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Rust & Restoration: Testing a Vibratory Tumbler with 50's Ford Hardware

Updated: Apr 5

Several years back I wrote an article for the Y Block Magazine concerning a few tips and tricks to salvage all of the engine hardware that people like us seem to have in storage. Unfortunately these items most often get discarded, forgotten, or even thrown out. I turned the article into a blog post and published it 3 years ago. It was "1955 Ford Part 64: The 'Solution' for Y Block Hardware" - just click the link to read more about the post that includes information on a small ultrasonic cleaner and glass beading small parts such as these in a cricket tube.

Since that time, I have also posted an article about upgrading my ultrasonic cleaner to a much larger 10 liter unit that has more defined controls for heat settings along with a drain valve for the tank. If you do not remember this article and want to brush up a bit by reading it or watching the video, then you can visit this link: The article includes 3 separate, but very brief videos on setup, use, and the results.

This past year I purchased a large, 18 lb capacity vibratory tumbler from Harbor Freight. It looks very much like the unit pictured below...

Click the photo above to go directly to the Harbor Freight website to view specifications.

I have not had the chance to use the unit that much - there was a brief episode I tried with walnut shells at the beginning just to see how rocker arm stands (already cleaned and blasted) could be polished using that media. While those rocker arm stands turned out alright the process took an extremely long amount of time. If you have read the post this far you are probably wondering why I would want to fool around with a vibratory tumbler when I have been getting good results cleaning up hardware with my blast cabinet. Well, I have two simple reasons: 1. Dust! and 2. Time! The blast cabinet is great and certainly has its place in the shop. I use it extensively. Parts are dusty even though the collector does a good job. Of course, too, the finish is matted and nowhere near a polished state. This is just fine with parts that are to be painted - a glass bead finish on the surface of sheet metal or cast iron is near perfect for what needs to be accomplished with paintwork. However, for small hardware the finish is rather dull. Secondly, there is the time element. Each and every part must be handled and the blast gun must have its trigger pulled to do the work. With a vibratory tumbler - just fill it up, let the motor do its job, and walk away to accomplish something else. Sounds great, right?

Salvage parts most often have corrosion or rust on the surfaces like these pictured above.

The tumbler sat on the workbench for quite some time until I decided to whip it back out to see what it could do on cast iron, sheet metal, and other parts that were in a rusty state or at least showed surface corrosion. At first, I tried filling the bowl with just dry, play sand. (These results are in the video at the end of the blog post.) This worked just fine but took a very long time - 24 hours straight or more - to bring parts to that matte finish that I was getting out of the blast cabinet. And even with that long of a session in the vibratory bowl there were many parts in the lot that were not as surface clean as parts fresh out of the cabinet.

Christmas Day this year brought not only a good time with family but also various gifts from loved ones. (Of course, my family members are very supportive of what I do in the shop and often lend a hand.) One of the gifts under the tree happened to be a 5 lb container of the pyramid -shaped resin media used for "rust-cutting" according to manufacturer's specifications. Although the labeling did not specify tumbling parts in a liquid solution with this media, after a little bit of research online it became very apparent that using some type of "metal wash" or other cleaner was necessary in order to keep the dust down and help lubricate the action in the vibratory bowl.

The rust-cutter media is resin based, about 1/4 inch in size, and is pyramid shaped.

We started with nuts and bolts like these...

And ended up with hardware that looked like this!

Literally, these adjusters and nuts look great and are ready to be installed - now.

At any rate, I was very happy with the results. You can take a look at the video below to see what I started with, the equipment and media/solution used, and the results. Suffice to say, the vibratory tumbler is now an added bonus in the shop that I am sure will see quite a bit of use in the coming years.

Testing a Vibratory Tumbler on 50's Ford Hardware

Happy New Year!

The Hot Rod Reverend

aka Daniel Jessup


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