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Friday, April 10, 2009

Giving Brass That Aged Look

Brass has been gaining more and more popularity with jewelry artist as vintage style jewelry comes back in vogue, plus for some artisans you can still get the look of gold with out the cost. An alloy of about 70% copper and 30% zinc and sometimes a small addition of other metals, the usual color is a pale yellowy-gold with the most sought after brass components being reproductions of Victorian era brass stamping, filigrees, charms, wire, jumprings and chain all arriving at your home after you buy them looking all shiny and brand new! So the question inevitably always comes up... "how do you get that beautiful aged look old brass has?"

There are several methods for oxidizing and aging brass and I have tried my fair share. This is a list of the ones I feel work the best for achieving this much desired look.

No matter which method you choose...
The first step you should take when aging any brass is to clean the piece well and remove any dirt or oils that may exist. Even if it looks clean I advise not skipping this all important step for your best results. I know a lot of people recommend using fine steel wool for this but personally I don't care for the brushed or satin finish look it leaves on the piece, plus it does not allow you to get into all of the nooks and crannies and may even leave an ugly pattern of deeper scratch marks if the steel wool is not even. The method I use to achieve this it to completely scrub up the piece using a non abrasive material, like a soft brush, both front and back, in warm water with a few drops of dawn dish liquid, rinsing well in clean water afterward and dry with a soft cloth. The next step is to soak it in a solution of 1 tablespoon of salt to 1 cup of vinegar for about an hour then rinse thoroughly in warm water. ***If you know the piece you want to age has a lacquered finish you have to remove that finish first in order for aging methods to work. 1 part lacquer thinner to 3 parts denatured alcohol and a toothbrush works wonders for this OR bypass the chemicals with a homemade solution of baking soda and water. Bring water to a rolling boil in a pot large enough to submerge your brass item. Add baking soda at the rate of 2 tbsp. per quart of water. Place your brass object in the boiling water and allow it to simmer for 15 minutes. Use heat proof prongs to remove the object and place it on a soft rag. Carefully, with gloved hands, peel the lacquer from the brass. If tiny bits remain, repeat the process. Once the lacquer has been removed make sure to follow the steps above to finish cleaning the piece.*** Cleaned pieces should be aged as soon as possible afterward.

Safety Note: I want to caution you when using either the baking or flame (heat) methods detailed below to make sure your brass is unlacquered. Lacquer is very flammable and can do a lot of damage if it catches on fire. This is also why it is very import you clean your pieces first and remove any lacquer that might be present. Whenever you are using chemicals to age your brass, or remove lacquer always use rubber gloves, safety glasses and good ventilation.

You can use a small paintbrush to brush a mixture of 50/50 salt and water over the entire surface of the item, front and back. This oxidizes the brass, which is actually what happens to the metal naturally over time only this will speed up the process and can give you some very natural looking results including that beautiful aged green patina. It will take a bit more time and patience on your part to get the desired look though then some of the other methods described below. You can let your piece set for several days/weeks adding a new coat of the saltwater daily and checking to see if the color is what you would like. Make sure to rinse the piece thoroughly in warm water once you are happy with the results. I would say only use this method if you have a little time on your hands and only want a little darkening or a lighter aged patina on the brass.

If you have access to an oven, a cookie sheet and some foil this is a great method, especially if you want to age several pieces at the same time. Preheat your oven to 450. Lay your pieces out on a cookie sheet lined with foil. Bake at 450 for about 30 minutes, some pieces may take longer - up to an hour or so - and since not all brass is created equally some pieces might darken quicker then others so it is best to keep on eye on it and remove them from the oven once the desired color is achieved. There is a chance some brass can turn multi-toned with blues and purples. If this happens once you remove it from the heat and it cools completely you can dip it into a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water and rinse thoroughly in cold water right afterwords. Make sure you just do a quick dip or you may end up removing a lot of the oxidation and end up having to re-bake the piece. Of course if your piece has come out too dark this will also be a good way to remove some of the oxidation too.

Alternative Baking Method - From B'Sue Boutique
Get a bowl and fill with a mix of about four parts dark vinegar to one part coarse sea salt. Table salt will do if you can't get some sea salt, but I prefer sea salt.
Soak well for at least an hour. Best not to lay pieces on top of each other in the soak....so you might want to use a large glass baking dish. Sometimes on large pieces it's good to check them and turn them once or twice, in the 'bath'.
Remove from the 'bath', shake off excess moisture and put them on a dark, ungreased baking sheet for about 20 minutes, in a 450 degree oven.
If they aren't dark enough to suit, submerge in the soaking solution again for about 10 minutes and bake again.
Do you like the look of a little verdigris? I have found that if you take the pieces out of the oven, hot, and dunk them off in the solution again, shake them off and let them air dry, a lovely blue green patina will form.I have achieved some lovely results especially with filigree, this way.

