A Rust-free Winterized Woodshop
How to keep your tools from rusting during the cold winter months
I have a shed up north at my cottage in northern Ontario, and I will be housing a lot of my tools in there. In the winter, temperatures can get down to 0°F, or lower. Will temperatures like this damage components in power tools like circular saws, tablesaws, sanders, routers, etc.? I don’t really plan to use them at that temperature—it would freeze my fingers off—but for nine months of the year, it is really quite warm and I should be able to get a lot of work done outside the cold seasons.
No worries about the cold hurting your tools, especially if they are dormant during the cold season. Your tools will sleep off the cold better than we will! Even if you were to use the tools, there would be little chance of damage from the cold. What will damage the tools is moisture, and during the change from winter’s icy grip to balmy spring weather there is a very good chance your tools will encounter damaging moisture.
There are some steps you can take to avoid that particular problem. As long as your storage area remains cold, moisture won’t accumulate on the tools or inside the motors or other internal workings. When the weather warms back up, if the cold tools are exposed to warm, moist air, the moisture will condense on and in the tools and could cause damage. If you can heat your shop, the easiest way to avoid corrosion is to heat the building, and the tools, to an indoor temperature above the outdoor temperature. Then the tools won’t be a point of condensation anymore and the potential problem is avoided. Also, it’s a good idea to keep the building closed up when those warm spring weather fronts move in; they’re typically loaded with moisture just waiting to transfer to your tools.
As long as we’re on the subject of tool damage in the form of corrosion, I have a few tips for folks who are trying to avoid the dreaded ferrous-oxide lament.
One method for keeping rust at bay is to cover the metallic surfaces with impermeable coverings. In my barn, where I can’t control the temperature, I cover my tools with poly sheeting draped over the iron and packing blankets or old sleeping bags covering the poly. The blankets provide a little insulation from the big temperature swings and the poly keeps moisture away from the metal; the dew point is on the outside of the poly, away from the iron. It’s not a convenient process but it’s a lot easier and quicker than trying to deal with rust.
If the tools are simply being stored and are not in use, a spray coat (not brushed) of lightweight motor oil does a great job of keeping rust at bay. But it renders the tools unusable. You’ll need to remove the oil from the tables or work surfaces before running boards over the them. An old spray-finish gun can make an effective device for spraying lightweight oil.
I wish I could name a magic cure for rust, but there is none. I know that rust is a huge problem in the Southeastern states, especially near the coast and in Florida where moist air is a way of life. Covering tools to provide a barrier from the moist air or keeping them in a climate-controlled atmosphere are probably the only ways to keep rust at bay. I guess the best defense against rust is to live in the desert!