Saturday, August 8, 2015

Removing Rust from Fenders: Oxalic Acid versus WD40/Steel Wool

Is Oxalic Acid treatment preferable to WD40 with 0000 Steel Wool?

This question comes up quite a bit in discussing removing rust from painted steel. This particularly tends to impact bicycle frames, fenders, and chainguards.


Oxalic Acid use involves a chemical removal of rust. You dissolve the crystals in water, then expose the parts to the solution. This could involve submerging in a tank or it could involve "bandages" soaked with the solution applied to the painted surface. Either way, the Acid reacts with the oxidized portions of the metal, causing the rust to "wash away", while leaving solid paint or chrome intact. Beware that if rust has gotten underneath the paint or plating, it too will "wash off" as it flakes away in the solution. The more concentrated the solution, the faster rust washes away, but the more threat posed to paint.

WD40 and 0000 Steel Wool involves removal of rust by simply applying the WD40 to the surface, then rubbing with the steel wool gently to remove the rust. A gentle brushing will remove rust while leaving solid paint intact. Any loose paint again will "flake" away. This runs the risk of scratching the paint if you bear down too hard. It is also possible to leave fine filing of steel wool on the surface, which later can rust again.


So which is "better". The short answer is "it depends". I have two fenders from the same bike and same condition below as examples- the fender on the left involved Oxalic Acid treatment, while the right
 The Oxalic Acid fender involves a much more "complete" removal of rust from even very small pits. While both methods involved removal of the rust from the surface of paint, the oxalic acid really went after almost every single pit in the finish.
 At right is a further illustration of the Acid's power to remove rust from almost every pit, no matter how small. There are a couple of rusty spots left, but you see a lot of bare metal. I'm sure the remaining spots could be addressed with "bandages" of the solution applied to those specific places. The white stripes are quite clean.
 At left is the WD40 and steel wool fender. The larger pits are cleaned. It also removed rust stains from the white paint and the blue. However, the smaller pits still have a brown tint. There isn't much rust there, but you don't have that bare metal look that the Acid produces.

Above you see the Oxalic Acid fender at the top and the WD 40/Steel Wool fender at the bottom again.


So the Oxalic Acid does a better job at reaching down to the bare metal, even in very small pits. It really gets everything if you keep at it and know how to use the solution. The Acid did not ruin the paint, and I was able to do other tasks while the part soaked. The downside is that this fender does not look as "natural" as it could. You have faded paint, some honest wear, but then you have bare metal spots. Further treatment is needed to make this more "natural" looking. This soak took about 90 minutes.

The WD 40 with Steel Wool produced more "natural" results. By "natural", I mean the consistent of this fender is more consistent. You have faded paint and you have some rust, but the rust spots blend in with the paint to form a "relic" look. You don't have the glaring, bare metal that the Acid produces.

The bottom line is that WD 40 with Steel Wool and Oxalic Acid will both remove rust. Both need to be used carefully. But Oxalic Acid will more completely remove rust, even from small pits. If you plan to then clean the paint further or "fill" the small holes with matching paint, this is great. If you want to just leave it as is after exiting the soak, you'll have an odd condition of faded, "relic" paint and bright, bare metal. Meanwhile, the WD40 is not as "complete" a rust removal, but will leave you with a more balanced, natural "relic" look. Each therefore has its place, and it depends entirely on if you're going for a more thorough clean up with "touch up" or if you are going for pure relic/originality.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Bits of Imitation: American and English Roadsters- Westfield and Raleigh

It is said that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", and perhaps that is true. When we talk about imitation in the realm of "lightweight" or "light roadster" or "utility" bicycles, we talk about other makers imitating English designs.

The English established the basic formula for the early modern "roadster" and "light roadster" bicycles: a diamond frame with solid coloring, box stripe detailing, fenders/mudguards, and an upright riding position.

The English reached a very high level of utility bicycle design by the 1910s, and by the 1930s, had set the gold standard for basic cycle transportation in the form of bicycles like the Raleigh DL-1 and the Raleigh Sports. Hercules and Phillips, among others, also made high quality utility bicycles.

As you may recall from the post about Early Modern American Roadsters, the American bicycle market for adult cycles had been decimated early in the 20th century, with very little adult cycling activity even into the late 1930s. When makers like Schwinn, Westfield, Manton & Smith, and Cleveland Welding looked for an adult bicycle, they immediately were drawn to English design.

Why reinvent the wheel, or in this case the entire bicycle, when you could use English design as a starting point. After all, the Raleigh or Hercules light roadster was a proven machine.

Here we see a rough comparison of American and English design, though separated by about 18 years. The Westfield is a 1940 Westfield Sports Roadster, a light roadster combining American and English features. The Raleigh is a 1958 Raleigh Sports, the most well-known of the Raleigh roadster models.

The similarities are apparent: diamond frame, white tail on the rear fender with a reflector, upright riding position, and 26 inch wheels with 1-3/8 inch tires. However, the Raleigh proves the more versatile bicycle. It has a multi-speed hub, two hand brakes, and a lamp bracket for a headlight.

In terms of ride, the Westfield is certainly the more primitive feeling, while the Raleigh has a more "solid" feel as well as more comfortable pedaling from its multiple gears. The Raleigh's loose bearings run smoother than the Westfield's caged bearings. The Westfield's frame material seems a bit softer and more pliable in terms of straightening bends.

Most importantly, the frame angles are very different- American roadsters tend to have more relaxed frame angles overall.

That said, the Westfield's Torrington #10 Pedals are smoother and their large rubber blocks grip better than the Raleigh pedals. The Raleigh has an externally lugged frame, while the Westfield has internal joints.

In the end, the comparison really isn't fair. The Westfield is 18 years older and represents a very early effort at what we might call a "modern" adult bicycle. By 1958, Raleigh was at the height of its quality. But this rough comparison gives us a look at how English bicycles, especially tried and true roadster designs, inspired American companies to build bicycles for teenagers, students, and adults starting in the late 1930s.