You don't have to slather your work in harmful chemicals to get some great color but you have to experiment like never before and work with the flame heat. Not unlike the baking method brass reacts to heat by turning a beautiful mellow gingerbread aged color or more toward the coppery reddish color depending it's makeup, holding a piece over an open flame just speeds up the process and allows you to play around a little bit more for different aging effects. With the baking method you tend to get a more uniform coloration to your pieces and with the flame method that is not always the case, but it can make for some gorgeous aging effects more like natural aging would appear. A small torch or gas stove burner works pretty well and you will also need a pan of cold water and something to hold your piece over the flame with. When I use this method I hold the piece above the flame, never in the flame, with a pair of pliers and watch for it to change colors. This can happen pretty rapidly so as soon as you see the changes remove it from the flame and immediately place the piece into cold water being careful to protect yourself. If it is not as dark as you would like you can repeat the process again and if your pieces comes out too dark you can remove some of the oxidation with the 50/50 solution of vinegar and water and rinse thoroughly in cold water right afterwords or buff off some of the oxidation. One thing I should add about the flame method is your piece might loose it's temper (strength) due to the extreme and uneven temperatures of this method making the brass soft and pliable, so I don't recommend it for wire, chain, jumprings or other small pieces.

Ammonia vapor produces a greenish brown oxide finish on your brass, like a coppery color and is said to be as close as you can come to a natural patina. You will need a plastic container with a tight lid. I use the white pickle’ buckets used by preservers and home-brewers and you can get them at most hardware stores, or any other well sealed plastic container will work. Pour a cup of full strength or “Clear Ammonia” into the bottom of the bucket. Full strength ammonia (not common household ammonia) can usually be obtained from the grocery store. It is an extremely unpleasant fluid and should only be handled in well ventilated areas or outside. If you are only going to age one or two pieces the easiest way is to stretch a nylon cloth across the opening to suspend your pieces above the liquid making sure they are not touching eachother. For more items I recommend a piece of plywood to make a shelf that will sit a few inches off the bottom. You can sit on three blocks of wood or bricks to ensure it remains level. Place the items for antiquing on the plywood or nylon cloth and snap the lid in place. Depending on the temperature and humidity the antiquing will take minutes or hours so take the occasional look to see how it is progressing being careful not to breath in any of the fumes. The color will darken a little and inclusions of verdigris will form when the items are removed from the container. Rinse well in warm water and dry with a soft cloth.

An alternative method is to place your brass items in a large plastic bag with a rag soaked in ammonia – just make sure they are not touching each other to avoid spotting and get an even finish. Also, if it is warm and humid ammonia vapor can condense on the inside of the bag and run onto your brass producing an uneven finish – so only use this method if you want a very light patina and don’t need to leave it in the bag too long. Always avoid breathing in any of the ammonia fumes and only do this in a well ventilated area and be sure to rinse the piece well in warm water once it is removed from your container and dry with a soft cloth.

You will need a covered container, pennies and common household ammonia. Fill the container with common household ammonia and put some copper pennies in the bottom, the more the better! Put your pieces into the ammonia along with the pennies but make sure they are not touching. Cover up the container to create a decent seal, it does not need to be airtight. The amount of time you leave it in the ammonia will determine on how much aging you see. Soaking it overnight will give you kind of a varied brass and brown finish, a few days will give you a great rich brown color and five days or more will give you that great green patina! Once you're happy with the results, remove the piece, rinse in warm water and dry with a soft cloth.

You can use the exact same method as described above for the ammonia vapors to age your brass using plain ordinary household vinegar instead of ammonia and it is a lot less caustic for you personally. Either plain white, balsamic, or cider vinegar purchased at any local grocery store can be used. I have never had anyone tell me one is better or worse then the other for this as far as final results go. I think the main difference for me between the ammonia and vinegar vapors were the aging results were achieved much faster with the ammonia and ammonia gave the brass a richer more natural aged color. Vinegar vapors usually take several hours to an overnight stay in the container to achieve darker results, but, I feel the vinegar vapors gives the brass a beautiful gingerbread color aged patina and it is a lot safer. Make sure to rinse your piece well in warm water after removing it from the vapors.

