Squashed Ducks and Steel

I like complex, interesting, and historically important food. You might call me a foodie. You might also be wondering what that has to do with metalworking. Well, recently we’ve had a customer bring in a couple of pieces of very specialized cooking equipment, and there is possibly nothing in the world I like more than very specialized cooking equipment.

This is a duck press:

A steel duck press before refinishing

The duck press before refinishing.

A duck press is used to create a dish called, interestingly enough, Pressed Duck. Basically you remove the legs and breasts of a duck (to be cooked elsewhere), then put everything else inside the duck press. Turn the big wheel and you get, for lack of a better term, duck juice.

This juice is thickened and seasoned, then plated with the duck legs and breast cooked elsewhere and viola!

The French dish Caneton Rouennaise à la Presse

Caneton Rouennaise à la Presse, or Pressed Duck in Rouennaise Sauce.

Now lets talk about refinishing.

When this duck press was brought to us, we immediately discovered it was steel. We don’t work with steel very much at Progressive Bronze, as it’s a harder metal than bronze and brass and therefore more difficult to polish. There are also many different steel alloys. Some polish well but others are very difficult to bring to a shine and we don’t know which kind we’ve got until we try it.

With that in mind, we started working on the duck press by testing a part to see if it would polish. Here’s that picture of the duck press again before it was refinished, can you see what part we tested?

A steel duck press before refinishing

The duck press before refinishing.

As you can see the steel polished well, so we went ahead with refinishing the entire duck press. Here is how it turned out:

A steel duck press after refinishing

The duck press after refinishing.

Pretty nice, eh?

One final note: We usually lacquer what we polish, but in this case we left it off. The reason being that the lacquer formulation, though non-toxic and probably ok, is not food-rated. We can’t be positive that you won’t grow a third arm if you eat off it enough.

Because the duck press is not lacquered, it will rust unless it’s cared for properly. It should be treated the same as a nice steel knife, immediately cleaned and dried after every use.

If you’ve got a weird piece of kitchen hardware that needs repair or refinishing, please email me immediately. Or if you have any other comments or questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Saving Snapped Statues

Hello Progressive Bronze blog readers! It’s been some time since the last update, but we’ve been keeping busy. In this post I’m going to highlight a couple of brass statue repair projects we’ve had the chance to work on. Both of these were headed for auction when they were damaged in shipping.

The first statue is a lovely sculpture of a woman on a marble base. It is made of brass, and plated with what appears to be either nickel or silver that has worn off rather handsomely in a number of spots. As you can see from the photo below, it snapped at its thinnest and weakest point.

Woman Statue Before Repair

This repair was a bit more difficult than it appears, as the break was not very clean and the top section is heavy solid brass, which puts extra stress on the narrow point. After putting the piece back together with a strong weld, the break point was not as smooth as it needed to be, so there was a fair amount of grinding off the excess material and some hand polishing to make any sign of the break disappear. Here is how it turned out.

Woman Statue After Repair

The second statue is a handsome horse and rider, again made of brass with a very nice patina. The horse has two feet in the air, meaning the weighty meat of the statue is (stop me if you’ve heard this one) connected at just a couple of weak points. These, of course, are what snapped.

Horse Statue Before Repair

The repair had some different challenges from the woman sculpture. The breaks were much cleaner, but the narrow points are more narrow which means the strength of the welds are that much more important. The patina presents a challenge, as well, since the heat of welding burns the area around it. Because of this we had to match the color of the patina near the welds. Take a look below and see what you think.

Horse Statue After Repair

It should be noted that these are both brass statues, and brass is a material that is comparatively easy to weld and work with. If these were made of white metal, like many of the pieces we see, they would not be repairable as they could not be welded.

If you have a statue, or just a question about this or any other post, let us know in the comments below. Or you can send us an email here.

Menorahs Galore-ah, Be They Brass or Bronze… -ah

I know what you’re thinking. A holiday post? It’s August for Pete’s sake! In retort, I will say that December is a bad time to start thinking about having your menorah polished. We’ve had a couple folks recently who wanted to be absolutely sure they were ready and brought in their menorahs for polishing.

