Help finding non-toxic tumbling recipe

by Maria

I've wanted to avoid retail burnishing compounds since I have a toddler and prefer to keep everything as non-toxic as possible. I've been experimenting with vinegar or lemon juice, flat coke, water, dawn dish soap and salt but I can't get a consistent result. I forgot to write down my process for the couple times my copper turned out great (I know, my bad) but recently I've been getting what I can only describe as a matte pink finish (seems like it can be scraped off but only if I am scratching the piece essentially). The surface of the copper becomes rough so any maille pieces become stiff and unworkable. I'm wondering if you can think of what I should be adding in order to give my copper a smooth, high shine. I've done it before, but I can't replicate the results unfortunately. Any help would be appreciated; thank you!

Stacy's Answer:

Hi Maria!

What is the finished result you're looking for and how is your metal starting out?

Are you soldering your links closed and then trying to remove the torch residue? White vinegar/salt heated in a crock pot will remove torch residue or firescale. I haven't tried any of the solutions you've used in my tumbler except for water/dish soap and de-burring and burnishing compounds. However, experimenting is very good! It's how we expand our knowledge. You may stumble upon a great new technique! I've made lots of "happy mistakes" and have a better understanding of many aspects of this business by simply experimenting.

Some "harmless" chemical mixes such peroxide/vinegar can be very harsh on metal! Pickling compounds to remove torch residue - granular acids such as Sparex or the homemade versions such as vinegar/salt - work by eating away the surface exposing the bright metal, but leaving it with a matte or rough finish. The harsher the chemical or the longer the exposure, the more dramatic this is to the point of actually damaging the metal. Other times the combo of ingredients and how they're used can add a color patina - wanted or unwanted.:-) Soaking copper in a briny solution and then fuming over vinegar will produce a patina.

Removing tarnish from copper can be done in a snap with commercial tarnish removers. However, they're pretty toxic and also leave the metal with a dull finish. You can get great results from simply soaking copper in tomato juice or swish in lemon juice/salt or vinegar/salt too. It's the acidity that does the trick.

Once you've got your copper clean, simply tumbling it with Stainless steel shot, water and a squirt of liquid dish soap seems to work best for producing a high polish on the metal. If you're tumbling jumprings, they will get slightly work-hardened in the process. You can tumble again once the piece is completed to restore a high-polish finish. If you only tumble the chainmaille when it's finished, chances are it will not get an evenly polished surface as overlapping rings may prevent the shot from accessing all the surfaces.

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