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Cleaning an old lathe

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Gavlar13/02/2020 16:27:10
79 forum posts
4 photos

I recently acquired a 'new' old engine lathe. The condition is quite good but it is filthy, I'm not sure it has ever been cleaned. It is ex-school and as such it is caked in a sawdust and dried oil mix which has set like an epoxy resin and I'm finding near impossible to get off. I can clean the flat and unpainted surfaces with a scraper but I can't get it out of the various painted nooks and crannies without damaging the paintwork with abrasive cleaning methods. I've tried to soften it by soaking it in turn with oil, petrol, diesel and brake cleaner (which I think is acetone) but nothing is touching it.

It's not effecting the function of the lathe, I don't want to strip and repaint it and I can live with it, but it would be nice to get it properly clean.

Any ideas for removal, please?

ega13/02/2020 17:56:34
2265 forum posts
188 photos

Someone once told me that brake fluid would soften the carbon deposit in a cylinder head; might be worth a (careful) try.

What is the lathe and might you post a picture?

Grindstone Cowboy13/02/2020 18:07:56
711 forum posts
58 photos

Careful, brake fluid will also soften and remove the paint if you get any on it. Try paraffin or white spirits (which may also affect the paint, but to a lesser extent, so a test might be in order.

Steviegtr13/02/2020 18:09:15
2244 forum posts
311 photos

Old brake fluid possibly. Brake fluid now is water based. I.E does not attack car paintwork anymore. Try a hot air gun. If it's wood resin, it may melt it.


Brian Morehen13/02/2020 18:29:35
162 forum posts
11 photos

Oven Cleaner I have used this all of my vans to remove the sign writeing aand never damaged the paintwork on the motor. May be worth a try the sign work was paint and had been done by a singwriter.

Brian Morehen

Dave Halford13/02/2020 18:43:10
1744 forum posts
19 photos
Posted by Steviegtr on 13/02/2020 18:09:15:

Old brake fluid possibly. Brake fluid now is water based. I.E does not attack car paintwork anymore. Try a hot air gun. If it's wood resin, it may melt it.


Heat will soften oil mineral oil that has set.

I'm sure that machine may have once been in a school, but no school I know would have let it get in that state.

not done it yet13/02/2020 18:53:00
6343 forum posts
20 photos

Brake fluid now water based? That’s a new one on me. Silicone based, maybe.

Gavlar13/02/2020 19:02:52
79 forum posts
4 photos

I bought it direct from the school and I can only assume they had it from new. It's the third time I've bought machinery from a school (different schools, different LEAs) and they are always quality machinery, poorly maintained in my experience.

I've got white spirits and brake fluid in the workshop, I'll go and apply some in a minute and leave it overnight. If that fails, I'll try the heat gun and/or oven cleaner tomorrow.

Thanks for the advice.

Edited By Gavin Freeman 1 on 13/02/2020 19:04:46

Steviegtr13/02/2020 19:13:05
2244 forum posts
311 photos
Posted by not done it yet on 13/02/2020 18:53:00:

Brake fluid now water based? That’s a new one on me. Silicone based, maybe.

I stand corrected. Goes back to when I had a new Cherokee jeep. The master cylinder was leaking onto the bulkhead. I had it fixed under warrantee. The guy said it will not damage paintwork. It is water based now. Like car paint. That must be where I got that from. God 2003. where did time go.

Andrew Evans13/02/2020 20:08:32
342 forum posts
8 photos


colin vercoe13/02/2020 20:10:30
59 forum posts

We used to clean machines in an industrial environment lathes milling machines etc using a product called Elbow Grease which is water based and very similar to Flash floor cleaner, Morrisons also do their own very similar product called Citrus Shine, most of the dirt that a machine collects is water based eg coolant etc and this worked very well especially if soaked and then agitated with a soft dust pan brush.

Mike Crossfield13/02/2020 20:29:44
264 forum posts
36 photos

I’ve always found that white spirit is the best common solvent for cleaning up old machinery. Helps to let it soak in well before scrubbing off. Old tooth brush is a good tool for this job.

+1 For Elbow Grease. A good general purpose water-based degreaser in a spray bottle, and cheap as chips. I used to stock up on it every time I went North to visit my old Mum in Lancashire, but since her demise I despaired of finding it in my adopted South. However I was delighted to find recently that my local Range stocks it. £1 a bottle.

mgnbuk13/02/2020 20:36:51
1033 forum posts
69 photos

I clean new arrivals at work with this

Dilute with water & apply with a trigger action spray, leave to soak in, agitate with a brush & wipe off the residue with paper towels. Repeat as required. It does tend to dull gloss paint, but doesn't remove it or appear to degrade beyond taking the shine off. Being water based it also rehydrates water based coolant residues (which solvent degreasers tend to struggle with), then breaks them down so no oily film afterwards.

It is caustic, so wear rubber gloves & eye protection.

Nigel B.

Chris Evans 613/02/2020 21:10:10
1960 forum posts

I have used "Traffic Film Remover" a variety of brands available, agitated with a washing up brush. Apply with a trigger spray.

Howard Lewis13/02/2020 21:17:03
5320 forum posts
13 photos

My first attempt would be with white spirit, since that is more easily available than kerosene.

Deb Chemicals used to market a product called Jizer, which could be washed off with water. Possibly a runny cousin of Swarfega?

All these may be like the beer that can reach places that others cannot!


Hopper14/02/2020 00:42:10
5505 forum posts
137 photos

Brake fluid WILL eat paint. Big time. (Unless it's the rather rare DOT 5 silicone brake fluid)

Brake fluid is NOT water based. Ever.

Spray-can degreaser from the auto parts store and a small wire brush will remove anything oil/grease-based. You might have to let it soak overnight etc. Finish off with soapy water using laundry detergent to remove the degreaser and residue.

Brian Morehen14/02/2020 08:50:53
162 forum posts
11 photos

Try Gunk engine Degreaser , Brush it on and let it soak it then rub it off with a dry then finish with a damp cloth or hose of and dry will look like new

Brian Morehen

old mart14/02/2020 09:43:27
3347 forum posts
208 photos

I would lean towards soaking in Jizer or Gunk rather than brake fluid. Cillet Bang is a strong cleaner, but needs to be rinsed off very well with water, as it is corrosive.

Perko714/02/2020 10:39:14
394 forum posts
31 photos

You could also try the cleaners used by bicycle mechanics to get congealed crud off bike components, they seem to be organic based and are kind to paintwork including powder coating and ordinary enamels. Failing that my go-to would be kerosene and an old stiff paint brush. Kerosene is pretty easy to get in Australia in 1litre, 4litre and 20litre containers from most hardware/handyman/motor accessory stores.

Samsaranda14/02/2020 15:20:51
1210 forum posts
5 photos

Agree with Hopper, brake fluid will definitely not be water based as the heat generated in braking systems would boil the water = disaster i.e. no brakes.
Dave W

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