Steel surface properties and finishes question

February 5, 2017 at 01:25:28
Specs: several
Another hardware question that has nothing to do with computers.
Please tell me where to go if you think it belongs elsewhere.

I inherited a nice-looking file cabinet for hanging file folders,
made about 1995-2000. It is mostly wood, with steel rails that
the folders hang from. The rails are 1/4" diameter rods, dark
gray in color. Parts of the rod surfaces feel nasty rough, and
parts are smoother. The rough and smooth areas run the lengths
of the rods, but surprisingly, they do not appear to correspond
to where the folders sit on them or rub on them. I don't know
if the rods were that way when new. There is no obvious color
difference between the two areas.

The roughness makes sliding folders annoyingly difficult. This
is a trivial problem, of course, but it seems like it should be
easy to fix. But I'm not sure. Maybe the rods are supposed to
be slightly rough. Maybe doing something to them will cause
them to rust.

Any suggestions? Can you explain why the rods are so rough?

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

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February 5, 2017 at 05:34:21
Hi Jeff, some photos would be interesting.

Would expect the Rods to be smooth.

Could the Rods be rotated, so the rough areas areas run along where there is no sliding action by the hanging folders?

Presume you have the correct hanging folders for the cabinet, as the ends differ between manufacturers.

Good Luck - Keep us posted.

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February 5, 2017 at 06:22:46
The rods are usually smooth when new. I have seen rusty rods in the past - damp can/will get in when/where it can, if the cabinet was stored in a less than dry environment at some time?

Likely the rods are a cheaper/lower grade steel than any other parts of the cabinet. I would simply rub them down with very fine emery paper - possibly with a fine rubbing past/grinding powder as well so as to remove the rust; maybe just use a fine rubbing paste/compound on a cloth? Then simply give the rods a thin coat of a rust preventing paint; or possibly - and maybe better - a thin smear of WD40?

edited by trvr to ad a "t" to pain thus making it paint...

message edited by trvlr

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February 5, 2017 at 08:14:20
@ trvlr - exactly what I was going to suggest. Sand them smooth & wipe with WD40.

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Related Solutions

February 5, 2017 at 10:17:11
Hi Guys,

please bear in mind Jeff advised they are Dark Grey in colour, suggesting they have been Stove Enamelled or Powder Coated. The reason for these paint processes is to reduce wear.

If so, they will not be so easy to rub down.

Although he may just be advising the colour of the metal.
if so, think using strips of emery cloth to rub down would be easier than with emery paper,

Good Luck - Keep us posted...

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February 5, 2017 at 11:03:42
This kind of moderately dark gray surface color seems common
for steel, and the rough feel seems common, too, but wrong for
the application. There is no hint anywhere of any rust color.

The drawer sliders are shiny silvery-colored steel-- maybe chrome
plated, with slightly different color and texture for the two parts of
the sliders and for the screws that fasten one of those parts to the
drawer. Two other kinds of steel screws fasten the wood parts,
and they're different much darker shades of nearly black. No hint
of rust anywhere.

I was thinking that there is so little color contrast on the rods that
photos wouldn't show much, but I can see a little bit of patchiness.
I might try to get something now while I have daylight. I'm curious
what kind of surface finish it is, that feels so rough-- rougher than
it looks.

I just tried turning the rods in the drawer I emptied of folders, and
they turn. I'll have to remove all the junk I put in the bottom of that
drawer so I can put folders back in it and try to find a sweet spot.

If I decide to sand them, I'll get some emery cloth. I've got plenty
of WD-40. At least two lifetimes' worth. I bought a can forgetting
that I already had one, plus I inherited another, along with the file
cabinet, VCR, and electric can opener. Plus I bought another can
of similar spray to use on an electrical slide switch after you
suggested it here. That would probably work as well.

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

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February 5, 2017 at 12:49:47
Just a very fine rubbing compound might do the job. The sort used to polish off faded paint work.

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February 5, 2017 at 13:08:56
I'm not familiar with that. Although I've seen the term
"rubbing compound" my whole life, I can't say I ever learned
what it refers to. At least, certainly not with regard to paint.
And "faded paint"???

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

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February 5, 2017 at 13:45:13
Non metallic paint finish on cars tends to fade in colour; in as much as the surface layer oxidises overtime, bleaches, may even go slightly grey-ish... There are compounds in UK, N. America which are mild abrasives, and which carefully applied allow one to remove (to polish off) the surface layer of paint; thus bringing into display a lower level - and more like the original colour.

One brand was called Haze - and gave rise to the term "hazing" with regard to a car body work...; Often this was done by used car dealers to improve the look of a car prior to sale... Another was T-cut and does a similar job.