The first menorah is a small brass piece with the shamash (the ninth light) on an arm with a Star of David. It came in a bit tarnished and bent, with the Star of David turned to the side.

Brass Menorah Before Refinishing

Brass Menorah Before Refinishing – Click to enlarge

So we did what we do. The menorah was straightend, the Star of David turned to face forward, and refinished in high polish brass. Viola! The sad menorah is now a showpiece.

Brass Menorah After Refinishing

Brass Menorah After Refinishing – Click to enlarge

The next one had a few more wrinkles. This bronze menorah is a lot bigger and heavier, and even before refinishing it was an impressive piece even while tarnished.

Bronze Menorah Before Refinishing

Bronze Menorah Before Refinishing – Click to enlarge

But we can make it better! This menorah was originally wired for electricity, but the wires were cut long ago, and the owner was stuffing candles in the old bulb sockets. She decided to replace the old sockets with new 7/8″ candle sockets. The owner also wanted to go with our oil rubbed/antique/statuary finish, which we think turned out fantastic.

Bronze Menorah After Refinishing

Bronze Menorah After Refinishing – Click to enlarge

Let us know what you think about the blog in the comments, or if you have a menorah, or anything else in brass, bronze, or copper that needs to be repaired or refinished send us an email here.

Third Place Prize: A Bunch of Pennies

Sometimes… or actually quite often, I find cool/fun/hilarious things on the internet. Only vary rarely, however, do they have anything to do with brass and bronze. Today was one of those rare occasions.

Back in 1992, the Australian government officially took their one and two-cent coins out of circulation. Those coins, much like American pennies, were largely made of copper. So now Australia has a huge pile of copper. What to do with it?

Well, if you remember the year 2000 (and if you do, great job surviving Y2K), you’ll recall Sydney hosted the Summer Olympics. And what kind of medal do they give out for third place finishers?

Mmmm... delicious bronze

Mmmm… delicious bronze

Correct! Bronze. And what is the main elemental metal component of bronze? Copper!

So, in one of those moments where practicality meets sentimentality, the Australian Mint struck all of the bronze medals for the Sydney Olympics out of old coins (plus some zinc and tin). I just hope they washed them first.

Read more about the Sydney medals here, and special thanks to Redditor u/davidsmeaton for submitting this article to r/todayilearned.

If you have any comments or questions, feel free to add them below, or send us an email here.

Putting the Cherry back in Chariot

At Progressive Bronze, we have a lot of capabilities, and a lot of experience dealing with unique jobs. That is why we don’t like to say no to jobs, even though some can be toughies.

A customer recently brought in one of those toughies – a statue of a chariot in pieces. Talk about your busted rides….

Chariot statue before repair

The horse team had become detached from the chariot, one of the horse’s legs was broken, the rider had come off the chariot, and her arm was off as well. So put it all back together, right?

Here’s the catch. The statue was white metal with an artificial patina. We’ve gone over white metal, aka pot metal before, but here’s a quick refresher: it’s melting point is too low to weld, and it doesn’t machine well.

So welding was completely out in this case, lest we melt the pieces we’re trying to reattach. On top of that we want to avoid discoloring the patina as much as we can, since it’s not easy to replace. That leaves us two options: screws and epoxy.

When attaching the team and rider to the chariot, we went the screw route. Screws give the larger elements a strong mechanical attachment, and of course are removable if need be. Luckily the bottom of the chariot was hollow, so we could conceal the heads. We still had to be careful, as there was some drilling through tiny feet and ankles happening.

The rider’s arm and horse’s leg could’t be screwed, unfortunately, because the breaks were pretty jagged, and there was no easy way to conceal the screw heads. For those, we chose epoxy. Epoxies are industrial-strength adhesives, and while they aren’t as strong as mechanical connections, our fix should last for a long, long time. After it dried we applied a little color to the epoxy to match the rest of the piece as well as possible.

Finally, we cleaned it up a bit, replaced the reign chain (that is a great and completely unintentional rhyme, btw), and it was ready to go!

Here is the chariot after repairs:

Chariot statue after repair

Apologies on the after photo. I have no idea why I shot it from that angle only.

