Restoring and maintaining a classic car can be an enormously rewarding endeavour, but it's also a task that requires a certain degree of effort and patience, particularly when it comes to sourcing parts and components. The older the car you're restoring is, the more difficult finding replacement parts and spares in suitable condition becomes, and you will often have to settle for a component riddled with surface rust.
However, a little surface rust that has not penetrated a metal component deeply can still be put to valuable service, and there are a range of ways you can remove this rusted coating to reveal the strong, shiny steel beneath. Sandblasting is one of the most effective and widely-used surface rust removal methods, and can be particularly useful to the classic car restorer.
What are the advantages of removing surface rust from car components with sandblasters?
The chief advantage of using sandblasting over other rust removal methods is that it takes the lion's share of the labour out of the work. Removing surface rust with sandpaper and motorised belt sanders takes time and a considerable amount of elbow grease, and even the most powerful of rust removing chemicals is only effective if the rust deposits are physically scrubbed off.
Sandblasting surface rust, on the other hand, is a breeze; simply load your sandblaster with your chosen blasting media, plug the blaster into a suitable power supply, and point the nozzle of the blaster at a slight angle to the surfaces of the component you are de-rusting. Even substantial components, such as gearbox housings and differentials, can be thorough cleaned of surface rust in a matter of minutes using a sandblaster.
Despite the ease of use and speedy efficiency that sandblasters require, they are not expensive to use. Small, man-portable sandblasters suitable for removing rust from all but the largest components are readily affordable. If you are a more casual hobbyist who only needs a sandblaster for a brief period to clean a few components, they can be hired from most hardware hire services for very reasonable rates. The blasting media used to remove the rust, while not reusable, is also inexpensive.
How should I choose a sandblaster for removing rust from my car components?
If you decide sandblasting is the rust removal method for you, and are in the market for a sandblaster to hire or buy, you shouldn't just pick up the first sandblaster you find. To get the most from your sandblasting, the blaster you choose should be well suited to the specific needs of removing rust from vehicle components.
This means choosing a sandblaster with relatively little power, and a low maximum PSI compared to more heavy-duty industrial blasters. While low power increases the amount of time it takes to remove rust deposit from components, it also prevents the blasted media from damaging and warping the undamaged metal beneath it. Applying a powerful sandblaster to a component for even slightly too long can distort and damage the metal to the point where the component becomes unusable.
You should also take care to select the correct blasting media, that will effectively scour away surface rust without being too abrasive to the healthy metal beneath. Ironically, this usually means forgoing using actual sand in your sandblaster, and alternative media such as plastic pellets, crushed glass and aluminium oxide are generally more suitable.