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Randy Ferguson 01-08-2005 02:14 AM

secrets of surface rust removal revealed
Hi Hotrodders,

I see several posts regarding surface rust and what to do about it. In this post, I will reveal how I go about removing surface rust from automotive body panels. It's a bit time consuming, but not too terribly bad. I prefer to have Redi-Strip do it for me, but there are times when I have to resort to doing it the old way. This is a very inexpensive process that provides excellent results.

Let's start with a materials list. You will need a DA sander (any type will actually work, or you can sand by hand if you wish)
80-180 grit sandpaper, steel wool (any grade will work), Naval Jelly, a squirt bottle w/warm soapy water and a roll of paper towels.

The first step is to sand the entire surface rusted area with a DA sander fitted with 80-180 grit paper. We're not trying to sand off the rust entirely, just get the majority of the heavy rust and make the panel somewhat smooth.

Working in an area about 12"-16" square, apply a fair amount of naval jelly and start scrubbing with the steel wool. It's wise to wear rubber gloves, as the phosphoric acid in the naval jelly may affect your skin!!
It is important to keep the area wet at all times. Do not allow the naval jelly to dry. A few shots of water from the squirt bottle will help to activate the acid and may aid in quicker results. Depending on the severity of the rust, you should start seeing shiny metal within a few minutes. You may have to rinse the area and re-apply the naval jelly several times to get it all, but it WILL remove the rust eventually. When you're finished working an area or you need a break, wipe off the excess naval jelly with a paper towel, squirt a health dose of the warm soapy water on the work area and immediately dry it thoroughly. This will neutralize the acid and leave a bluish colored film on the metal.

I did this 16"x16" area in about 15 minutes. More extreme rust would have taken longer, but the end result would have been the same.

Repeating this process over and over in workable size areas will yield a rust free panel that is ready for a good coat of epoxy primer that will last years, with just a few hours of good old hard work!!!

This '40 Willys roof panel has more than 90% of the rust removed. One more application will get it. I have a little under three hours in it to this point.

The last picture was taken just after wiping the panel with a wax and grease remover. I did this to clean it up and also to help highlight the dents. If you look closely, you will notice several half moon shaped creases in the roof. This all gets repaired in the next step. I will submit a tutorial on that tomorrow night.

Randy Ferguson
Ferguson Coachbuilding
(618) 544-2972

[email protected] 01-08-2005 07:53 AM

Don't care what you are telling us, I just love staring at your subject car!!

advanced design 01-08-2005 10:32 AM

Love those old gassers. Randy that is why us "older guys" like the front end up on the Willys.

Nice picture Willys36. Were you behind the wheel?

Z51JEFF 01-08-2005 01:18 PM

When I did the roof on my 64 Nova I used a product called Captian Lees that I got at the paint store,but when I couldnt find it anymore I tried an experiment.I went and got some electrolite or battery acid at the auto store and it did the trick.I did the floor in my wagon and it got rid of all the surface rust and left virgen metal.The secret here is you have to keep the area wet,once it dries it stops working.Brush it on the area,get some cotton shop rags,lay this on the surface,get wet,brush out all air bubbles and let it set for a few days.It will eat all the rust and leave fresh,rust free metal.But you got to keep it wet.

beemdubya 01-08-2005 07:27 PM

My question is after you use the naval jelly then go to apply the epoxy primer do you have to use a metal etch after the naval jelly or does the naval jelly actually etch?

[email protected] 01-08-2005 07:35 PM

Nah, I stold that picture from Byron's Gasser Mandess! web site. Posted the pic to get Randy's juices flowign so he will finish his Willys project. If you love gassers, you MUST visit that site.

Don't need to clean off the navel jelly or other phosphoric acid metal treatment. It creates an iron phosphate coating that enhances paint adhesion. Just do the wax & grease wash thingie and paint.

Randy Ferguson 01-08-2005 07:59 PM

The naval jelly will etch the surface, but I've found I get better results by sanding the metal with 80-180 grit prior to applying the epoxy. If you use a high quality epoxy primer, such as this one from Southern Polyurethanes, Inc. you shouldn't need to apply a metal conditioner.

