplished with silica gel packets? Should I also oil the tools in some way?

Blue Ice

Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

Reputation: 259

2While WD40 does have a certain odor to it, it's usually a great thing to put on your tools. The reason for this is the "WD" stands for water displacement, which means it will keep most of that water off of the tool and help prevent rust. As @BrownRedHawk says in their answer, though, rust begets rust. If you have a little bit of rust on your tool, it will form into more rust ... that's been my experience as well. Just a thought. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 – 2015-03-17T18:26:31.750

To extend off of Paulster2, I do find that the smell always seems to hang around worst/longest in the area sprayed. It might be worth taking the tools outside to spray, let them set a while, then bring them inside. This would definitely prevent a majority of the smell from coming inside. – BrownRedHawk – 2015-03-17T18:29:18.817

1I find that the place you keep your tools is the biggest factor. Where do you currently keep your tools? Garage, basement, etc. – BrownRedHawk – 2015-03-17T17:30:19.847

Basement, on a shelf. I'm thinking about a tool chest at some point. – Blue Ice – 2015-03-17T17:36:38.470



I have something akin to an answer, but I might consider it more like advice.

  1. Rust begets Rust- purely anecdotal, but I feel like rust left unattended promotes more rust. I would first work to rid yourself of as much rust as possible. Things like naval jelly, baking soda and similar will be your friends.
  2. Moisture is the enemy - Whether it be your home, your tools, your electronics or otherwise, moisture tends to be an issue. If you haven't already, I would invest in a relatively inexpensive dehumidifier. I keep my basement around 35% humidity and love it.

  3. Oil - The only thing I know if that consistently prevents rust of iron containing items is oil. Wax is ok, and can be effective, but nothing beats a very fine mist of mineral oil (or really just about any oil that won't go sour, and a cotton rag. I find mineral oil has the least effect on the tools and the wood they cut. It takes a microscopic thin layer to prevent that oxygen from getting to your tools.


Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

Reputation: 1 636

1Re: 1, it's not just anecdotal. Rust forms when iron in the tools reacts with oxygen in the air, forming iron oxide. As a moment's thought about rust will confirm, iron oxide is a flaky substance. By peeling away from the other layers of iron, more iron is exposed, which allows it to react with more oxygen. This is why rusting is a runaway process. – Charlie Kilian – 2016-12-09T16:30:53.147

1Interestingly, not all metals have this problem. Aluminum would be pretty dangerous if it rusted like iron does. Aluminum does react with oxygen, but aluminum oxide isn't flaky. It forms a thin, dull grey layer on the aluminum, and the process stops. So aluminum's "rust" is actually a natural protective coating. – Charlie Kilian – 2016-12-09T16:32:25.523

@CharlieKilian I understand your explanation as a reason why rust begets rust; however, it would seem to imply that, once rust has formed, removing the rust would not help prevent further rust (and, in fact, could be counterproductive, as it increases the oxygen exposure of the non-rusted iron beneath it). If that is not true, can you tell me why removing rust helps prevent more rust? – Alexander Gruber – 2017-04-10T01:44:52.820

As I understand it, it's because you have removed the flaky metal, leaving solid metal that hasn't begun to flake and delaminate. The flaking part is the key, because more surface area is available for reacting. (Though perhaps I've been taken in by an incorrect pop science explanation; I can tell you that the popular explanation for why an airfoil/wing works is wrong - a plane couldn't fly upside down if lift was due to different speed air rushing over the top vs. the bottom of the wing, so clearly that's wrong - so it wouldn't be the first time.) – Charlie Kilian – 2017-04-10T02:11:24.347


Silica gel packets won't work well if your tools are on shelving. They'll just dry out the surrounding air, which will be replaced by other moist air.

But, if your tools are in boxes, silica gel packets will be fairly effective. Naturally, the larger packets are more effective than the smaller ones.

I've always had good results with them.


Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

Reputation: 71

1@LosManos - Yes, many desiccants, including silica gel, can be "regenerated" by heating. Temperature and duration depend on the type and bulk of the desiccant. (E.g., IIRC silica regenerates at 250F. Or you can make your own potent desiccant by baking epsom salts at 500F.) – feetwet – 2016-12-03T03:38:12.660

I have heard one can dry used silica gel packages again in an oven. I don't know it it works in real life but I have started collecting them to at least try. – LosManos – 2015-06-17T10:20:42.580


Camelia oil.

It is very affordable (around 15€ per liter), it doesn't stain, nor gum (nor smell, nor taste). It's not aggressive to the skin or otherwise hazardous to your health (in fact you could drink it, and you could use it as lotion and for your hair, indeed many high-quality body oils contain camelia).

Apply a few drops with a dispenser and spread it evenly so the entire surface is covered, then wrap your tool in an old rag before boxing it (or, preferrably a leather sheet).