If you would like to complain about the photography, or have anything else to say, please leave your comment below, or as always, send us an email here.

Custom Manufacturing Round-Up

Happy almost Thanksgiving, everyone! In this post, I’d like to highlight some of Progressive Bronze’s custom manufacturing projects and capabilities.

An overview of the curtain rod set.

We’ve already covered some custom manufacturing projects like these curtain rods, and now we’d like to cover some of the other projects we’ve taken on.

Here at Progressive Bronze we have a fully equipped shop, able to machine, spin, or cast parts. The parts are then finished to your specification, be it raw, polished, or plated in nickel or chrome. If there are multiple parts, they can be welded or mechanically connected to create finished pieces.

We can work with existing designs, but if you have an idea and not the design skills we can be of assistance. Just let us know what you want and we’ll work up a design using 3D modeling so you know what it will look like before we make it.

So let’s take a look at some projects!

Aluminum Chandelier

Custom Chandelier

Earlier this year we had the opportunity to do a custom aluminum chandelier assembly for a local designer. The ‘wings’ and center came to us pre-cut in pieces, and we fabricated the tubes and spikes. Beyond that, it was prepped for wiring by creating openings in the tubes and machining and installing brackets for LEDs. Once it was together, we painted it. We don’t do a lot of painting, but the process and equipment needed is very similar to lacquering, which we do on a daily basis, so it was a snap.

Bronze Bookends

Custom Bronze Bookends

These bookends are an example of replicating a design with a different material. A designer provided us a pair of steel, powder coated bookends and requested we make a pair from bronze, and finish them with a mirror polish. In this case, we considered bending and cutting plate in to the proper shape, but due to the thickness of the bookends it would be difficult. Instead, we opted to cast them, using the example as our molds. Once they were poured, all we had to do was give them a clean-up and polish, then lacquer and viola! Bronze bookends.

Privacy Screens

Screen Welding

Contrary to what you find in just about every post on this site, we do actually work with steel sometimes. We were approached by a local pizzeria earlier this year to create some dining room privacy screen for a new location. The materials were simple – steel tube and small flat bar – but we had to perform a fairly intricate weave and weld the bar to the frame. Once we had all the screens welded, they were then powder-coated and installed. Here is what they look like in place:

Privacey Screens Installed

If you have a custom project you’d like us to tackle, or have any questions, feel free to leave us a comment below, or send us an email here.

Patina Formation and the Slow March of Time

Back in February, we featured a custom curtain rod job which was left unlacquered, so it would patina over time. Well, we had a couple of extras, so let’s check in on how they are aging.

For a refresher, here is what one of the rings looked like on its way out the door:

Curtain Rings in Their Original Condition

And here is what one looks like now:

Curtain Ring Aged

The color is a little darker, a little deeper, but there is still a bit of shine to it. I have one more experiment brewing, though – I have one ring at my desk which I handle from time to time, exposing it to finger oils. Here is what it looks like:

Curtain Ring Aged and Handled

It’s darker still. And on top of that its color has flattened out, removing any kind of shine. So what the heck is going on here?

What we are witnessing is the formation of a natural patina, which is synonymous with tarnish. Unlike silver, however, it can be desirable when it forms on copper and copper-based alloys like brass and bronze. The surface of the metal is oxidizing, and a combination of chlorides, sulfides, and carbonates are forming which both darken the color and protect the metal underneath the surface from the same fate. That’s right – unlike iron-based metals like steel, oxidation on copper alloys prevents further oxidation.

Since the rings are inside, and not subjected to the elements, the process is much slower than if they were left outside. The one I’ve been handling, however, is a bit more advanced in the process due to oils transferred from my hand. Even still, at this rate it will take several decades to go through a series of deepening browns before turning green, which is a particular patina known as verdigris.

So stay tuned for the next few dozen updates in this series, which should wrap up some time in the 2040s. In the mean time, feel free to ask any questions you have in the comments below, or send us an email here.

All Eyes on the Prize(s)

We recently had the opportunity to refinish a number of sports trophies from St. Viator, a nearby Catholic school. There is some serious history in these, with the oldest dating back to the 1920s and the newest of the bunch coming from the 1950s. They are mostly for baseball and softball, but don’t think St. Viator is a one sport school! There is a swimming trophy in there too.

