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Metal Polishing


phonogfp

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Today on one of the Facebook groups, someone posted "before and after" pictures of a 14" Edison black and brass horn.  Here's the "before..."

 

BrassBefore.thumb.jpg.5e385f9c00c3843bf06d086e1c141b9a.jpg

 

Admittedly, that was heavily oxidized brass.  We've probably all seen worse, but this horn looked like it would require a couple of hours of elbow grease.  Well, I'll bet it didn't take nearly that long to achieve this result:

 

BrassAfter.thumb.jpg.8be7ffbd95b86d4fcb1418a7b1d13050.jpg

 

The supposed miracle cure was Barkeeper's Friend, a moderately abrasive cleanser that certainly has its uses, but not for this application.  Compare what abrasives do (above) to what polish does (below):

 

BrassAfter3.thumb.JPG.f9418e0d221a20da136fedb86d0d760a.JPG

 

A picture speaks a thousand words.  I'll only add that soft metals like brass and aluminum are easily scratched by even moderate abrasives like Barkeeper's Friend and Brasso.  They won't leave a reflective surface, but rather a dull glow - the result of thousands of tiny scratches.  Here's an aluminum horn shown partially polished by hand - using POLISH:

 

AluminumAfter.thumb.JPG.0f976d44b55ee4d27c739a331bbbfd07.JPG

 

The moral of the story (in case it hasn't already been beaten to death) is that POLISH is preferable to products such as Brasso and Barkeeper's Friend.  Sure, it takes longer and your fingers may be sore the next day, but...isn't it worth it?

 

I recommend easily obtainable polishes (auto parts stores or Wal-Mart) such as Mothers, White Diamond or Blue Magic.  For heavily oxidized surfaces like those shown above, start with Nevr-Dull cotton wadding.  I've had wonderful results with these products.  (See 3/22/24 post below for an even BETTER suggestion when dealing with heavy oxidation/tarnish...)

 

George P.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I would not have known either which product to use to "restore" a brass horn to it's original luster.  Then again I also would't have done it at all without consulting some of the many experts that know way more than I do about these things.

 

I would encourage everyone to take advantage of the many expert resources out there before taking on any sort of restoration.  Better yet, unless you really know what you are doing, just pay one of the experts to do it right instead of messing up a good piece.

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

The least labor intensive way to polish a brass horn is IF you have an electric buffer (not a Dremel) with two buffing wheels - one stitched (firm), one unstitched (fluffy) and a cone shaped one for interior spots.  For brass, red and green jeweler's rouge works best to get a nice shiny result.  The stitched wheel is for preliminary cleaning to remove stubborn blemishes and the unstitched is for final feathering.  The rouge is waxy and leaves a hard to remove film after polishing, but WD-40 dissolves it before final cleaning with alcohol.  Be careful when using the stitched wheel on thin brass, because it will "polish" through the metal if too much force is applied and always hold the piece low on the wheel while it is running towards you.  If you lose control of the piece, who knows where it will end up - maybe out the front door of the garage and into the shrubbery (from personal experience).  I now recommend wrapping small pieces with a piece of leather and gripping it tightly with vice grips.

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A buffer and grades of rouge is definitely the way to go for a professional-grade polish, but many folks don't have one, and the process makes a mess.  I admit that I've had many horns professionally polished by experts (like John Duffy).  But for some horns, often based on the machine to which they're attached, I prefer a less-than-pristine-yet-polished look which can be achieved by hand.

 

Additionally, polishing the upper works of a Type BG Graphophone or other casting with complex contours must be done by hand.  The proper products will spell the difference between mediocrity and success.

 

George P.

 

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The engine below is not chromed - the rocker boxes (the large bottle-cap looking things on top) and the cam chest covers (at the bottom between the pipes) are raw aluminum.  They were dull, but repeated polishing by hand (2 or 3 times) with the proper polish made them shine like chrome.

POLISH2.thumb.jpg.b6e80134b5715d67376e2d1a892dfd69.jpg

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On 12/1/2023 at 11:15 AM, CurtA said:

George, the hand polishing looks great - I just don't have enough patience to do a large project.

 

It's good that we're all wired differently.  I truly enjoy polishing up dull metal. 

 

A lot of the guys on motorcycle forums substitute chrome components for the original aluminum pieces on their bikes - and that's a smart move if you don't like polishing.  (The bike companies make a great income on these chromed accessories too!) 

 

My motorcycle came with all its aluminum pieces still intact, and after 20 years I'm not inclined to change them out - especially since I enjoy the polishing.  I've had a couple of guys look closely at the bike and say something like, "Man - you must love keeping it clean!"  My response around mixed company will be something like "I sure do!"  If it's a biker, I'll use a more powerful affirmation that rhymes with "Stuck in Hay." 

 

I have an AG Graphophone with an aluminum bed plate that needs polishing.  It's a busy time of year, but when I get to it, I'll post "before" and "after" pictures here. 

