Monday, August 15, 2011

Removing Surface Rust using Brass Brushes

Hello and Welcome, There may be no more important tools in my shop/garage than my selection of Brass Brushes. I have known about using (fine) brass brushes to minimize scratching to chrome for a long time. So long in fact, I do not remember who taught me that. I suspect it was my father. I can remember him using brass-wool on an old Winchester 32/40 half round in about 1968. The barrel of the old Winny had been shortened in about 1905. So cleaning off the old patina at that point really did not matter.

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Above: Removing the surface rust from a chrome seat post using a fine brass wheel-brush mounted on a 18 volt rechargeable drill. Originally I used a 4&1/2 inch angle grinder with a brass wheel brush. But the drill being much slower seems to be mimic hand brushing the chrome better than the high-speed grinder.
And the drill is also much safer, a lot less brass frag flying around.
Above: After brushing I used the Turtle-Wax Chrome Polish and Rust Remover. Then I touch it up with the brush then buff (again) with a rag. As you can see the old seat-post really pops now!
Above: As you can see, the brass brushes come in a variety of sizes. I mainly use the wheel-brush and the detail brush (smaller wood handle brush). But on deeper or heavier rust, I`ll use the bigger hand brushes as well. I also have a tiny brass brush attachment for my Dremel type tool. But honestly I don`t use it much.
Above: Pedals are where the brushes really shine. The wheel-brush will do most of the work. But the detail brush is a must for the inner surfaces.
Above: The same two pedals after brushing and polishing. I also used the Turtle Wax Chrome Polish and Rust remover on these.
Above: Sometimes it is something as simple as this seat-post collar bolt and nut. As you can see it looks pretty shabby.
Above: The same collar bolt and nut after just a few minutes with the brass wheel-brush. It is the details that will take your restorations to the next level. What a great chemical free way to clean-up a nasty looking small part.
Above: A section close-up of a handlebar from a bike I am currently restoring. This is a perfect job for the brass wheel-brush. I sometimes leave the stem attached and use it like a handle. This also allows me to leave the vintage grips alone. Thats a big plus when the grips are in excellent condition.
Above: The same handlebars after brushing and polishing. I was able to loosen the brake levers, slide them out of the way. Then after brushing, polishing and buffing the area I just slide them back into place. I was also able to wheel -brush the levers while they remained on the handlebars as well. And of course the whole assembly got the Turtle Wax treatment too. I did remove the shifters for cleaning and polishing.
Above: A close-up of a section of the front wheel on the same ladies bike I am restoring now. (along with the Giant and the Parliament) I hand brushed these rims. I think it is easier to damage the rims with the wheel-brush attachment. And when the rims are boarder-line as to being savable or not, the hand brush just works better for me. I am more likely to use the wheel-brush on a higher quality chrome steel wheel. (like an old Schwinn) This wheel belongs to a Free-Spirit.
Above: The front wheel after brass brushing and polishing with Turtle-Wax. The fender struts were also brushed and polished as were the hubs and flanges. The spokes were cleaned (one at a time) with Armor-All cleaning wipes.(twice) A few of the spokes might get touched-up latter with fine wet sanding paper. Any spokes that get sanded will also get polished with spray detailing wax on a rag.
Above: Probably the most important part of this post. I position a fan to blow the dust away as I am brushing. I also have a exhaust fan in the gable that comes on automatically when the lights are turned on. I position the fan so that it blows the dust in the general direction of the exhaust fan. The floor fan does not have to be set on high, mine is usually on low. I know this works well because I have Asthma. If it did not work I would be the first to notice.
Above: The rack and struts and saddle springs. 25 years of storage has left them with a light coat of surface rust. Not bad at all considering.
Above: The same area after brushing and polishing. The rack and saddle were removed for brushing. I took the saddle hardware apart (except the springs) for brushing as well.
Above: A before shot of the rear brake caliper. The brake calipers were removed for brushing and polishing too.
Above: An after shot of the rear brake caliper. I did not take these calipers apart completely. First I scrapped the old brake shoes. Then I just released the return spring and brushed them with the detail brass brush. Then I polished the calipers with Turtle-Wax.
Above: I Do Not Brush Alloy Components. These calipers were removed, taken-apart and cleaned and Polished with Mother`s Mag and Aluminum Polish. Mothers works on straddle cables too.

I hope you found something useful here. The Giant is pretty much finished, I will be posting it soon. Also, about the Parliament. I just had the original rear hub serviced by my friend Joe in Pontiac Mi. He is the only one who still had the correct removal tool for the free-wheel. He has been at the bike shop for as long as I was in Masonry, which is about 32 years. He has been a big help to me on more than one occasion. So if your ever over near Wide-Track and Perry in Pontiac Mi. stop in and say hello. There are not many around like Joe anymore. He reminds me of the guys at Powers Schwinn in RoyalOak Mi about 45 years ago.

Until Next Time, Ride Safe and Remember to Always.. RESCUE, RESTORE & RECYCLE


  1. Very informative, well done post. I also include a copper scrubbing pad found in by the dish soap in the grocery store. It's easy to manipulate and the copper is also easy on steel.
    Thanks, Mike

  2. Thanks for posting this. I have been trying to find a way to get rid of all the rust from the handle bars and rims of my ladies schwinn world tourist bike, and this post answered all of my questions.

