Tragic Fire – How do I clean my brass & bronze bells?
May 5, 2011 at 3:46 pm #11774AnonymousInactive
Word has been received this morning that one of our long-time and active ABA members had a terrible house fire over the weekend. No one was hurt but her house is gone and most of her bells are either gone or very damaged. She was able to rescue some of her Ballantynes but is not sure how to clean them. If anyone can advise her how to restore these lovely and valuable bells, please post or send your response to me firstname.lastname@example.org and I will post it for you.
May 6, 2011 at 5:57 pm #16406GarryParticipant
I sympathize as I too have lost due to fire. It’s good that nobody was hurt.
I have been doing an off and on again experiment on cleaning an old bell. Admittedly this is ‘natural’ grime not soot or fire damage. Most treatments so far involve a certain amount of loss due to chemical or abrasive type polishing. The best, which I define as; “bringing back the luster while removing the least amount of bell material” I have found to date was a paste from my local jewelry shop. They use it on rings and things so they don’t want to lose weight either! I can get you the name when I am home again, if you want, but I suspect most shops will have a favorite.
IF you feel adventurous:
One thing you might try is a ‘home remedy’ that I haven’t had a chance to attempt yet. Theory seems sound but I can’t tell you if it will work or not until I try it myself. Brace yourself! Use a fresh potato. Hollow it out in the shape of the bell. Rinse the bell in fresh water, then wrap it in your potato. Place in plastic bag and store in a cool location (not cold, cool!). They don’t say how long.
However, I suspect that if the fire was hot enough to actually discolor the bell you may be out of luck, I’d just record the occurrence and keep it with the bell. The provenance kept with it will help off set the loss.
Good luck and let us know how it works out with restoring your bells, no matter what method you choose!
May 10, 2011 at 2:10 pm #16407GarryParticipant
Found another couple suggestions. I hope to try one this weekend myself (depending on time!)
Both involve cleaning solutions, but that’s probably what you need to restore badly tarnished items. Again, I am not a fan of chemical treatments myself, but sometimes you can’t get away from them. I am also NOT endorsing these solutions (haven’t tried them yet even) just offering them as a possibility if you feel you need to try something.
The most interesting one is using tile and grout cleaners. That material is available at most hardware stores. Sure, not as strong as the one in the video but also probably better for more delicate brass anyway!
Have a look and see what you think.
May 11, 2011 at 10:08 pm #16408Neil GoeppingerParticipant
Years ago I purchased a brightly pollished Wagner bronze bell (the previous owner pollished all his bronze bells) and I wanted it to look like the normal darker Wagner bells. It was the elk bell. I gave a program for a bell meeting in Kansas City and while there, Gerry Ballantyne took me and my bell to his basement and put the original type of finish on my bell. He showed me how he did it. Years later, we had the flying pig convention bell at the Cincinnati ABA Conv. and they were not finished. I offered to other people to finish their bells after talking to John McCombie and buying the needed supplies. I then finished a number of the bronze flying pig bells. If Teddy would like, I would try to refinish one of her Ballantyne bells to see if she likes it. I still have the supplies on hand. I don’t know how to contact her right now as I believe she is staying with her daughter, and I heard she lost her computer in the fire. — Neil
May 15, 2011 at 10:22 pm #16409hjlong3Participant
I agree with Neil. Gerry’s bells had a chemical patina applied. The only way to restore them would be to polish the fire damage and reapply the patina. A bronze finisher or art studio should be able to put you in touch with someone who can do the job.
Harry Long, MD
May 16, 2011 at 5:40 pm #16410DingyParticipant
There is a process called “Soda Blasting” where they use baking soda in a sandblasting type machine. It is not real abrasive but might remove some of the patina. I am having a bell done now and will report back when it is complete.
May 21, 2011 at 1:34 pm #16411DingyParticipant
I got the bell back from the Soda Blasting. It did not remove any metal that I can tell by looking. It is now a cross between bronze and pink in color. I did plan for this and have some liver of sulphur to stain it with. I am happy with the results of the Soda Blasting, and if you have to go this far in cleaning a project, I think this is the way to do it.
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