If you read the directions on a bottle of Tarn-x tarnish remover it will tell you not to use this product on brass. Why? Because it turns it dark! Make sure you apply the product to both the front and back of the piece and clean afterwords according to label directions for other metals, it will usually take a day or two to achieve the desired results. I have had good success with this product and it turns the brass a nice dark rich natural looking aged color but it is important to make sure your piece is well cleaned or you could end up with pieces that will not turn or ones with patchy uneven color.

Use gloves and eye protection and DO NOT breathe the vapors. Work in a well ventilated area and observe all cautions at all times.

This mixture will add a lot of colored patina to your pieces such as blues, purples and greens along with a darkening of the pieces. You will need:

Lemon Juice
White Vinegar
Wood Shavings
Large plastic container
(5 gal bucket with lid works nice for this)

Mix equal parts of lemon juice, white vinegar and ammonia together first in your container then add the salt and stir lightly, I used about 1/2 cup of each in the 5 gallon bucket. Gradually add the wood shavings stirring them into the liquid mix and keep adding shaving until they just "look wet", you do not want the shaving to be too wet or too dry for this. Bury your pieces in the wet shavings making sure they are completely covered, top and bottom, and cover your container with the lid. The longer your pieces are buried the better the patina. For a dark rich patina with a lot of greens and blues, leave the pieces buried for 10-14 days. Acreations might form on your pieces while they are buried, if this happens let them air dry and then lightly brush the wood shavings (that will become attached to your piece) off with a disposable paint brush. To preserve this patina you will need to seal them. Polyurethane products work well for this but the pieces will become a little darker in color once it is applied.
The wood shaving mixture can be used for quite a period of time, but will lose it's potency after awhile. Also, for more blues use more ammonia, for more greens use more vinegar and lemon juice.

There are a number of product out there that are made to give brass that aged look and a few you can mix up on your own. I will name just a few that I have tried and had good results with or heard good things about but I do not endorse any of these methods/ products specifically. Please keep in mind most products like this will only work on (clean unlaquered) solid brass or copper so if you are in doubt I would try one of the other methods first. PLEASE remember safety first when using any type of chemicals!

This is a mixture you can make up on your own but it can be very caustic. I caution you to use safety precautions in a well ventilated area when mixing and using this solution.
Copper carbonate 3 parts by mass
Copper acetate 1 part by mass
Ammonium chloride 1 part by mass
Sodium chloride 1 part by mass
Cream of tartar 1 part by mass
Acetic acid (10%) 8 parts by mass
Mix in a big glass jar (about 1 liter). Will froth and foam as the acetic acid reacts with the copper carbonate. Stir. Leave to settle. Stir. Leave to settle. Stir. Leave to settle …. Until it settles down for good and has a thin creamy consistency. Paint mixture onto the brass and watch the change happen. The longer you leave it, the more developed it will be. Once you achieve the desired results rinse well in warm water and dry with a soft cloth.

makes a line of products for darkening, coloring, cleaning, polishing, finishing and even adding the green patina some desire. All JAX metal finishing and polishing solutions are easy to use, produce authentic, consistent results, require no heat or electricity, are water-based, contain no sulfur, are non-flammable and react within seconds. Produces a permanent, authentic, antique finish on copper, brass and bronze.

Acid Dripping
This method involves dipping clean and unlacquered brass in a proprietary antiquing solution. These solutions are a dilute mixture of acids, copper sulfate and sometimes additional chemicals to improve color consistency and resistance to contamination. The process is substantially the same regardless of which brand of solution is chosen.

Liver Of Sulphur
It's toxic and can be noxious, so follow directions. This works great although it does smell like rotten eggs. Another caution with this product is a friend of mine uses it frequently on her silver jewelry creations and found other jewelry pieces that were just in the same room as where she was using this product tarnished quite badly.

sells a product creatively named "Brass Ager" that works very well it comes in a ready to use 8oz size that I used on brass hardware.

Also one from
 named "Brass Darkening Solution" It changes color gradually so you can control the darkness that a friend of mine swears by.

makes a product named Mi-Tique Patina. This is a room temperature process for aging copper and brass.

For a less then permanent aged look
RUB 'N BUFF The Original Wax Metallic Finish
 work nice. Minwax and Reniassance wax also makes some waxes/gelstains that are commonly used.

