Wednesday, August 5, 2015

let's talk brass.

I want to talk about brass.
Brass polishing, brass laquered, solid brass and brass plated.

This is going to be long.
Mostly because I'm wordy and long winded and get sidetracked easily, but also because there's a lot to say on this!

I recently put this pair of lamps in the shop.

Pretty, right?

Well as shiny and as gorge as they are they had some flaws.  Namely some patina in the form of speckling and some surface scratches.

These 2 photos above show the worst of it.  Likely that it would be hidden when a lampshade was attached anyway.

These are solid brass, but it's sheeting, not a 25 pound block of solid brass.  But solid and not plated nonetheless.  

Why not just clean them up before listing?
Well they also had a lacquered finish applied originally to reduce tarnishing.
It doesn't actually do that, and often times makes the item look worse if it's been manhandled at all.

I can remove the lacquer finish and polish at that point, but removing that lacquer is hard work.  Can be done, I've done it a lot, but these were quite large and I didn't think it would be as cost effective to spend an entire day to remove something that didn't truly detract from the piece.

But then I had an interested party inquire about them, she noted the "damage", and insisted I take into account they needed to be replated.

Say what?  No no no- I tried to explain but she was firm in her thought process, and she's entitled.  I wasn't going to convince her otherwise, but then I got to thinking, well shit if one person thinks this - it's entirely possible others will and these beauties will just sit here.

So I took them down, took them apart and spent all day yesterday removing the lacquer and polishing them up!

In process...

and done-

Will be assembling them fully today and reposting them back in the shop.

They will need an occasional light polish to keep them this shiny going forward.

So here's what.  Many older brass pieces have a lacquer finish to resist tarnish.  And in my opinion, it's not so great.  Often times it shows shiny overall, but can't just be polished and shows lots of scratches (often dark) on the piece.  
(you can buff through it, if you've got the machinery, but it WILL take much longer and those wheels and rouge cost $$ people!)

Once you remove that lacquer you find the piece doesn't have as many scratches (as it's possible it does have some actual scratches in the brass)  and will polish up great and easily.

Here's a piece that has a failed lacquer finish.

It's still quite shiny, but has those horrible speckles all over it.  Granted, some like that look, but it's not for me.
(These are part of another lamp I'm in process of redoing- I'll post finished pix of the birds down the road as a full before after for that lamp)

I'm kind of shiny or dull not shiny with speckles all over it.

Here's some geese, one has a lacquered finish, one doesn't.

From a distance mr lacquered looks bright and shiny, but up close - all those damn scratches.  Mr non-lacquer has a deep even patina and could be easily polished from this point.

Ok so you want to know how to remove the lacquer?

Nothing crazy or secretive.  But I will tell you this is rough on your hands and you will be sore in the back from all the rubbing involved.  

Let some sit on the piece until it evaporates.  Then add more.  Then start rubbing with a rag, micro fiber or something with some texture works best.
Keep soaking the rag as you go so the rag is damp with the acetone whilst you're rubbing.

Lots of rubbing.

Once it's gone, you'll be able to tell as you're working through it.
You'll want to rinse with clean water and dry thoroughly prior to any polishing.
Pic below is in process, the whitish areas still have the lacquer but have acetone applied.

These don't, they're just cutie little brass animals with good ol' oxidation and even some tarnish.

Ok, so now let's briefly discuss brass plated or brass like finish items...

Like this awesome side table base.

Shiny and purty as she is, there's some tarnish and pitting on some of the rungs.  These will not polish/buff out.  This is a piece that if you don't like how it looks, you'll need to replate it to get the original finish.  It's not solid brass, just a finish.
Lots of vintage coffee and side tables are like this.
Thank you 80s.

Admittedly, some of this knowledge comes from handling so many pieces.  It is something you may not be able to determine straight away.  Hopefully the piece you're buying is coming from someone who DOES know and can advise you the best method for the look you're trying to achieve.

And what about polishing?
I use several products and it really depends on the finished look you're seeking.

Brasso isn't something I use - I find it gives a duller, softer golden finish which is just not my preference but many, MANY people use this.
Bar Keepers Friend does a great job of removing layers of tarnish off of heavily oxidized brass pieces.  I use this as a first step to get an easier time using the next methods.  But I do not use this to polish to a high shine on brass.

There are not so chemical based methods available on the internets - something about flour and vinegar - I don't know I've tried a few of those and found it to be a waste of my time. Not good results, made a mess, wasted pantry items, and just left me a little deflated.  You may have more success, and I hope that you do if this is your route.

For serious polishing for the shiny shiny gleaming pieces - you'll need to use either Flitz polish or Simichrome.

I would say Simichrome is more heavy duty and while Flitz also does a fantastic job, this actually finishes with a silky, almost protected finish.  Both are multi-metal polishes. They both work well on silver plated and copper items really well also.  (And Flitz will clean your lucite/acrylic pieces too!)

Ok, that's it, you have gotten MOST of my trade secrets here.  Hopefully it will help you in your own brass adventures!