Best and least messy way to remove surface rust from tools

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I am about to experiment with electrolysis, using a solar panel for power, I have a few experiments in mind, including reversing the polarity when clean and changing the sacrificial plate for a zinc anode and see if it electroplates theoretically it should work
Just an observation, but from the reading I did when I first started doing eletrolytic rust removal, higher voltages may not be a good thing. As voltage increases, the reaction gets more aggressive and with it comes more pitting of the metal surface.
Electrolysis doesn't need high voltages to work and compared to what most experimenters were doing with wall wart and 12v battery charger supplies, the 18-20V laptop PSU I use is at the high end of common DIY practice.
Now different panels have different specs, but my solar panels make 70VDC on a good day and that's enough to physically affect you. You can do the job with less.
I use to use cillit bang but it quite harsh and eats metal if left to soak for too long, now tend to remove rus via mechanical means

Grinder wire brushes are good for leaving patina
Grinder Poly strip discs
Bench grinder scotch bright wheels various grades

All very messy but I have fairly good dust extraction and respirator and send a good deal of time removing rust form various tools and axes etc

I was given three tool boxes with some rusty tools that are worth saving
They have surface rust - pic below

What’s a good way of cleaning these? Can someone recommend a product I can soak these in and then hose off?

Parts cleaner solution would be the least messy way to clean them, then spray with WD40 to stop the rust.
The most satisfying way is to use a grit blaster, which leaves a bare metal finish You wouldn't believe they were the same tools.
Evaporust is great stuff. Chuck it in then rinse off the next day. Can be used again and again, and unlike most other methods it won't affect the base metal.

Electrolysis is good, but I find it takes metal out of the pits so can leave a rough surface.
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I'd go with electrolysis -12V battery charger, bucket, piece of sacrificial steel and some washing soda. Works pretty quickly/controllably but as others have mentioned, use outside as it gives off fumes and you do end up with some pretty horrid looking scummy liquid afterwards - so rinse derusted item under an outside tap and pour bucket contents down o=the drain followed by a lot of fresh water.
Some of the commercial products may be less messy - I suspect a lot use chelating agents along with other chemicals - citric acid is itself a weak chelating agent.
So lots of methods to try -just find one that works best for you and one that you can cope with the resultant mess!
I've been buying rusty old tools I need (well, I don't need 9 planes, esp since the landlord told me last week they're selling the house) on ebay for a couple months now when I see a good deal

first before you do any rust removal, make sure the tools are free from dirt/grime. fairy soap + warm water is ideal for this. just soak for a couple of mins and use a toothbrush/nylon brush while submerged then dry off

for heavy rust I already had an ultrasonic cleaner, which I also use for small items in mason jar with 1tp citric acid to 3 cups of water for 3 mins on sweep, 3 mins on low and that'll almost always remove all the surface rust & some hard rust esp in hard to reach areas... but not everyone has an ultrasonic cleaner, so meh

citric acid + distilled water is what I use for the bigger items. I boil a kettle and use 20-40 grams of citric acid (dependant on how rusted an item is) to 1L of water and soak for 2-3 hours, take the item out and wipe it down with a microfibre cloth

both of these ways aren't that messy compared to my other ways and will remove most of the rust. they dull (matt finish) the tools however, but this is only cosmetic and can be buffed back to normal

though I have to admit I prefer a sharp scraper & 400grit sandpaper to remove rust on most items with flat surfaces bc it doesn't dull the whole item & I have more control over what to touch and what to leave. to reduce time/mess I spray a degreaser on the rust before scraping it off, then there's no dust, & use turps with the sandpaper to reduce mess.

make sure you make something like a "rag in a can" from paulsellers and oil up your new babies once you've removed the rust and cleaned them to prevent future rust
Car battery chargers, sacrificial anodes, electrolysis bath, cabling, awful fumes vs. a bottle of liquid that's reusable and has practically no odor?

Akin to doing an appendectomy through the throat.
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Another method, and I've used this on all sorts...vinegar. Vinegar is a bit aggressive, so check the percentage and water it down if necessary, then wash the item in washing up liquid, as you would dishes, this stops the action. Oil the tool to complete the action, and on sunny days I like to spray with WD40, and allow to dry in the sun, this provides an anti rust coating, of sorts.
brass wheel is what I use to remove rust, then coat it in BLO and wipe off, seems to work well.
Here is an example. Side panel from a 1920's Black Forest musical clock. The cases in these are nickel plated steel. Before and after a few hours in evaporust. The plating is intact.


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