After you have aged your brass
One thing you might want to try is buffing the "high spots" on your piece making those areas brighter while leaving the gorgeous darker patina in the deeper areas, this will give it more of a true worn and aged look. How much or how little buffing is up to you and the look you are trying to achieve with your piece. I use a buffing wheel with my dremel tool for this but you could also use something as simple as a fingernail buffer or jewelers rouge, stay away from any abrasives or steel wool unless you want swirl marks in your finish. When you are all done and happy with your results I have personally found the best way to protect them is with Carnauba wax. I have also been told that Treewax, Johnson’s paste wax or even natural beeswax also works well.

I hope this has helped you with your brass aging process. Don't be afraid to play around and experiment a little to see what works best for you and if anyone has a better, new and exciting way they would like to share on aging brass please drop me a note, I would love to add it!

I will keep updating this post and sharing new aging ideas so be sure to check back.

Good Luck!


Orion Designs said...

WOW - this is an extremely thorough and detailed *how-to* on aging brass. Thank you so much for your generosity in sharing your knowledge!

Mary Ann said...

What an great list. I have heard of a few of these, but not all. I think maybe I'll give brass chainmaille a try. Thanks for sharing.

Tom & Cher said...

Thanks for such a comprehensive detailed instructional blog! Thie info is great to have!

LuLu Borealis said...

What great information, and so detailed too. Thank you so much for sharing.

Fireluster Pottery: said...

You did a great service to all jewelry makers with your detailed instructions. Thank you so much! Im keeping this link forever!

Dani said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH. Your instructions are the best!! I think I will try the vinegar first, then may be move on to chemicals.

melissakate said...

Such great tips! This is the most detailed advice I've found :)

Grace said...

Excellent information! If you are feeling brave, you can always try used kitty litter as an ammonia source. It works really well! For a finish, I love Krylon interior/exterior clear semi-flat spray lacquer. It's wonderful stuff. It's completely invisible, and doesn't change the patina at all! I've had other sealers darken the patina, or even make it flake off, but this is the best product I've ever found.

BTW, your jewelry is beautiful!

Purty Girl Designs said...

totally awesome thanks!!!

Lydia said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog and your sweet words.

(I actually have to cover my table at times because of one of my kitties:) Naughty little upstart:) )

So I came back to your site and caught your aging metal info. I just got some aging stuff at Michael's that someone on the web recommended, on clearance.

Love your info/tutorials on the subject. I've been wanting to age some simple metal lids, and misc. items. Thanks for the jam packed tutorial!

My daughter and I also dabble in jewelry utilizing a lot of vintage, some up-cycled items, and some new. She's been doing a little bit more than I am.

Love your jewelry! Will have to pass on your blog info. to my daughter, Alex.

Nice to meet you!

Farmer*swife said...

Howdy Gal! Thanks for the follow! I check out your Etsy post tweets to see what's the latest!

I need to check out your store more and just look through the aisles :-)

Lydia said...

I have a question. I've had a brass colandar for years, brand new. I finally went to de-lacquer it.(I didn't want to do it, that's why it hung out in my cupboard for years, brand new and unused. )

It said to boil it in soda. So I used the baking soda, but many areas just don't want to come off. Seeing that it's a food utensil, I wouldn't want to use lacquer thinner (with the alcohol). I just don't have a pot big enough to soak it covered and properly.

Do you have any ideas for finishing the lacquer removal process on such an item?

Sorry for the long winded Q.:)

YoursTruli said...

Honestly I am not sure how else to remove laquer from brass other the thinner or the bakingsoda you mentioned. Here is a link I found that might help you though good luck! http://www.dimondjrotc.org/Documents/Steps%20to%20Removing%20Lacquer%20from%20Brass.pdf

AliciaMae said...

You have such a nice blog. Thanks so much for your help on the blog roll.

BTW, this blog has been given an award on http://blogfireguild.blogspot.com

jolicious said...

What a fantastic blog! Very imformative! Thank you!

chloe said...

This was so helpful. Thank you. I aged a solid brass piece for the first time using the vinegar vapors method and it worked great! An interesting observation - you can get pattern effects of the oxidation by placing your pieces on water moistened mesh/lace etc. Mine was an accident - but I have an interesting "cheescloth" lace effect on mine.

Of course I misread your thorough blog entry and first SOAKED the piece in vinegar and it came out really ugly, uneven spots and green areas.

Hot Rocks said...

I just finished aging some brass ball chain with the vinegar vapor method, and. I am very happy with the results. This was a great article to read, and may have to try some of the other methods in the future!

angerine said...

Thanks for sharing your vast knowledge, I will be trying one or two of these methods today!

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