“Electrolysis is a technique that uses a direct electric current (DC) to drive an otherwise non-spontaneous chemical reaction.” Yes, that’s what Wikipedia says it is. In other words: metals such as iron, when found in salt water or mineralized ground, will be corroded and rusty. Once out of the ground, corrosion and decay will actually keep going. Electrolysis is meant to slow down or even stop this process. It will also enhance your finds and give them a better look. Can be used on most metals, although more commonly used on iron. It should not be used on nickels as it will change their color.

Below is my first experiment with electrolysis. I used an electrolysis unit from Detect America.

Maybe not a full success for this first time using electrolysis but I know the blame is on me, not on the unit.
Honestly, using this “Ugly Box” as Detect America calls it is SUPER easy! It is really easy to use and understand. Everything is pretty much labeled and the little notice that comes with it, is very clear.

For my first try, I went with a 12th-13th century bolt/arrowhead that was specifically designed to go through coat of mails. (It’s called a “perce mailles” in French) Below are the before pictures, some of the unit set up and an after picture.

The unit also comes with a brine mix, which I really appreciate. As you can see, the arrowhead or bolt was not in a fantastic shape to start with. (but hey, it’s only 800 to 900 years old after all…)

According to DA Frank Lopergolo from Detect America, estimated time for the process will vary. It depends on the density and there is no pre determined time. Every item can be different. Some will clean very fast, some will take weeks and he even mentioned a cannon that has been in at 12V off and on for 2 years. When there is really no further change in the item its done.

Here are the before pictures of the crossbow bolt:

Here are some pictures of the unit and its setup. (using a 9V battery). As you can see, the unit comes with the cables and the brine mix, as well as with a notice.

It’s as easy as pushing the on and off button:

And here is the result:

During the process, it is recommended to knock the loose rust off. For this, you may use a small pick like an O-pick and a small wire brush and then repeat till you get the good old black iron. After that you may heat the oven to about 250 and bake the item for 30 minutes to remove moisture within the iron.

Finally, you can seal it with what works for you. Some examples are bees wax, renaissance wax or even vaseline.

(Almost) Everything you want to know about electrolysis, by Detect America:


Contributions from members of the Facebook group Restoring Your Finds