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I remember finding my first cast iron skillet at a Goodwill in Moscow, Idaho. It was 1992, my first year at the University of Idaho. I’d grown up with my grandmother cooking in cast iron and knew that a well-seasoned cast iron skillet was a treasure.

CIafter

Over the years though, my skillet became rough and, worse yet, my eggs were starting to stick.

I’ve heard cast iron referred to as ‘the original non-stick’ and that’s as it should be. One day I mentioned to Keith that I wanted to re-season the skillet. Keith’s the kind of guy that likes to do things right, so the research began. After reading several approaches, he settled on flax oil being the best medium for creating the coveted smooth skillet surface. The idea came from this article, Chemistry of Cast Iron Seasoning: A Science-Based How-To.

CIskilletb4
backskilletafter

But, we had a problem. The skillet needed to be clean, really clean, like-new clean for the process to work. Keith narrowed it down to three options: oven cleaner, lye, electrolysis. The first two options sounded toxic, the third, potentially explosive. Yes, it’s just 10 volts of electricity, but it’s electricity connected to metal which just happens to be immersed in water. What could go wrong?

Things could go wrong, but they didn’t. In fact, the project went so well, that we decided to try the process with a vintage waffle iron that we’d discovered years ago buried in our front yard.

WaffleB4andAfter
WaffleOutB4andAfter

Should you decide to take this on yourself, please be sure to follow the instructions carefully.

That said, here’s what you’ll need.

  • a big tub filled with water (we bought ours at Home Depot for $8)
  • two steel plates without holes (again Home Depot, about $2 each)
  • Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda – which is sodium carbonate not baking soda which is sodium bicarbonate – (Ace Hardware carries this – Home Depot and Lowes do not)
  • a manual battery charger
  • 1/2″ EMT rod ($1.50 at Home Depot)
  • 8 gauge wire
  • metal clamps
  • steel wool
  • Flax oil
  • clean dry cloth (to wipe on/off oil)

We followed these excellent instructions. (Bob, Keith’s dad, was down for a visit and was game to help with the project.)

Project1

The second you turn on the battery, the water begins to bubble.

Video

Until we pulled the pan from the water after several hours, I had no idea how much build up there actually was on the skillet. There was at least an 1/8″ of gunk.

Electrolysis

Video 2

If you decide to restore your own cast iron jewel, I’d love to hear how it goes. 

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8 Comments

  1. Nikita says:

    I have been trying to find a vintage cast iron waffle iron! How in the world did you season it? I mean, how did you get a nice, thin coat of oil? Just lots of time and effort? It turned out perfectly! I just stripped and re-seasoned a pan and I think I found a new hobby! I love seeing the before and after.

    1. Marissa says:

      Thanks, Nikita! The electrolysis process really does a good job of removing all of the old gunk. 🙂

  2. Ryan says:

    Thanks for posting this, I have just seasoned a waffle iron. I think everything else will be easy after all that surface area. I found a lot of electrolysis info on woodworking sites and a lot of them recommended not using stainless steel in electrolysis because you could be making or releasing hexavalent chromium (Erin Brockovitch). Evidently a very toxic slurry. Normal uncoated iron is good to go.