Rusty Kelsey 3x5… Can it be saved..?

Picked up this Kelsey 3x5 today for $40.00. It’s pretty rusty but does open and close with a little effort. The rust is pretty heavy in some areas… Ink disk is locked up tight. Almost passed on this one.. Stored in a basement for over 30 years of so.. Might try and remove the rust and work with it a bit…

Any advice would be apprecaited…

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The press looks to me complete and restoreable. Get a can of PB Blaster from your auto parts store and give it a good bath in that, keeping it wet in the working joints. I suspect that a day of that will get things moving again. Then some Solv-O-Rust or similar product will help clean it up. You will probably need to surface-grind the ink disc a bit — maybe a flat piece of cabinet-grade 3/4 inch plywood with a piece of coarse emery paper or wet sandpaper, pressing not on the shaft but on the ratchet area of the back of the disc. Steel wool will also work wonders on rusty surfaces. Good luck!


Well, if you want to make it simple, Evaporust would make quick work of the rust.

You’d probably need a couple of gallons to fully submerge it if you are unable to deassemble. Once the rust was dissolved, you would need to scrub it a bit and give it a coat of oil or paint to keep it from rusting again.

Here is a good illustration of the Evaporusts effect on this level of rust on a small press of mine. This is straight from the bath, two minutes of a plastic scrubbing pad with some oil would make it shine like new.

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I pulled 2 of these from a junk pile in someones back yard, I used liquid wrench and wd40, nothing moved, everything was rusted solid, after more than 6 months soaking them they started freeing up, it took almost one year to get them to work again.

you might look on line at the electrolysis process. Its messy, but will get the rust - all of it, even in hard to get places.

I considered this for a rusty 5 x 8 kelsey, but decided it was to hard for a press that wasn’t in real bad shape.


Despite the wealth of information available on this site, removing rust apparently continues to be a case of reinventing the wheel. :o)
K.I.S.S. is the watchword in rust removal. Sure, one can spend oodles of cash on ‘wonder’ elixers, sure, one can do irreparable damage to machined surfaces by using harsh abrasives, steel wool, etc., and disassembling the whole press is an attractive option as well. But it should be remembered that proper rust removal is a slow, careful procedure; it took a while to show up, it will take a while to leave.
The important areas are the bearing surfaces. Squirting a shot or two of WD40 then forcing the parts to move simply serves to place the rust/dust into a suspension similar to a valve grinding compound. With resultant effect. Grinding the ink disc creates its own set of problems as well. Resist the temptation to treat metal like wood; throw away all abrasives, steel wool and, especially, WD40. Substitute elbow grease and patience.:o)
That little 3x5 is easily restored by simply immersing the entire thing in a bucket of vinegar/lemon solution until a simple finger wipe reveals bright metal surface. Then, using a soft pad (e.g.copper Brillo, or nylon) remove the rust. Should some areas prove stubborn, re-immerse the press. Once cleaned to your satisfaction, dunk the press into an oil bath. Let it sit for a time. Remove, then - and this is crucial - using compressed air blow out the bearing surfaces and thoroughly dry everything.. Wipe with lint-free cloth and re-lubricate the bearing surfaces.. A plus as well is the disposal of the vinegar/lemon mix: completely biodegradable which will give the warm and fuzzies to the econuts.It’s time-consuming, but then again, so is letterpress. :o)
For the more daring, there is an electrical method involving controlled power, sacrificial nodes, and slightly more acidic chemical bath. But that’s for the more daring. :o)

Like Forme says, WD40 is not really made for keeping rust away.

Evaporust and the lemon vinegar solution both have a very similar effect. Yes, Evaporust is more expensive (though hardly ‘oodles of cash’) but can also be used multiple times if you just put it back in the jug. I have a gallon jug whose contents I’ve reused for four mid-size presses and it still works great, I used it on an ink-disk just last night and it came out nice and shiny in about 45 minutes.

10% molasses with water works on 93yo rusted car parts.

I did not believe it until I saw the effect. You might like to soak a couple of replaceable parts (bolts) to test it yourself.

“For the more daring, there is an electrical method involving controlled power, sacrificial nodes, and slightly more acidic chemical bath. But that’s for the more daring. :o)”

It really isn’t that daring at all. It is a very simple process that I have used numerous times to remove rust.

All you need is:
-Plastic bucket or tub
-Washing Soda (
-Battery charger
-Sacrificial metal.
If you want me to walk you through the process please email me directly. [email protected]

forme, vinegar & lemon juice? Seriously? These items cause corrosion (which is how they work, by removing not only the rust but also some of the good metal) and are inclined to remove the surface detail.

