- Laser cleaning is a process in which a specific frequency of light is used to target surface rust.
- Laser cleaning delicately removes rust, leaving the metal substrate undamaged.
- TikToker Workshop Rebuild shares his process for laser cleaning a car covered in 40 years of rust.
Andreas Yurich: Hi, my name is Andreas Yurich, on social media I go by Workshop Rebuild, and today I’ll be sharing with you guys the laser-cleaning process. And I will be cleaning 40 years of rust on a classic Renault Le Car from 1979.
Laser cleaning is a process where a laser beam gets emitted from a laser-cleaning machine. And this handheld device will always be pointed towards a metal surface with any surface contaminants. If you have parts that come in that are just full of grease, full of oil, just full of any surface contamination, you can actually use this laser-cleaning process to remove all of that.
Looking at the Renault R5 Le Car, the body work is still very straight, but around edges it does have some rust. And especially on the underside or around the wheel wells, you will see quite a bit of rust. And I would like to remove that, so I can bring this car back to running conditions and also make it somehow suitable for the road.
The first step is just really visually looking at everything. It’s really important to know where the rust is building up and which direction it’s going in to actually address it with the laser cleaner.
The next step is actually just to prepare the laser-cleaning machine. Once I have all the settings set up, I will put on my protective gear. So I will be wearing a mask and I will be wearing laser protective glasses, just to be safe. After that I grab the handheld gun and I get to work.
And I started off with the wheels. I’m taking away quite a bit of rust that’s been built up for over 40 years. So the most outer parts of the car I wanted to clean first, and I was going to work my way in. That was just my thought process, it can be in any other order, but that’s just the way I do things.
After the wheels were clean, I did the fenders themselves. Right around the fenders it rusts because you have, all the time, water splashing up on the fender. And that’s where it will rust, because the water actually doesn’t evaporate or go away, it just hides behind the fender.
Once I was done with the fenders, I moved in to the wheel hubs. I moved in to the wheel hubs. It cleaned up the rust very well. I was really surprised that it cleaned up everything. It cleaned up the threads on the hubs themselves.
So how does laser cleaning actually work? So the laser-cleaning machine has a certain frequency. Once its frequency is established within the laser source, that will be emitted through the handheld gun. Once it’s pointed at your work piece, it will resonate with the contamination on top of the metal surface. The metal surface is the last resort that will not absorb any light. So everything above the metal surface will actually absorb the light of the laser-cleaning machine. Once it touches anything above the metal, the heat will actually remove the contamination on top of the metal. Either that, if it’s not the pressure or the heat, the laser beam itself will vaporize the substance on top. So it’s either or, right? And that happens within milliseconds… nanoseconds.
With any laser-cleaning machine, this is a beam of light, and it also creates a lot of heat. You can damage the surface substrate, which is the metal. So you always want to keep your tool or your handheld gun in motion. You do not want to keep it too long at one certain area or on one spot because you can damage the metal if you keep it on one spot for too long.
Once I finished up with the wheel hubs, I actually moved on to the muffler that was on the other side. There are exactly four settings on this machine that I can manipulate: the first setting is power, the second setting is frequency, the third setting is the speed of the laser beam itself, and the fourth setting is the width of the laser beam.
So with all these settings, I can vary or adjust the laser beam. So if I’m cleaning aluminum, I will bring the settings a little bit down, because aluminum is softer and it also has a lower melting temperature. For steel, I go up in the settings, and usually I run them at around 80%, and aluminum I run at 60%.I really noticed along the body panels, I have to be very delicate. I had to bring down the values a little bit. Because that metal is so thin, I just had to keep it in movement all the time.
And lastly, I ended up around the engine, where some components were already missing, but I obviously cleaned up the inside of the engine. So, you can see the before and after on all four cylinders. The cylinders cleaned up very well.
The cylinder head, the intake manifold, and the exhaust manifold were removed from the car previously, so I could clean them up on the bench. And cleaning them up on the bench actually gives me the opportunity to clean them all the way around, which makes it super easy. And the final finish also shows that it’s a much better way to clean them on the bench.
What’s really nice about it is that you do not damage the substrate, which is the metal surface. So if you’re working on machined areas, like internal components for an engine, anything around any bodywork for a very, very delicate restoration project, or even something historical, you do not want to damage that substrate. So that’s where laser cleaning comes in.
So, the technology behind laser cleaning is evolving very fast. A lot of companies or manufacturers are starting to hook these up to robots and to their production lines. Even after something is manufactured, in any industry, there is still some residue, debris, or something that has to be removed for a further process.
So when I look at the final result of this car, from front to back or outside to in, I’m really happy and satisfied with the finish. The body panels cleaned up very well. It removed all the paint. It removed all the primer. It even removed some of the rust that was actually even chipping away. And towards the front of the engine, where I have aluminum parts, it just cleaned that perfect, without any issues and without any thermal damage. I was really happy with everything, and now I can continue on with my rebuild process.
Since this technology is really new, I’m still learning as I’m going, so I’m not a true professional just yet, but I’m learning every day. I’m really into this new technology, and I can’t wait for this technology to get better in the near future.