I buy a lot of used sailboat hardware on eBay and craigslist.org. The reason is simple, I usually can’t afford new! If you’re reading this and you aren’t independently wealthy then you know how expensive parts and supplies for our boats are. I only buy new when I can get a great discount and buying used isn’t practical or safe. The only way that I can indulge a little in this hobby is by keeping costs at a minimum. That’s why this is called the $tingy Sailor blog, after all.
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Buying used and low-budget means sometimes getting rusty hardware. But it’s not hard to remove most rust and corrosion from stainless steel, aluminum, and brass. Regular steel and iron are a different story and deserve very few places on your sailboat, the most notable exception being your ground tackle. Even there, it’s worthwhile to keep rust at a minimum as I discuss in How to Maintain an Anchor and Rode.
The easiest way to remove rust and corrosion is chemically. You can also do it with a lot of elbow grease but why, when there is an easier way? Many years ago, Naval Jelly was the king of rust removers but they must have changed the formula (probably for environmental or health reasons) because it hardly worked at all the last time I tried it. My favorite products these days for removing rust are Fiberglass Stain Remover (FSR), white vinegar, Iron Out, and Flitz.
FSR is a gel that works great on, well, fiberglass. I’ve had good results with it on really bad rust stains in my bilge. You can also use it on surfaces where a liquid won’t stay in place long enough to work.
On brass, regular household white vinegar works wonders at removing salt water corrosion and it’s dirt cheap. For an example, I use it on the jib sail hanks in How To Clean Sails At Home.
On stainless steel hardware, I like to soak it in Super Iron Out.
The rust disappears like magic. A good example is the fiddle block in the feature picture of this post that I won at an eBay auction. At first glance, there isn’t much to like about it but the rust was only surface deep and the sheaves were still in good condition.
Here it is after soaking in Iron Out and final polishing with Flitz cream polish.
For those tough to remove spots, try scrubbing with small plastic bristle or brass bristle brushes. Brass is softer than steel and won’t scratch polished stainless steel surfaces as easily as steel bristles.
Flitz works great at getting that last bit of rust off and for polishing to a like-new shine. It also leaves a protective film behind to prevent future rust. But don’t use it on your bow pulpit or other surfaces that will come in contact with your sails. It will rub off on them and hold dirt.
So whether you’re refitting with used hardware or getting your pride and joy ready for the next sailing season, give these rust removal tips a try. After you remove the years of old rust, maintaining it that way is a lot easier with an annual light polishing.
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