Electrolytic reducton of rust must be a better idea.

Or evaporust which works by some sort of magic using chelated metal ions.

Kimaboe, keeping rust off is exactly what WD-40 was designed for. It was invented to protect nuclear weapons casings from surface rust. It is thin to flow into crevices and scratches and semi-oxidizes once applied leaving a sticky, oxygen-blocking barrier layer. Basically, it’s a spray-applicable Cosmoline. What it is very poor at is lubrication or breaking stuck parts loose.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

Mephits, my bad, it is of course made for keeping moisture off, hence the name, but there are much better rust-inhibitors available for cast iron with movable parts. Again, reading old threads on restoration and coating presses will yeild many tried and tested suggestions :)

And as BLP mentions, unlike lemon/vinegar solutions Evaporust will not remove *any* non-oxidized metal. It won’t touch good metal no matter how long you leave it in. Magic is a good description :p

*edit* double post :)

from my web site:
“We took it apart and left it and the smaller parts to soak overnight in a concoction of Vinegar & Lime juice mixed in a ratio of 1 part lime juice to 4 parts vinegar.

This vinegar & lime juice concotion removes rust through a process called chemical chelation, bonding with the oxidized iron in rust and holding it in solution without harming the metal object. This approach is less destructive than either using stronger acid or removing the rust physicaly using a wire brush. As you can see in the photo below, it does a really fine job of cleaning up these rusty old parts”
Don’t know about some of the theories promoted above, but this works for me - and works quite well. Of course, surface rust is easier to remove, but I’d suggest soaking this press in a bath of lime juice and vinegar for a few days and see what that gives you.

Only challenge is finding the lime juice. I bought a few gallons online and found it at a reasonable price, and it was delivered to my door. Vinegar is easily found by the gallon at just about any market.

That final photo on the web site, btw is of the press all cleaned up - and NOT painted. It is, however waxed and oiled, which is all that is really needed - as long as the press is not left unattended in a damp garage or basement for many years…

And, yes. I do rely heavily on WD-40 or Liquid Wrench and Scotch Brite pads for most of my cleanup. For really tough rust - or when I am pressed for time, I also use “Prep-n-Etch” from Home Depot. It’s a dilute acid made for prepping concrete surfaces for painting, but also does wonders on rusty old printing press parts… With it and a heavy scotch brite pad, I can clean a rusty ink disk in 5-10 minutes - leaving only a clean usable surface behind…

I am a huge fan of Evapo-Rust. I am quite impressed with your photos there, Alan, but would be a touch wary of any product with the work ‘etch’ in the name!

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

Kimaboe, I agree that, indeed, WD-40 isn’t very useful in the realm of letterpress. It isn’t meant for moving parts. Really, it’s meant for when you put something metal in storage, especially something large that is hard to coat by hand. I.e., a nuclear missile sitting in it’s silo for decades. It does actually work well for that purpose. Just not very well for anything else.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

AR’s explanation is based upon sound chemistry; BLP’s is based upon, well, whatever it is it’s certainly not supported by empirical, or chemical, evidence. The mild acidic acid (5%v) contained in vinegar does not ‘etch’ iron or steel; the addition of lemon juice also serves as buffer.. Perhaps if left immersed for idiotic periods there might be a roughing, but certainly long after the rust has been removed. What an extended bath will do however, is discolor a once shiny bright surface. And that’s not all bad (esthetics notwithstanding) because the resultant darkened surface, lightly oiled, is seemingly impervious to future rusting. Inexpensive manner in which to ‘blue’ metal. Works great on handsaws and machetes. :o) As to electrolysis. I mentioned ‘controlled’ power for very good reason. Now that’s a process that can see an object reduced to ‘gnawed’ condition if not carefully monitored.
The main reason for not using WD40 is exactly that as stated by MH, and the sticky protective coating remaining once the carrier has evaporated serves as attractant /glue to paper dust, shop floor dust, and every bug within flying distance, plus it impedes oil from flowing easily into close bearing surfaces.. It’s simply another product that advertising elevated far beyond practical use. :o)


How exactly does does lemon juice (citric acid) act as a buffer? I know next to nothing about chemistry, but I can read enough to know that the buffer for an acid must be it’s conjugate base; in the case of acetic acid (Vinegar), that is acetate (for example, the sodium acetate that bubbles out of the baking soda and vinegar volcano that you made for your Master’s thesis). The conjugate base of citric acid is citrate, which seems to have nothing to contribute to buffering acetic acid.

An acid to definitely avoid is hydrochloric acid, as it can leave nasty aggressive chlorine ions on the surface of the metal, which will only contribute to further future corrosion.

