Nothing causes me more distress than pulling one of my favorite hand planes out of my tool chest, and finding a light layer of rust forming on the metal. These are valued items for a specific purpose that I have paid much money for. They were not intended to gather rust while at rest!
Oxidation, more commonly known as rust (on ferrous metals), can destroy valuable tools in a relatively short amount of time unless it's dealt with on a continuous basis.
And the best way to do that is to take measures to stop the rust before it happens. Prevention is "always" better than "treatment" as there really isn't any cure to rust pitted tools.
Wiping or spraying a rust preventative coatings including oils, fish products and sealing treatments on your tools after every use is certainly an option.
But most of us either don't have the time to devote to such a task, or we simply don't always remember. Also it can transfer oil to an oil-free project, collect dust and make handling difficult.
To make my rust prevention measures as easy as possible, I rely on several low-maintenance options to protect the metal tools in my shop drawers, tool boxes, and cabinets.
These easy-to-use rust inhibitors generally work in one of two ways. They either absorb the moisture from the air, or they coat metal tools with a substance that resists moisture build-up.
You've probably found the first style, silica gel packets, included with items you've purchased in the past (see photo). They're added to a wide variety of products to help avoid spoilage or degradation. Although not actually a gel, these packets contain small beads that act as a desiccant to soak up localized humidity from the air. It's very easy to pop a few of these into a tool tote or drawer next to your metal tools and leave them to quietly do their job.
One of the nice features about silica gel desiccants is that they can be reused. When the beads in the packet or container become saturated with moisture, they can be reactivated by drying them in the oven. You'll want to follow the manufacturer's instructions for this process to ensure the correct temperature and duration.
Some of these products even come with a color-coded indicator that lets you know when they need to be reactivated. A couple examples are shown in the lower left photo on the previous page.
Available in various sizes, there's probably a silica gel container or packet that's just right for the space where you need moisture protection. But also note:
You'll want to be careful using them around tools with wood handles and knobs. These tool parts need to retain some moisture to prevent them from drying out and cracking.
One alternative that can be used worry-free with wood-handled tools is vapor phase corrosion inhibitors. Products with these chemicals (VCls or VpCIs) emit a harmless vapor that coats metal parts and forms a barrier against moisture. These vapors won't harm wood.
Additionally, VCI-infused products take on a variety of forms. From canisters to foam pads and drawer liners (main photo, previous page), there's a style to meet just about any need. Several other types are shown in the photo above. There's even a model specifically designed for protecting hand planes (see photo).
Much like silica gels, the canister-style VCIs are packaged and sold to protect a certain size area. You simply need to figure out the cubic feet of your space and choose accordingly.
If there's one downside to VCIs, it's their longevity. According to most manufacturers, the majority of VCI products will only last up to a couple of years before the protective qualities dissipate. But the good news is that none of these are very expensive, which makes replacing them fairly painless.