It is (or was...) also used during a respray and carefully applied allegedly helped to provide a high shine finish - after the respray.

Another possibility is to get some molybdenum paste; used to be used to grind in valve stems so as to tailor each valve stem head individually to sit tightly into the valve seat on the valve port on a car engine.

In the days when chaps/chapesses rebuilt/renovated car engines; or at least did a decoke and possible ring change, valve grinding was more or less a feature of the whole process... Likewise with motor cycle engines... I suspect molybdenum paste is still around the car enthusiasts supply sources... This paste might actually be the one to use as it will cut/grind steel quite well; considering what it can do with valve stem heads and the respective valve ports on engines...

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February 6, 2017 at 06:13:03
Hi Jeff,

in case you are unaware, there is WD-40 Lubricant and WD-40 Contact Cleaner.

They should *NOT* be mixed, especially using Lubricant on Contacts or Switches.

Regards - Mike

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February 6, 2017 at 14:57:15

The rods are worn. Just replace them with new 1/4" steel rod. Any hardware store should sell it. See the link below for Home Depot. My local store stocks it.

I have a roll top desk that has aluminum bar stock for the hanging folders to rest on. The dimensions are appox. 1/8" x 5/8". The bar stock is installed on edge. I have used this desk for over 20 years with no noticeable wear on the bars. Aluminum is softer than steel so what ever happened to yours shouldn't repeat itself.

Office supply stores sell racks to go into file cabinets without built-in rails. They are even smaller than 1/4". I am speculating that the original use of yours wasn't to hold normal hanging folders.

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February 7, 2017 at 03:08:33
No way the rods are worn. The cabinet hasn't been used that much.
I don't think that either the smooth parts or the rough parts are that
way from wear.

I've installed the kind of "rack" you describe, with rectangular rails.
I forget whether the rails are steel or aluminum, but they are notched
and soft enough to bend back and forth with pliers until they break
off to fit the length of the drawers. The rods are much sturdier.

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

message edited by Jeff Root

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February 7, 2017 at 03:23:26
I've personally never seen steel rods in filing cabinets rust etc. but that doesn't mean they can't; and polishing them as above ought to resolve the problems?

Installable hanging racks may come in different qualities? When I have used them the runners have been a decent/healthy steel and certainly didn't bend, twist/tourque etc. I was fortunate to get some the correct length - didn't require any cutting to fit into the drawers.

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February 7, 2017 at 06:01:02
Jeff, if these rods are rough, how would you explain their condition? The office supply racks are mild steel. My point in describing my desk with the aluminum rails is that normal use isn't going to wear out these rails, even if they are made of the much softer aluminum. So, either you have rust, wear, or damage due to some unknown use.

The hanging folders I use have plastic coatings on the slide portion of the unit. If that is the type previously used in your desk then there shouldn't have been any damage. Especially considering the age of the desk.

Is it possible the desk is custom made? As was already pointed out above these rails are normally flat. The hanging folders may be dragging due to the round shape in relation to the ends of the hanging folders.

A picture of the inside of a drawer would be helpful.

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February 17, 2017 at 11:00:23
I didn't manage to get to the hardware store to buy emery cloth,
so I used what I had on hand. I tried toothpaste and a bit of water
with a paper towel, and it had a significant effect. I remembered
that I had green Scotchbright pads, and replaced the paper towel
with one of those. That worked slightly better, and after adding
a fair amount of elbow grease, I think the result was probably
identical to what I would have got with very fine emery cloth.

I washed and dried the rods, sprayed them with way more WD-40
than needed (because the instructions say to spray it, not wipe it
on, and long, thin rods mean lots of overspray), and let them stand
for an hour or two before handling them again. The rods still have
a grayish cast, but now the silvery aspect of steel predominates,
and the roughness is completely gone. From more than a few
inches away, the only difference in appearance is that they are a
lighter shade of gray.

I took a total of 19 photos of the rods with two different cameras
under four or five different lighting conditions, but I'm not sure any
of them show enough to be useful. I'm still very curious why they
had such a rough texture.

In order to polish the rods, I removed them from the drawers. In
order to do that, I had to remove the fronts of the drawers, held on
by two screws. No problem there. But after reassembling them,
I noticed that the fronts of the drwers were not flush with each
other. One didn''t push in quite as far as the other. That did not
appear to be due to how I put them back together, and I still think
that is true as I type this. So I wanted to remove the drawers from
the cabinet to try to see what they ran into that determines how
far in they go.

I couldn't figure out how to remove them. I had forgotten that the
sliders often have a latch that needs to be pushed out of the way
to let the drawer come out past the fail-safe point. So I thought
the two visible screws holding each slider to the drawer had to
come out. If I remember right, I had the two screws on one side
removed when I discovered the lever that has to be pushed.
So I put the screws back and removed the drawers.

