Reconditioning old files

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Apr 6, 2014
South East
Hi Folks,
I thought I had read a post about this on this forum but for whatever reason I can't find it.
I've been gifted 14 files of various shapes and sizes and in various conditions, some with a lot of wear, some with rust.
I read that if I clean them (wire brush followed by a rag/white spirit?) and then soak them in vinegar that the acetic acid will neutralise/remove the rust and the etching action of the acid will also 'sharpen' the file.
And so, some questions. The cheapest vinegar I can find at Tesco is distilled vinegar:
Will this work?
Also, how long should I leave the files in the vinegar?

Robson Valley

Full Member
Nov 24, 2014
McBride, BC
I got the very same gift! Coffee cans of rusty files. A few very large and greasy.
I tried to rehab a few of them but they never cut again like a new file.
Best gifted on to a blacksmith.


Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Mar 24, 2011
Use your thumb to see if the teeth of the files have a good bite. If it isn't sharp or biting well the file may be well used and a bit too far gone.

If you reckon they have enough life to bother saving then go for it.

What I use is white vinegar. Soak the steel in that over night and wire brush the scale off. If it's still rusty give it another day and repeat. After that, soakbin soapy water to was off the acid, oil and use!


A bemused & bewildered
Jan 5, 2013
SE Wales - File Filosophy by Nicholson File Co.- 11th Ed.pdf

The above is a great chapter & verse on files and their fettling, published by the Nicholson file people and here as a .pdf file. As with a lot of things there's a lot more to it than it seems at first, and a lot of misconceptions as to what to do and what not to, e.g. taking a wire brush to a file is a noo-no, but most people do it all the time. I got into the chemical sharpening through this and it makes a huge difference to renovating old good-quality files.

Even if you don't go with it all it's a really interesting read.
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