A vibratory tumbler is another inexpensive way to remove rust. We picked this one up for $25. It's easy to use in that all you have to do is select a medium, put the tool inside, close the lid, and turn it on. The medium vibrates around the item being cleaned, essentially "knocking" off the rust.
Don't get in a hurry if you use this method. It can take hours to see results. However, like the other methods we've discussed, you don't have to oversee the cleaning. You simply drop the item in, turn on the machine, and walk away.
To see before-and-after pics of a log chain we cleaned using a vibratory tumbler, click here.
There are many mediums. In fact, it's not uncommon for people to get creative
and use things like walnut shells and lead shot. The item you're cleaning will determine
the medium you use. Most vary by size and hardness. Thus, if
you're cleaning a soft metal, you'll want to use a softer medium. Shape is another consideration. A pointed shape facilitates rust removal from metal threading. A small medium serves the same purpose for cleaning rounded edges. The medium shown to the right is an abrasive resin, which is good for effectively removing rust without wearing down the metal. That's critical when cleaning metal threads.
As with every method, the vibratory tumbler has its drawbacks. First and foremost, it's noisy. We usually use ours outside. Of course, the higher quality tumbler you buy, the less noise there will be, but there will always be some.
Another drawback is the dust left behind. The items shown above haven't been cleaned. However, "clean" pieces can look nearly the same. As an example, we photographed some screws from a hand plane we cleaned. The "after" pic isn't nearly as impressive until you see the "before" pic. Even more impressive is to see the two side by side. To see what the screws looked like after Ron took a wire wheel to them, click here.
What you use to remove the dust depends on what you're cleaning. On softer metals or heirlooms, stay away from a wire wheel or wire brush. Of course, you may find that a wire wheel is appropriate for steel items, like the ones shown above. Some items (e.g., screws) are so small that it's easier to take a polishing wheel or wire wheel to them. Of course, you'll need something to hold them with to do it safely. We use small vise grips or pliers.
Finally, consider another method if the item you're cleaning has paint that you'd like to retain. Because it usually takes hours to see results, we tend to clean several items at the same time. In that case, not only is the item scuffing against the medium, but it may also be scuffing against other items, sure to damage any paint.