Almost everything you’ve said about electrolytic de-rusting up to this point is wrong. It does not require a ‘controlled’ source of electricity, and it definitely will not lead to the destruction of an article left in the bath too long (except if you have the polarity wrong!), and it certainly does not need an acidic chemical bath .

The solution is basic — that is, not at all acidic — a mixture of sodium carbonate and water. I use about a cup of Ph+ from the pool supply aisle in a 45 gallon drum of water.

Anything that produces 12 volts DC is usually good enough. The output doesn’t need to be regulated or filtered, and an old car battery charger is often good enough. I use a power supply from an old computer to power my bath. It draws around 6 amps at 12 volts, and works beautifully. For my sacrificial anode I use a couple chunks of scrap steel I picked up at work. It is by no means rocket science. In addition to de-rusting, the bath does a great job of removing paint and grease as well.

Given the size of the Kelsey in question, I think electrolytic de-rusting would be the perfect solution.

I put my tank back in action last night, after not using it for a couple years. A greasy, nasty piece of my 10x15 Craftsman is in there right now:

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The process in action:

Okay, so it’s not much to see — if you look closely at the water under the straight black iron wire that is holding the piece of printing press in the water, you can see tiny bubbles working their way to the surface. Most of the rusty stuff floating on the surface comes from the anodes, the black gunk is a mixture of grease and paint that has floated to the top after being bubbled off.

Well, I will agree you “…know next to nothing about chemistry,…” other than to extract passage from, I would guess, a grade school textbook. :o) You really have little understanding of employing a buffer agent or, in fact, its action within solution.
As to your fly-by the-seat-of-your-pants method of electrolysis, well, that too comes straight from grade-school technology. Or is it Mechanix Illustrated? Does such approach work? Certainly. Can you predict its success? Certainly not. The uneven, bitten surfaces left by your method might be okay if one is from the ‘good enough for government work’ school of craftsmanship, but haphazard cobbling is not a lesson to be imparting to others. There are many, many set-ups to effect rust removal - even a grindstone will do the job. But it’s the final result upon (mostly) refined surface that is being discussed here. And that requires a thoughtful, careful, approach. In another closely related thread, a very astute observation was offered that once metal has been removed it cannot be [easily] replaced. Bungling along with slap-dash is not the best approach. But, heck, if that’s your thing….. :o)


You seem to be vastly over-estimating your own abilities with nothing to back that assertion up except criticism.

Please enlighten me as to how an acid can act as a buffer, I love to learn.

Again, you are entirely wrong about electrolytic rust removal. I have used it for around 7 years, and I have successfully restored a number of woodworking machines using the process. I have forgotten parts in my tank for days at a time with no ill effect at all. I take pride in my work, if a process caused any damage whatsoever to the things I restore, then I wouldn’t use it. Any by no damage at all, I mean that smooth machined surfaces come out of the tank looking and feeling exactly like they did going in. The process does not remove any metal. Again, if you had ever tried it, you would know this. If you did try it, and it did removal metal, then maybe you should have read your own dog-eared copy of Mechanix Illustrated to learn that you should not use an acid for the electrolyte, and that the Negative (-) lead goes to thing that you want de-rusted.

It’s such a simple process that it’s hard to go wrong. I’m not sure what level of complication you’re expecting. There’s nothing haphazard about it. There are hundreds of people using electrolytic de-rusting for serious machine restoration (google it), all with very good success. Stop spreading misinformation.

Tomorrow my ink disk goes in the tank. I’ll be posting before and after photos in this thread. I’ll also be posting a photo of the ink disk mount that is bubbling away as we speak, but without a before photo, it’s hard to understand the transformation. Maybe you should post some photos of the disastrous results you’ve had with your own experiences?

Here’s the ink disk bracket, fresh from the tank after I towelled it dry. Hard to tell anything from this without a before photo, but it was black with dried ink, oil and dirt. A small splotch of ink can still be seen on the left hand side of the bracket. Under the gunk was grey paint, which is also gone.

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I found a workable before photo. The bracket can be seen under the ink disk in this photo:

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And to wrap up my posting frenzy for the night, a couple ‘before’ photos of the ink disk that’s going to go for a bubbly swim tomorrow evening. Not super rusty, but still needing some attention.

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“vinegar & lime juice concotion removes rust through a process called chemical chelation, bonding with the oxidized iron in rust and holding it in solution without harming the metal object. This approach is less destructive than either using stronger acid…”

At a pH of about 2 (the separate ingredients are, so I’m guessing the combination remains at pH 2) , I’ll agree that vinegar and lime juice are much less corrosive than phosphoric acid. But google vinegar etching steel, and you’ll find any number of Viking sword enthusiasts who use vinegar to etch their steel; no idea, but I’m guessing they’re not all making it up.