You can remove the oil prior to using the tool with one swipe of a paper towel.


Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

Reputation: 2 909


WD40 is much better (I find) when not applied with an aerosol; get it by the litre and brush it on with a rag. That's my usual method, and it works fine (except when I forget). I do it every single time I'm going to not use a tool for more than a couple of hours. The smell is far less than when spraying the stuff.

With wax, if you want to avoid having to warm it, you can (sort of) disolve it in some metho and brush it on with a rag.

Of course, the traditional system is a mutton roll! A strip of fabric, with animal fat laid crossways on it, then rolled up. Tie it up with string, cut one end off neatly, and use that end to smear grease all over your tools after use. Lasts ages!

Sam Wilson

Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

Reputation: 163


Bluing is used to protect firearms from rusting, and according to that Wiki article, has been used to protect tools.

I remember from my hunting days that we would have a bottle of bluing, and give everything a good wipe down at the end of the trip.


Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

Reputation: 2 522


One other common solution is heat. Heat your toolbox.

Sometimes the tools end up being colder than the surrounding air and the moisture condenses on the tool causing rust, heating would solve this.

Heating the air also lowers its relative humidity.

This might seem like a weird solution but it is fairly commonly used to protect firearms. And one of the more popular firearm solutions is basically a small electrically heated stick you place in a gun safe, like this goldenrod dehumidifier


Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

Reputation: 623

Wouldnt take much to at least describe what you are linking to in case the link rots. – Matt – 2015-06-12T19:46:22.770


I agree with the all the suggestions to use oil. I glued a piece of carpet on a board next to my bench. Whenever I am finished with a tool - I squirt oil on the carpet and rub the tool against it. This is easy and saves oil.

If you already have rust - I have found that the "SandFlex Flexible Abrasive Block, Fine Grit" - is excellent at cleaning up tools. Also, "Evapo-Rust" is unbelievable effective, albeit expensive way to clean up rust. It is safe on tools.

For longer term storage you can buy "Uniwrap rust-inhibiting paper".

In general the best way to reduce rust is to reduce moisture. I highly recommend running a dehumidifier in your shop.


Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

Reputation: 339


Get the tools rust free by polishing with steel wool or scotch brite, wipe clean with oily rag-- leaving a very fine oily film, then apply a soft wax-- I have had good success with Johnson paste wax. If you can't ensure a low moisture environment, the wax film will do as anything else to prevent reformation of rust but leave the tool useable. If the storage is for years and the tool will not be used, try Cosmoline


Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

Reputation: 21


Teflon chain oil from Dupont provides a nice tough static and rust free film.

It is used for motorcycle chains and has been time tested for not collecting dirt, rust and dust. Have to let it dry on the first application. Just need a small amount too. A bit pungent so spray in well ventilated place. Great for all kinds of metal in humid situations.


Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

Reputation: 21

what goes for silicone goes double for teflon - see graphus' comment on this... generally bad for woodworking because of the inability of finishes to stick to PTFE residue causing fisheye defects. – aaron – 2016-12-12T14:52:22.060


CRC food grade Silicone Lubricant is magic on any metal, Never leaves a mark and does not go away unless you want it to, They use this stuff in museums when long term storage with protection is of the utmost importance, Oil just dissipates eventually, I moved to this Lubricant and will never go back to oil for protection, I use it on knives, Swords, door locks, antique straight razors ect ect ect, Its says food grade but I wouldn't eat it, unless of course you want to live forever!!...:)


Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

Reputation: 21

2Silcone-based liquids are considered a bad bet in woodworking circles because of negative reactions with finishes (leading to the dreaded fisheye defects). The most microscopic amounts transferred from a car topcoat to the fingers and then to the wood can cause a problem, used wholesale on woodworking tool surfaces would seem to be asking for trouble :-) – Graphus – 2016-08-18T06:56:01.820


I use Silicone lubricant, not WD-40. This is mostly for my table tops and such. March/April I go through my shop and use Silicone on all my metal topped machines (table saw, joiner etc) to keep them from rusting in as the moisture content in the air rises and the tops are still cold condensing the water and causing rust. One good thing about Silicone is that it doesn't leave an oily residue, especially not on wood when you use the tool later.


Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

Reputation: 12 431

1Now you've got me wondering whether there's any interesting effect that could be achieved by deliberately using wd40 as a stain/finish... – keshlam – 2016-08-18T04:07:41.243

I've always heard that you don't want silicon anywhere near anything that touches your wood because it will produce spotting or some other undesirable pattern when you go to apply your finish. Any merit to that? – rob – 2015-03-19T00:42:53.857

@rob I don't know. I've never noticed, but I only put a very light coat on. I do know that wd-40 can stain your wood. I'm not near my wood shop right now (hours away for a couple more weeks) but I'll double check on the product I use and report back. – bowlturner – 2015-03-19T01:20:48.727


Lee Valley sells a desiccant that you can place in a cabinet with your tools.,43456

One thing I would strongly encourage you to do (which is what I've done) is to buy an in room dehumidifier. Rusting starts when the ambient humidity reaches 40%. The dehumidifier will not only protect your hand tools, but all your other tools as well. This is the model I bought from Amazon:


Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

Reputation: 338


Try Ballistol

Originally designed for protecting and storing firearms, it works really good for protecting metal tools and handles.


Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

Reputation: 111

@rob It's not an ad. I've used the product, it works well and is a good solution for the question. This is my first post here on Woodworking, but am very active on other SE sites. – picciano – 2015-06-19T13:41:41.150

thanks for the edit! I suspected it was a legit post after looking at your network profile yesterday but after your edit it will seem less like an ad to other visitors too. Again, welcome to the site. – rob – 2015-06-19T16:14:16.070


One of the odder suggestions I've seen: mothballs in the drawers. Mothballs work largely by outgassing, and since the vapor is heavier than air you should, theoretically, wind up with a layer of vapor pushing air -- and oxygen -- out of the way.

On the other hand, that's fairly nasty stuff, especially if your workshop is poorly ventilated.

Just tossing it out as an observation, not a recommendation.


Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

Reputation: 8 003


Look at what firearms collectors do to protect guns from rust. They are fanatical about rust prevention. And they have developed a series of countermeasures to protect their gun metal (which is often installed in very high grade wood stocks):

  1. First, immediately after use always apply a light protective coating to steel. WD-40 does not cut it. There are a wide array of higher-tech protective lubricants for firearms, and any will be fine for tool steel. These range from oils to silicones, and from sprays to wipes. (Update: Per comments, it sounds like silicone-based coatings should be avoided because undetectable amounts that get on wood can interfere with subsequent finishes!)

  2. For long-term storage supplement the lubricant with a rust inhibitor. These are available as sprays for direct application, or impregnated paper or cloth to add to storage containers where there is not much airflow. (They are volatile, so if the tool is stored in the open these will eventually evaporate.)

  3. Keep relative humidity low – never above 40%. One way to do this is to store your tools in a room with a dehumidifier. Another is to dehumidify the storage container. There are desiccant systems designed for gun safes with built-in capacity indicators and plug-in rechargers.

  4. Avoid condensing conditions. This would be where the temperature in the storage area is allowed to vary widely: When air temperature increases significantly, then the relatively cold metal will attract condensation before it warms up. One way to avoid this is to keep the tools in a heated container. For example, it is common to leave a 20W light or other device on at the bottom of a gun safe. (Safes usually aren't airtight, but this ensures that the contents of the safe will always be a little warmer than the surrounding air.)


Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

Reputation: 650

WD-40 is mostly stoddard solvent (a fancy name for mineral spirits), not kerosene. Re. the light protective coating and your mention of silicone, anything containing silicone has no place around woodworking equipment or tools because of the danger of cross-contamination of finish surfaces. – Graphus – 2016-12-09T01:11:42.527

@Graphus - Just removed that apocryphal reference to kerosene in WD-40. (If it did contain a good quantity of a heavier hydrocarbon like that, it would probably work longer!) Thanks for pointing that out. – feetwet – 2016-12-09T02:04:50.320

"If it did contain a good quantity of a heavier hydrocarbon like that, it would probably work longer!" That's what the final ingredient (petrolatum/petroleum jelly) added to the 40th version is for. When used as a rust inhibitor, which was actually what it was developed for supposedly, a much more substantial coat than is usually left on these days was the way it was intended to be used, and at that coat thickness it works as well as something like Boeshield but at the cost of an oily surface. They could get away with it because it didn't matter if the skin of Atlas rockets were greasy :-) – Graphus – 2016-12-09T08:03:36.993


You can use a wax/oil as others have suggested (Lie-Nielsen sells Jojoba oil that seems to work well).

I would also recommend using a reusable silica gel canister. That will pull the moisture out of the air, keeping your toolbox/toolchest/toolcabinet dry. Once the silica gel balls in the canister turn orange, just pop it in the oven on low for a few hours to dry it out. I have had really good luck with these (you can also collect and use the silica gel "do not eat" packets that come in some packaged food (although these can't be regenerated as far as I know).


Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

Reputation: 71

Apparently all drying packets can be regenerated in a low oven, as long as they do contain silica gel. But with some the wrapper material degrades during baking so it's advised to cut them open, throw the 'paper' away and dry the silica loose. – Graphus – 2016-12-14T08:00:38.860


the first step in rust prevention is keeping tools clean. As clean as possible, at the very least preventing dust/wood particles from accumulating. Wood retains moisture, and moisture close to metal will eventually work its way through all organic coatings. It's for this reason that I keep all my handtools in a cabinet.


Posted 2015-03-17T17:20:43.877

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