Work around cars for any significant stretch of time, and you’ll come across plenty of old, dirty, corroded, and otherwise gunky nuts, bolts, and other random small parts and hardware. And if you remove any during the job at hand, it’s good practice to clean them up before you put them back in.
There are several ways to do it:
The first option is to use a bench grinder fitted with a buffing disc or fine wire wheel. This works great and offers good precision, except it’s time consuming and fatiguing if you’ve got a bunch of hardware—and you always run the risk of skipping the part off the wheel, à la “Police Squad”.
The second option is a bath of Evapo-Rust. We love Evapo-Rust and it’s a great choice too—though it may require up to 24 hours to do its magic, which could be a deal-breaker if you’re in a hurry.
The third option is a nice vibratory parts tumbler. Those suckers are fantastic and we always espouse using the right tool for the job around here, which means this is often the preferred method—but if you’re in a pinch, there’s a down-n-dirty alternative…
…a homemade drill-powered tumbler.
Just like the vibratory tumbler alluded to above, a homebuilt tumble polisher uses an abrasive media inside a drum to knock-off corrosion and clean rusty parts. Only in this case, instead of a drum, it uses an old salsa jar and for an abrasive, it’s filled with play sand pilfered from my kids’ sandbox. It relies on an ordinary battery powered hand drill as its power source.
And the whole thing cost nothing but a few minutes of build time and some random hardware saved for rainy day projects.
Hat tip to the TheFabrik YouTube Channel, where I first saw this homebrew tool. The channel specializes in top-notch restorations of toys and other cool stuff. If that’s your jam, it’s worth checking out.
Keep scrolling for a walkthrough on how to build one yourself, and you’ll also see before/after shots of some of the rusty hardware bits used as test subjects.
How to Build a Small, Drill-Powered Mini Parts Tumbler
While the tumbled hardware wasn’t 100 percent rust free afterwards, it was still pretty darn clean—so I’m calling this homemade abrasive tumbler thing a qualified success.
Moving forward, I plan to experiment with different abrasive media, drill speed, drum orientation, and time to see if I can improve the results. And remember, this whole project cost nothing more than a bolt, a salsa jar, and a few minutes of labor.
Oh, and some play sand—but considering that usually ends up tracked through my kitchen anyway, keeping any sand off the floor is scored as a win here.
What do you think? Any advice to improve this project. Or should I scrap it altogether? Let us hear about it in the comments section below.
Paul is the editor of OnAllCylinders. When he's not writing, you'll probably find him fixing oil leaks in a Jeep CJ-5 or roof leaks in 1972 Corvette ragtop. Thanks to a penchant for vintage Honda motorcycles, he spends the rest of his time fiddling with carburetors and cleaning chain lube off his left pant leg.