  3. Hey Nanigoat,
    You are very welcome. And Thank You for the positive comment. It is always good to hear that someone somewhere has found something useful on this blog. Cute dog :) looks like my sisters dog Zoey

  4. Thanks Mike,
    Excellent suggestion! Thanks for sharing that. I remember my mum using those. A coffee shop friend of mine suggested this morn that, There is (or was) a "Brillo-like" pad that was made of brass in stead of steel. I can`t wait to get to the grocery store and look for both! Thanks again. Cheers

  5. Hugh,

    Another fine and informative post. You should know I'm taking notes and have used so much of the information you provide. I have a running "grocery list" of all the brushes, cleaners, and polishing compounds you describe for my local hardware store, to help me with my bike projects.

    Your photographs are very helpful and the details of disassembly and reassemble help a novice like me. I have tended to collect "Old School bikes" and your detailed examples of headset and bottom bracket rebuilds are very valuable and helpful, as are all the tricks for cleaning brakes, posts, bars and even springs on saddles.

    "Pedals are where the brushes really shine." (Nice pun, a lot of fun!)

    Great work, a real inspiration!

    Old Knotty Buoy

  6. Hey Knotty,
    Thanks I appreciate the kind words. About those
    supplies, I don`t know if they have one where you live but Meijer has the best prices on polishes and cleaners. (Automotive section) About "the pun" that was totally by accident, When I proof read the post I laughed when I read it. I thought to myself "I gotta leave that in". Good Luck with your upcoming restorations. If you do any 10 speeds, you might want to share them with Thanks again.

  7. Hugh,
    You are a god in bicycle refurbishment/reconditioning, particularly in getting rusty chrome and oxidized aluminum to shine! I love reading your posts.
    I'm the guy with the mixtes for sale in Ann Arbor. The market seems a bit slow this month :(

  8. Hey David,
    I enjoy a compliment as much as the next person. But this is getting way out of hand this week :) LTMS. By the way, The Nishiki Century Mixte on Craigs-list AnnArbor looks Great!(I am assuming it is one of yours) Yes things are a little slow right now. But I think they may pick up in September for a short while. Then hopefully again before the Big Holiday. (Dare I say Christmas) Seriously, I really do appreciate all the kind words from everyone. But sometimes a compliment is almost as tough to accept as an insult. Good Luck with the bike sales. Hopefully things will pick-up soon. Cheers

  9. Hugh,

    I love your blog. You are the best source of great bike restoration technique and tips on the web. Keep up the great work!!! Could you help direct me to a source for the fine brass wheel brushes? I've searched all over the web and can't seem to locate them. I would be using with a power drill. I use a dremel now, but they are too small for handlebars, etc.

    -Many thanks!


  10. Hey Jon,
    First Thank You. (I don`t know that I agree but Thanks anyway)
    You know you are right on the money, I could not find those online either. Lately I have been buying both the detail brushes and the wheel brushes at Lowe`s. But you might find them at any good hardware or builders supply. Check near the pipe soldering stuff for the small brushes. Good Luck

  11. Hugh, great post as always and it pushed me to finally order the set of brass wheel brushes I have been thinking on since I first read one of your posts about using them a while back. I can get a lot of rust off with fine steel wool, brass brush (wooden handle) and some Turtle wax chrome polish (thanks for the recommendation) but it would be nice to have a little more horsepower not to mention speed in the mix.

    For those looking for a set you might check out I looked locally but neither Home Despot or True Value had any for drills. I have a simplex front derailleur with some heavy rust on the back of cage I am going to test them out on.


    PS to echo DavidK you are at the very least a Minor Deity of internet old bike resto ;-)

  12. Thanks Ryan,
    But, I have never recommended Steel Wool. I have recommended Brass Wool. If I did say Steel Wool I assure you it was a Type-O. I don`t want to sound like a "Buzz-Kill" But those brushes are "brass plated". (maybe they all are) But that is the first time I noticed the words "brass plated". I`ll have to check next time I purchase some.
    If you are going to use a high-speed drill or mini grinder. (And I don`t recommend that you do). Make sure you have some real good eye protection. The brass bristles will be flying.
    Minor Deity? Still too

  13. Hello Hugh!
    I've been following your blog for some time and wanted to say a quick word of thanks. While I do love my old bikes, I am more into refurbing old woodworking machines. I have found your blog very helpful. While most of the time I'm dealing with rusty cast iron, or a century worth of peeling paint, occasionally I have that little accent piece that needs just a bit more finesse. Your techniques have saved the day more than once! I appreciate the help!


  14. Thanks Mut, I appreciate the kind words. My Grandfather was a carpenter here in Mi many many years ago. He would have probably been familiar with some of the machines you restore.
    One of my prize possessions (and there are not many) is my 100+ year old (No. 36) Stanley level. It has a small piece broke off one of the corners. I am sure it has no real value to anyone but me. But I think it is pretty cool. I am glad you have found my blog helpful and thank you for letting me know.

  15. Finally a blog that makes sense! I am restoring a 1954 Rollfast 26" and the handlebars are really oxidized and rusted in spots. Tried the water and aluminum foil method, which worked, sorta, and also a good metal polish, which also works, kinda. But these brass brushes really have surprised me and given me hope! Can I also use them on the fender supports?


    1. Thanks Maggie,
      I think you can use a brass brush on the fender struts. I would recommend using a rechargeable drill especially if you are not experienced. Also I recommend that you brush it length wise, running the brush along the length of the fender strut. This is even more important if the struts are stamped and not solid. Also anytime you are using a wheel brush you will want to wear safety glasses. Beware! there are some steel wire brushes that are brass coated. I always recommend shopping for genuine brass brushes at a privately owned hardware store. To remove the rust where the strut meets the fender you might want to try using an automotive grade wet sand paper. I am always happy to hear someone has found the blog useful.
      Good Luck with your project & Have a Happy
      Holiday Season. Hugh


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