I've found their products to be second to none!!


The '40 Willys Coupe belongs to a client. The metalwork is scheduled to be completed in May.

I'm using this one to make the necessary bucks, patterns and forms for the '37-'42 Willys replacement panels. I sell a complete line of inner and outer sheetmetal parts for these.

I am also working with a gentleman with a '35 Willys coupe, who is interested in letting me use his car to make all the bucks, patterns and forms from it to start producing the '33-'36 Willys sheetmetal as well.

Also in the works is Porsche 356 panels as well as a few others!!

I'll be a busy boy, eh!!!


[email protected] 01-08-2005 10:29 PM

I just never get tired of working on Willys. It isn't work it's a privilege!

Kultured 01-08-2005 10:50 PM

How do you feel about the use of muriattic acid. I have used is several times. I take and sand the surface with like 80-120G paper on my DA and the soak a towel..(not the wifes.. BAD Idea.. If it looks pretty.. you'll get in trouble..) in a bucket of acid and water the lay it on the surface to be cleaned up, then keeping it wet it cleans to the point you had shown.

BUT WAY more hazardous

Randy Ferguson 01-08-2005 11:33 PM

My experience with muriatic acid in this application is very limited, but I do seem to recall that it will make the metal very brittle.

I spent 6 years as a plumber (my father's business) and once had to leave the sewer auger in a clogged drain overnight. The owner had dumped a couple gallon of muriatic acid down the drain prior to me getting there. The next morning, I went to pull the auger out of the drain and it snapped. I was only pulling it by hand, and as I recall, it didn't take much of yank to break it. These things are made of some pretty tough stuff, about 3/16" coil spring is what it looks like. We've had to tie to them with a backhoe to get them loose and they haven't broken, but one night in muriatic acid and this thing was done for!!! I could bend it only slightly and it would break like a pretzel.

Perhaps a bit off topic, but I would hate to see that kind of embrittlement in your cars body panels. Stress cracks would surely appear, I would think.

No doubt it will clean up the rust though!!!

Randy Ferguson

pmeisel 01-09-2005 07:06 AM

Muriatic acid is another name for Hydrochloric acid. Dilution depends on what you buy but it can be very strong.

Depending where you work or what industrial supply is near you, it can also be very cheap, and can be diluted to the strength that is easy to work with .....BUT NOT IF YOU DON"T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING! YES I AM SHOUTING ON PURPOSE! It's strong stuff.

If you haven't worked with it before, don't try without someone who has, and read the instructions and warning labels.

That said -- and I have worked with the stuff -- naval jelly is probably easier and certainly safer. Thanks Randy for the great article.

daimon1054 01-09-2005 07:55 AM

phosphoric acid will eat the rust and leave a clean surface.

BarryK 01-09-2005 08:01 AM

I don't understand!

We have one of a very few top notch leaders in his field here trying to teach us something (and he is, me anyway)
and were clogging this up with wily cars and acids and I'm sure next some one will tell him to por it and be done with it.

There are 100's of threads here covering all that stuff, so can we keep this one clean and on subject.

Were lucky a guy like this is doing what he is as you don't see Boyd on here trying to teach anyone anything!

If I offended anyone I am not sorry and feel free to blast me with a PM, just keep this thread clean.

sevt_chevelle 01-09-2005 10:17 AM

Barry, I prefer the stuff from eastwood's:)
Randy, great thread!!! The navel jelly really does work wonders when used right.

Randy Ferguson 01-09-2005 02:12 PM

If I remember correctly, the active ingredient in naval jelly IS phosphoric acid. As I said, there are many ways to do this, but the beauty of the naval jelly is that it is a thick base that will stay put, rather than running all over the place like most rust removal treatments. As others have said, it's very important to keep it wet.
Rust can be removed by soaking your parts in molasses too, but that take several days.
They's many ways to skin a cat!!


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