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Restoring Cast Iron via Electrolysis Bath

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    Restoring Cast Iron via Electrolysis Bath

    In the past year, I have discovered an awesome new hobby. And I wanted to share just some of what it is all about.

    I am going to be restoring a few pieces that I recently picked up from a storage unit. The first one that I am doing is a large Lodge Reversible-Griddle. As far as restoration goes, I promise you, this is the best and easiest way to clean cast iron. (In any condition)

    You need to do this in a well ventilated area. This process does release Hydrogen gas. The amount released is really tiny but its always a good idea to take precautions. I do restorations outside, under an awning or in a well ventilated garage. This may sound dangerous, but its not if you take proper precautions.

    First thing is first, you need to find some Sodium CARBONATE, not Bi-Carbonate, which is baking soda. Arm and Hammer makes the most popular option found in stores. Below is a picture of the box you will need. You can find it in most places that sell laundry detergent. Check the back and make sure it says SODIUM CARBONATE. This will be our electrolyte in the water, which is our polar solvent that allows the iron oxide to flow from the Cast Iron to the Anode.
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    You will need a plastic vessel large enough to accommodate what you are restoring as well as the Anode(s). Look for something tall and narrow so you don't need 100-gallons to accommodate a 12 inch pan. I like to use a new 18-gallon Plastic trash can.( I didn't think I needed to post a picture of my trash can.)
    You also need a MANUAL battery charger. This is a must. They are harder to find these days but they are out there. If you get an automatic charger it will simply click off when you hook up the electrodes. Here is the one that I use. She's old but it works great.
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    For this griddle, I am using an 18-gallon PLASTIC trash can. (Don't use metal) Sometimes, I will use a 30-gallon tote but this one requires a tall vessel to accommodate the long griddle. Below, I have a picture that shows the neglected condition that I found this griddle in.
    As a preliminary step, I take a wire brush to the iron, just to get some of the surface rust off. It doesn't have to be clean, but I like to get the lose stuff off the surface. But don't kill yourself here. The bath will take it all off anyway.
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    The Anode
    As I mentioned before, you need something for the iron oxide to flow to. It doesn't have to be a clean piece of steel, but the cleaner the better. I use two pieces of sheet steel from a local hardware store. The one pictured below has been used several times, so it is a bit worn out. After your done, you can simply let it dry and scrub it with a wire brush and your good to go again. You can use one or two pieces of steel. I use two pieces, one on each side of the Cast iron, so I don't have to rotate the Cast Iron though out the process. DO NOT USE stainless steel for the anode, only use regular steel. You can use rebar, sheet metal, stakes any type of steel will do. The more surface area the better, which is why sheet steel is ideal.

    When setting up the anode, I drilled two small holes in the top of the plates. We will use these holes to string some steel wire through to connect the plates together. This way, the electricity will flow equally to both plates.
    Once you have them rigged up. Set them aside. We will put them in the bath once we have the water and the medium ready to go.
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    Next you need to find a piece a copper wire to attach to the Cast Iron you are restoring. I went to HD and bought some 8 gauge copper wire for 44 cents a foot. Three feet will be plenty. You want to wrap the wire around the handle of the Cast Iron. Then get something to span the top of the vessel. I use a piece of wood. It works fine and most people have something like this laying around. We will wrap the other end of the copper wire around the piece of wood so it suspends the cast iron into the middle of the bath. (Obviously don't use something that is conductive) Sorry for the poor picture quality on this one.
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    Once you have this rigged up set it aside and lets get ready to make the bath.

    To make the bath solution, you need 1 tablespoon of Sodium Carbonate per gallon of water. It doesn't have to be exact but the closer to this ratio you are, the better. I pour in the water, then slowly pour in the Sodium Carbonate, stirring along the way. Make sure that the mixture is well mixed after you add Sodium Carbonate. When filling, don't fill it too high, we don't yet have the Cast Iron added to the bath. You don't want it to spill every where.

    Note: This bath can be reused several times.

    1) Once you have the bath ready to go, place the steel plates in the solution, opposite from each other.

    2) Place the cross-member, with the cast iron attached, on top of the vessel. Make sure the cast iron and the plates are facing directly at each other. And the steel connecting wire isn't touching the Iron or the copper lead. Also, make sure they are not in the solution itself. (They are touching in the first picture but there is no soulution in the vessel, I just wanted to be able to show you what it looks like with out the murky bath solution)

    3) With the charger plugged in, take the negative lead to the cooper coil and the positive lead to the steel. (It will not work if this is reversed. Also, keep it out of the solution). In the photo, I ran a piece of rebar to the the plates, just so I could submerge the plates in the bath. They don't have to be totally submerged but this griddle was really long so I had too.
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    The bath after about 6 hours.
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    The bath will be much more clear than this when you first start. You should be able to see the tiny bubbles fizzing around the cast iron. And moving away, it will look kinda like its boiling, very lightly. (Like the picture below) If you don't, use some sand paper and clean the steel, where it is connected to the positive lead. You need a better connection. Normally, you want the pan all the way submerged in the bath. I had it elevated to make it easier to show you what to look for.
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    Once you have a good connection. You play the waiting game. I let mine go overnight. But 6 hours will work for a quick restoration, 12+ for really tough stuff.