But evaporust has a pH of 6.1 - so to all intents and purposes it is neutral . (Saliva is about pH 6.)

forme, I don’t want to get into a Chemistry argument with you. But I’m afraid that this sentence completely lacks any Chemistry. “The mild acidic acid (5%v) contained in vinegar does not ‘etch’ iron or steel; the addition of lemon juice also serves as buffer.. “

Lemon juice - citric acid - is not a buffer. Sodium citrate - the conjugate base of citric acid - would be a buffer for citric acid. And if you leave a steel knife in lemon juice or vinegar, it will etch.

From the measured response of BLP (and yes, a sufficiently strong vinegar will etch, which, among other reasons, is why lemon juice is added to the solution), to the (self-admitted) rant of Keelan who, by imperious decree, demands I stop! providing false information, plus others adding their thoughts and experiences, this discussion has stretched a long way from my initial K.I.S.S rust removal offering. What Keelan fails to understand is the very effect he so loftily epouses is brought about by metal removal. He might well observe the final result (and rust removal via electrolysis is not in dispute) and determine such metal depletion does not occur, but forgets - or doesn’t know - just why there is an anode and cathode in the setup. It’s not the ink, grease, grunge reacting to the current, it is in fact the transfer of metal. And, despite his apocryphal assertation that (his) metal surfaces are not affected by electrolytic action, chemistry says otherwise.
However, Keelan will, as does a puppy with a bone, worry the topic to death until, as with his rant, he stamps his foot and demands everyone listen only to his voice; that being the voice of authority after all. Sigh.
I offered my method of de-rusting, provided an option to that method, and leave it to those interested to give it a try. It is inexpensive, produces an acceptable product, and is easily accomplished. Not satisfied with simplicity? Fine. I certainly do not demand it be done my way; and I most certainly cannot conduct basic chemistry classes via Briar Press postings. :o)


Electrolytic plating also uses electrolysis, and the cathode always ends up with more metal on it, not less. Or is that a different kind of electrolysis, the specifics of which you will unfailingly fail to describe for us?

The Conservation Research Library at Texas A&M University has some good reading on the use of electrolysis in preserving and restoring artifacts:

Sections I and II on conserving iron artifacts are quite informative, so you will probably have no interest in reading them.

I imagine that I’m wasting my time, and that you’re going to counter the research and science with more hand waving and unverifiable hearsay.

And the puppy continues to stamp its feet…… :o)

The ink disk went in the tank tonight! Because of the way I had to hang it, I’ll need to stop and rotate it part way through, so it might be a day or two before I have my after photos.

Keelan wrote: “Hard to tell anything from this without a before photo, but it was black with dried ink, oil and dirt. A small splotch of ink can still be seen on the left hand side of the bracket. Under the gunk was grey paint, which is also gone.”

To what part of the electrolytic process do you attribute the removal of ink, oil and dirt?

The paint and crud removal removal is due to two things; 1 - The mildly alkaline bath helps to soften ink and paint, and saponify the oil and grease. 2 - the hydrogen gas formed at the cathode helps to lift the paint and crud away from the surface of the metal.

Well, I forgot to unplug my tank before going to work on Friday morning, so the ink desk spent 12 hours bubbling away.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the disk fresh out of thank, as I had to work quickly — bare machined surfaces rust very quickly when removed from the electrolysis tank, and if things aren’t dried off immediately, a very thin film of rust develops with in minutes.

Fresh out of the tank, all of the orange rust had been converted into black stuff. As I understand it, this is either different kinds of iron oxide, or super fine particles of un-oxidized iron. Whatever it is, the bulk of it wipes off with little effort. I had to break out the scotch-brite to get some of the really bad rust stains out, where a previous owner had left the ink rollers parked on the disk for a spell. I clamped the ink disk bracket to my bench, dropped the ink disk in its hole in the bracket, and used a rubber wheel in a cordless drill on the underside of the ink wheel to rotate the disk while I moved the scotch-brite pad slowly across the surface (after oiling the shaft, of course).

I tried the clean the disk a few months ago with a scotch-brite pad, and had little success (the “before” photo was after this attempt). This time, it took maybe 5 minutes to get the ink disk looking like it does in the photo. It surprised me — It wasn’t until I stopped and wiped the disk clean that I saw how quickly it cleaned up.

As an added perk, the process made quick work of the ink caked to the back of this disk.

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Tried the electrolysis bath yesterday on an 8x12 c&p I just bought. Beautiful results so far. Everything gets nice and clean which makes prepping and painting a breeze.