 

George P.

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I don't know if this works (I haven't tried it), but a fireman told me that they clean brass fittings in a bucket of Kool-Aid to remove grunge and corrosion before polishing (no sugar necessary).  Kool-Aid is primarily citric acid, so that makes sense.  Citric acid is used to clean calcium buildups in coffee makers, etc., so that might make sense...

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  • 3 months later...
phonogfp

As promised, here is a metal polishing project I just completed.  It's not the AG Graphophone yet...that will come later.  This one is the brass bell of a horn:

 

Here's what the horn looked like until yesterday:

 

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I bought this 22-inch horn at the 2022 Midwest Music EXPO (MME) at Chicago.  I was attracted to the bell geometry, as well as the "Ray Co." decal.  However, I blame the heavily tarnished brass bell for the many, many months this horn sat in my shop.  I've cleaned heavily tarnished  bells like that before, and it's a long, painful process - and I'm often dissatisfied with the results.  I decided to give it to John Duffy and have him work his magic.  The only thing that bothered me about that plan was that the brass would look great, but the paint and decal definitely show their 120-odd years.  I did, however, gently clean the paint, and to my surprise, I discovered that the paint is not black, but very dark green!  I really like this horn.

 

In spite of the possible incongruities of aged paint/pristine brass, I would probably have taken this horn to John anyway (just to avoid all that tarnish), but circumstances last year prevented my attending either of the Wayne shows.  

 

Meantime, I heard about a product called Flitz Tarnish Remover:

 

  RayHornTarnishRemover.thumb.jpg.f3f401aa1fca8d949f0606d7a8f492c7.jpg

 

Naturally, I could not find it locally, so I ordered it on Amazon.  It arrived a few days ago, and I looked forward to trying it.  The directions are explicit in their warnings to NOT let the product dry.  Okay, I'd be careful, and try a small spot to see how it works.  Here's the result of a small spritz, a 1-minute wait, and a rinse with water:

 

RayHorn2.thumb.jpg.728770f473d2070bd90b977580bc7582.jpg

 

Hmmm...  Not bad - not bad at all.  This stuff IS NOT A POLISH.  It simply removes the worst of the tarnish.  I went to work, doing the outside of the bell in 5 sections.  About a half-hour later, here's the what it looked like with the tarnish removed:

 

RayHorn3.thumb.jpg.731e595d7a0a3300b4b6a6edcb1937ed.jpg

 

Now it was time to polish the brass.  I wanted to use this opportunity to try out some polishes I use on phonographs and my motorcycle to see which would work best for this application.  Here are three:

 

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I'd love to report that one polish really stood out, but I couldn't tell the difference between these three (I forgot to test two of my other favorites, "Nevr-Dull" and "Mothers").  As a matter of fact, the Flitz and the Blue Magic look the same, smell the same (like ammonia), and worked the same.  Like its Tarnish Remover, the Flitz Polish directions warned to not let it dry.  For that reason alone, I used Blue Magic so I could work on larger areas without worrying about drying.  Here's the difference between the area treated with Tarnish Remover and Polish:

 

RayHorn4.thumb.jpg.8b73c10486a7fa3c4c0630c2324ebabc.jpg

 

Here's the final result:

 

RayHorndone.thumb.jpg.fc4027f585fb831a10ec9f327f69d47a.jpg

 

I might take the horn to John to have him remove the creases, but on the other hand, this is a horn with character, showing its age, and those creases don't bother me too much. 

 

The main message of this posting is the Flitz Tarnish Remover.  It worked like a miracle, removing the tarnish from the inside and outside of this bell in about a half-hour.  The polishing actually took longer, but polishing is fun and not as nearly tiring as removing serious tarnish by hand.  I LOVE THIS PRODUCT.

 

George P.

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Just to echo the comment, far above, about Brasso: when I was doing the music thing for money back in the day, the word was never use Brasso to shine up your horn (trombone, in my case); it'll strip the lacquer right off. That's in addition to its being abrasive/scratchy. I never got the opportunity to prove or disprove the accuracy of that advice, because I didn't dare risk messing up my horn. 

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melvind

I've been using Flitz for years. It's the best thing I have found for horns.

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Tinfoilphono

Wow, that's an amazing result on an even more amazing horn. I love it.

 

I've used the Flitz tarnish remover in the past. It is indeed a great product.

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  • 2 months later...

Has anyone tried the Flitz Tarnish Remover on Nickel plated horns?   I have a nice horn that I am currently working on and so far the inside has come up very nicely with just 0000 steel wool and GOOP/GOJO but the outside is heavy tarnished and these are not completely removing the years of build up. 

 

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The label says it's okay for painted surfaces, which suggest to me that nickel plate would be okay as well.  Just no chrome or various stone surfaces.  I'd put a little on a Q-tip and try it in a hidden spot.

 

George P.

 

Flitz.thumb.jpg.656831263fc342c6caca738a96e51ac0.jpg

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