    Once your done, unplug the charger, disconnect the leads and remove the cast iron. Dip it in a bucket of clean, fresh water and scrub lightly with some fine steel wool, then dunk it again in the water. It should be good and cleaned. The black seasoning should wipe off and the rust should be gone. (stuck to the anode) If you have some spots that didn't get totally cleaned give it more time. I have done numerous pans, skillets, griddles and dutches this way. This is an ideal method for those tough pans that have a lot of nooks and crannies. (think corn pan) This is, by far, the best way to completely restore cast iron. IMO

    Here is my griddle after a 6-hour session. This one is going back in the bath for another 6 hours. Also, it is still wet from the rinsing but you can tell all the rust and most of the seasoning have been removed. In fact, in the top photo, at the very bottom of the griddle, you can see where it wasn't totally in the bath. I did this so you could see the difference from where I started. Normally you'd completely submerge the cast iron. (which is why you use the copper lead)
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    After the bath is complete, you can save the solution for another cleaning, or you can dump it. As I mentioned before, I have used batches several times before discarding. Once your done, follow your normal seasoning processes and it will be like new. I will post the results of this beauty when I am done doing a few Flax oil rounds.

    I really hope this is helpful to anyone looking to restore old cast iron. It's become one of my fun new hobbies and it gives you great satisfaction when you see the results.

    Thanks for reading!! Keep the smoke rollin'!
    Attached Files
    Last edited by Spinaker; April 6, 2017, 10:41 PM.

    #2
    Great write-up! Makes me want to go find a rusted up Griswold just so I can try it!!

    Comment


    • FireMan
      FireMan commented
      Editing a comment
      Ditto. I just did a Griz, but not this efficient & fast

    • Spinaker
      Spinaker commented
      Editing a comment
      How did you do it? FireMan

    • texastweeter
      texastweeter commented
      Editing a comment
      I have always used salt and a potato, but this looks a lot less labor intensive, and more thourough

    #3
    wow, that's cool

    Comment


    • Spinaker
      Spinaker commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks!

    #4
    I agree - a great write-up. If I ever buy an old, rusty piece of cast ion, I'm sending it to you... LOL

    Comment


    • Spinaker
      Spinaker commented
      Editing a comment
      Please do!!! Id love to have it!!

    • RonB
      RonB commented
      Editing a comment
      Ahhh - I think you mis-understood. I'd be sending it to you for cleaning... LOL

    • Spinaker
      Spinaker commented
      Editing a comment
      Hahahahaha

    #5
    Nominating for sticky.

    Comment


    • Spinaker
      Spinaker commented
      Editing a comment
      Thank You. Its just a great hobby. And one that doesn't cost a fortune. (yet)

    • DeusDingo
      DeusDingo commented
      Editing a comment
      second

    #6
    Thanks for posting, awesome!

    Comment


    • Spinaker
      Spinaker commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks man!!

    #7
    I think this bears repeating, due to the science behind the magic: "take the negative lead to the cooper coil and the positive lead to the steel. " It won't work if this is reversed. The sacrificial "anode" needs to be on the "positive" or red connection to the battery charger. also.. keep the clip attached to the anode out of the water...it's mostly copper and will erode very fast.

    Comment


    • FireMan
      FireMan commented
      Editing a comment
      The hip bone is connected to the what bone?

    • Spinaker
      Spinaker commented
      Editing a comment
      Thank You for your additions. I am always miss something.

    #8
    Cool Spinaker! Is'nt MCS fun? Great report & helpful pics.

    Comment


    • Spinaker
      Spinaker commented
      Editing a comment
      Thank You. I hope you found it interesting

    #9
    FireMan
    the drinking bone's connected to the party bone....

    Comment


    • FireMan
      FireMan commented
      Editing a comment
      Ki yi yippie yi ay, yippie yay!

    #10
    What would happen if you got the griddle sand blasted? I think that would easier if you have access?

    Comment


    • Spinaker
      Spinaker commented
      Editing a comment
      It would work well as long as you avoid pitting the surface. I would give it try. I would make sure the sand isn't to abrasive though.
      Last edited by Spinaker; August 17, 2016, 08:44 AM.

    • Craigar
      Craigar commented
      Editing a comment
      For the blasting media you would probably want to use baking soda instead of "sand".

    • Mr. Bones
      Mr. Bones commented
      Editing a comment
      For delicate (read:non-destructive) media blasting, I have often seen walnut shells used.
      I have not personally tried this, but thought it worth mentioning.
      You can always blast something more, but you can't (easily) undo over-abrading something.
      My ¢2

    #11
    Thanks for the post Spinaker . Good job!!

    Comment


    • Spinaker
      Spinaker commented
      Editing a comment
      You bet man! Thank You

    #12
    Thank you taking the time and effort to explain the steps. I will use this on a couple of yard sale skillets I picked up for use, SOMEDAY, in my kettle. The day is now much closer.

    Comment


    • Spinaker
      Spinaker commented
      Editing a comment
      Cool. Let me know if you have any questions on anything. It really is easy. And the results are amazing!

    #13
    If you would like to see a video of this process here's one from youtube:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOYLQ86IdUk

    Comment


      #14
      Very nicely done!

      Comment


      • Spinaker
        Spinaker commented
        Editing a comment
        Thank You Sir! It means a lot coming from the Whisperer himself.

      #15
      Great write-up! You can also try a chemical etch, which also works quite well

      http://www.genuineideas.com/Articles...seasoning.html

      Just follow all the safety warnings.....

      Comment


      • Spinaker
        Spinaker commented
        Editing a comment
        Thank You. Feels good to get the thumbs up from the Doc!!

      • Potkettleblack
        Potkettleblack commented
        Editing a comment
        Try that at the lab. Not so much in the condo.

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