Electrolysis in a Nutshell

Easy ways to clean parts, remove broken bolts, etc.
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Electrolysis in a Nutshell

Postby Rudi » Sat Jan 06, 2007 11:14 am

There have been over the last few months a lot of threads on Electrolysis. There are a lot of myths out there as well, and seems some confusion. So, I decided that I would try to consolidate this stuff and put it in an simple, basic, How To on what, why, how does it work and what is the best stuff to use.

This is a work in progress, and I will tidy it up as I go along. But here it is for now..

Electrolysis Tanks for Cub Restoration or any restoration project can come in many various container sizes, materials and shapes. The most common being the 55 Gallon US or 45 Imperial Gallon Plastic Barrels. These usually have a pair of bungs on being a fine thread and the other being an NPT thread which nicely accepts a 1-1/2" ABS Pipe fitting -- convenient.

When building an Electrolysis Tank, cost, availability and a few other factors may contribute to the design parameters, but basically you can use just about anything suitable for the project. Keeping in mind that we tend to want to save some money, many of us have found the best stuff is what you have the easiest access to - usually FREE is best :!:

Steel Rod, Re-Bar, any scrap steel of any type that you can find are all viable option. With a small tank in the 2 to 5 gallon range, mower blades are probably not a good fit... however, the beauty of a small tank is almost any kind of scrap steel, from short lengths of Sked 40 pipe, to square tubing etc., can be utilized as available.

Electrolysis is a well known process. As in all things, there are conditions that must be met. In this case there are 4 critical elements to the Electrolysis Tank itself aside from the container. The container should be sound, leak-proof and non-conductive. Pretty simple. In other words, don't use a galvanized metal garbage can :? :wink: :lol: :lol: The Anodes, the Electrode and the Electrolyte. In the context of the Electrolysis Tank, we will anotate the Negative Lead as the Anode and the Positive Lead as the Electrode for simplicity sake.

1. The Negative Lead/Anode - which is the part that the part getting cleaned gets hooked is critical. It must be strong to hold the part suspended in the electrolyte and it must be easily cleaned - and cleaned often.
    a. Contrary to popular urban legends, the chain works very well. I have been using it for almost 4 years now without any problems.. provided you clean it just like you clean the re-bar or the mower blades or any of the electrodes. Pretty basic.

    The choice of material is pretty limited for the Anode. A straight flat steel bar with a bunch of evenly spaced holes of a suitable size to attach the part being cleaned or good 5/16" non-galvanized chain have proved to be the best in my experience. Braided cable of any type is verboten in my world, because the many braids will become encrusted with corrosion and will simply lose connectivity and these individual strands especially those that are closer to the core, will be impossible to clean.

    b. One improvement to the system for me, will be a change-over from the chain to a strip of flat steel bar with holes about every inch. Why? Simple, cause I have it and it will be a tad bit easier to clean. If one wants to get technical.. it will be almost as problematic as the chain because of the build up of sludge in the holes..but that is just an esoteric problem not one of any real consequence.

    c. Only the chain or flat bar should come in contact with the electrolyte. Do not allow the Negative Battery Clamp or the Connective Cable from the Junction Box make contact with the electrolyte. Always connect above the support bar.
2. Postive Leads/Electrodes These are the electrodes that the positive cable from the battery charger connects to.
    a. In all of my tank projects, I make pains to ensure that the electrodes do not make contact with the solution at all. Keep it clear of the electrolyte. I would not use bare wire at all just in case it might come in contact with the electrolyte. Use only insulated wire. This can be as simple as 16 gauge or 14 gauge Stranded Lamp Cord which is used to connect to the Electrodes.

    b. The Electrodes can be made from many materials, the most common and practical being Re-Bar, Flat Bar, Steel Tube - square or round, and a combination of used Mower Blades welded to any of the preceding. The reason for using much of this material is availablility and cost. Re-Bar can be obtained basically free from almost any construction site. Straight, bent, twisted.. all the same.. useable.

    c. The attachment system for the wire to the electrode can be a number of things as well.. all depends what you have available. Ground clamps (kind you use on a ground rod or water pipe in your home), Battery Cable Clamps and even a simple twist around the Electrode. However, for best results, a good tight connection is a must. The worst scenario is a simple twist.. as it will not provide a good clean tight connection and will result in amperage degradation.

3. Electrolyte is the solution in which the active agent is mixed to it's saturation point in water. Anything less than the saturation point, will result in less efficiency of the tank. The Where Do I find TSP in the US and What Charger to Use? thread in the How To Forum provides information on the best electrolytes for our purpos and the sources where they can be found in the US and Canada.

4. Power Source is the final key to the process. The proper 12v DC power source is essential as the Electrolysis Process is entirely ineffective when using AC Power. You can use an Old Computer Power Supply, a Variable Voltage Power Supply or simply a Plain Old Battery Charger. However, Do Not Use an Automatic or Electronic Battery Charger as they will shut down immediately upon sensing the so-called short when the current passes through the Electrolyte from the Anode to the Electrode.. which completes the circuit. Again, the Where Do I find TSP in the US and What Charger to Use? thread in the How To Forum provides information on the best battery chargers to use.

These articles will help you build a 55 US Gallon full sized tank, and Kodiak's article will be more in line with what you are seeking. Same basic principle. I would use the top minus electrical motor.. to house the re-bar etc., which are the "collectors"

Rudi's Electrolysis Tank
Bronson's Tank
How To Build a 5 Gallon Electrolysis Tank

You can also Search for Electrolysis Tanks and you should get 22 or so good hits on great threads :!:

Also, Jim has a nice article on Electrolytic Rust Removal which is a good resource for the theoretical side of the process.

Here are a few pics of setups for the Anode.

My original setup


Peter Person's Setup
Larry Davis's Setup - old
Larry Davis's Setup - new


Ground Rod Clamp
Image Image Image

Image - - - - - Image

Batter Booster Clamps or even a simple alligator test clamp will work.

I like the beam clamp idea as well, that is pretty good for the Anode. It will work well for almost any part as it can be squeezed. Just remember to clean to bare metal if the set screw is not the primary connection.

The rubber gloves do provide an extra layer of protection, although.. I routinely dunk my hands in the solution to give the chain a shake, and I always have shown that the solution by and of itself is not harmful, when I have built the tanks at both my own CubFest Northeast 2004 and at Cecil's Cubfest Northeast 2006

Here are as many of the threads in the archives that I could find concerning how to build an Electrolysis Tank
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