A lot of futzing revealed that some little plastic bumpers attached
to the steel sliders were what the drawer bumped into at each end
of the travel. I think they were all broken before I began working,
and several pieces had already fallen off. By the time I was done,
they had all fallen off. I considered trying to find an appropriate
glue to fasten a polypropylene-like plastic to chrome steel (which
sounds like a fool's errand), but decided to just forget about the
bumpers and put the drawers back in without them.

But the front surfaces still were not flush with each other. They
don't even appear to slide in any farther without the bumpers.
No change there. But it seems that removing and replacing the
two screws on one slider resulted in the drawer being slightly
tilted from side-to-side. Had to fix that!

Most of my time in the last three days has been spent trying
unsuccessfully to get the drawers square again. Right now they
are so far out of alighnment that the bottom edge of the top
drawer and the top edge of the bottom drawer overlap, so that
only the bottom drawer can go in.

Each slider has four major parts: One is screwed to the inside
of the cabinet. It is a large track which permanently holds a
smaller track. I'm pretty sure there are ball bearings between
the two, but they are almost completely enclosed, so I can't see
them clearly. The smaller track permanently holds the third
piece, which slides on easily-visible ball bearings. The fourth
and final major part is the track screwed to the side of the
drawer. I said above that it is held by two visible screws, but
a third screw becomes visible when the drawer is pulled out
all the way, past the stopping point.

The screw holes in the slider for those three screws are not
identical. The hole for the middle screw is round, and just fits
the screw, but the holes near the ends of the slider are short
vertical slots. When the screws are loosened, the slider can
pivot slightly around the middle screw, so that the front and
back ends of the drawer will shift up and down depending on
the position of the slider when the screws are tightened.

I have loosened and tightened those screws so many times
now that I'm worried they will lose their grip in the wood, or
the slots (Phillips) will strip. So far they are holding, and I can
still turn them, but the next time I do it could ruin them. One
possibility is that I could drill new holes through the steel to
put the screws in different places in the wood, but chances
of that working seem dismal compared to merely getting the
positioning back to the way it was.

The three-screw arrangement, with the fixed screw in the
middle, seems obviously to indicate that if I want the front of
the drawer to be higher up, the front of the slider needs to be
lower down. But the results of adjustments seem random.
Sometimes the drawer front goes up, sometimes down.

And I haven't even mentioned the problem of getting the
drawers back onto the sliders yet. They seem to want to not
go back in. After many attempts I finally discovered that I
could put a screw loosely through aligned holes in the three
sliders attached to the cabinet, to keep them in the "out"
position. I'm not sure yet whether that is useful. I have to
slide the drawer in just a very short distance before I need
to reach behind it to pull out the loose screws.

Anyhow, I don't grok how to properly adjust the sliders, and
am rather frustrated that it is so difficult, and also so difficult
to get the drawers lined up to go onto the sliders.

Any insights?

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

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February 17, 2017 at 12:03:07
Ha! Because the polished rods reflect most of the incident
light spectrally, while they originally reflected most of the light
diffusely, they now actually look darker under most lighting.
Shiny surfaces often look darker than the original dark gray.

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

message edited by Jeff Root

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February 17, 2017 at 12:35:24
I have loosened and tightened those screws so many times
now that I'm worried they will lose their grip in the wood, or
the slots (Phillips) will strip.

One can pack the screw holes already cut by the screws with a little paper towel, kleenex tissues or actually fill the with fine wood filler; allow to set and then drill a very fine pilot hole tor each screw so as to facilitate replacing the screws. Do not over tighten them...

fine wood filler is often the better if likely to be removing the screws regularly.

Another method is to get some small plastic plugs as used (when fixing - with screws) brackets etc. to masonry. simply get the smallest which match the screws size - bore/diameter/gauge. Carefully drill out the wood to the correct depth; tap in the plastic plug; insert the screws and that's it...

I have refitted castors to a sofa base using plastic plugs as above; similarly hinges to doors and frames the same way.

In days of yore one would drill out hole now too large for the screw; insert a little glue and then tap in a tight wooden plug. Let is set then drill the pilot hole and then insert the screw...

You can do a test run on a piece of junk wood with the various methods above; to see how it ll goes together?

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February 18, 2017 at 18:48:39
I gave up on logical reasoning and positioned one of the
drawer slides at a random angle. It worked slightly better
than a sensible angle did. I finally had success by removing
the center screw from one slide and positioning it in what
looked like roughly the right position. It was so close that I
didn't make any further adjustments. I then drilled a new
hole through the slide for the center screw.

File folders move on the steel rods nice and smooth now.

Way too much effort for the results, though.

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

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