St. Viator Trophies Before Refinishing

As you can see from the ‘before’ image above, these trophies were definitely showing some of their age. These are made from a rather eclectic mix of metals. Some plating, some bronze, some white metal with color applied to it. All of them were tarnished to an extent, and a handle had broken off one of the cups. None of these things are a unfamiliar to the craftsman of Progressive Bronze, however. Every one of them was disassembled, stripped, and polished. Repairs were done. Some things were re-plated, some things got some new color applied. Most got a good polish to reveal their metals underlying beauty.

So after all that work, we ended up with these:

St. Viator Trophies After Refinishing

They are now ready to get back in their display cabinets, with their shiny new finishes and a coat of lacquer to keep the oxygen from tarnishing them again. These should stay glorious as ever for at least a few more decades.

If you’ve got a questions or comment, feel free to leave them below. Or if you’ve got some cool old trophies that need a little love send us an email here.

Fixing-up a Fireplace Fender

Happy summertime! Here in Chicago, we are enjoying lovely weather and hope you are as well. Summer always means work slows down a bit, but today I’d like to highlight a fireplace fender we recently refinished just in time to not want to use a fireplace.

With the number of wood-burning fireplaces dwindling and modernized designs, fireplace fenders are becoming rarer. But because most fenders were produced early-to-mid 20th century they are typically made of solid brass, and are therefore extremely durable. One such fender was brought in to our factory recently.

Fireplace Fender Before Refinishing

As you can see, it was fairly heavily tarnished, with the worst of the oxidation on the left side.

Heavy Corrosion Before Refinishing

This refinishing job was a breeze. So what makes this job easy where another job may not be? Two reasons:

1.) It’s made of brass.
When copper and copper alloys tarnish, a thin layer of oxidized metal is formed, known as a passivation layer. This layer essentially seals the item from further corrosion, unlike iron oxidation-aka rust-which will progressively consume all the iron in an item over time. Because of that layer, the underlying metal has not been oxidized, and the tarnish can be stripped to expose it. A polish and a layer of bake-on lacquer later, and it’s ready to go. The lacquer in this case acts as a transparent passivation layer, showing the beautiful finish while staving off oxidation.

So what can go wrong? Well, newer items tend not to be made of solid brass or bronze. We have run in to several items recently made of less expensive white metal or pot metal with painted-on or plated finishes that emulate brass or bronze. These items are all challenging, since white metal has a low melting point, and the friction from polishing can make parts partially melt and fall apart. Even if a polish is succesful, and the resulting look is never going to be the same as what came out of the factory. Most of these faux finishes are proprietary and can’t be directly replicated.

2.) It comes apart easily.

The construction of this fender is such that once a few screws are removed, the entire piece can be broken down in to individual parts. All the knobs come off the base, all the tubes between knobs come off, and each part is polished separately before being reassembled.

If an item doesn’t come apart, say it’s welded or riveted together, you run in to two problems. First, unless it’s small it will be unwieldy to handle and polish on our lathes. Secondly, it is difficult to get in to nooks and crevasses, which means more time and expense.

So how did the fender turn out? Take a look!

Fender After RefinishingFender Left Side After Refinishing

It’s gorgeous and ready for re-installation. And when the weather turns colder, it will hopefully host the first of many, many fires over the next many, many years.

If you’ve got a questions or comment, feel free to comment below, or send us an email here.

An Introduction to Alloys Bonus: You Help Keep Me Alive, Copper!

I know. I said our last metal primer on Aluminum was the last one. Well, there’s been some copper coming through the shop lately, so I thought I’d give you a primer on pure copper. Don’t say I never gave you anything.

Copper on the Periodic Table

As we’ve covered before, copper is the main component of both brass and bronze. It’s an element in the transitional metals group, atomic number 29. The symbol for copper, Cu, is shortened from the Latin cuprum, which means “From Cyprus” as copper was abundant on the island and most of Roman copper supplies were mined there. In its pure, or “native” state, it’s a handsome reddish-orange metal. In fact, it’s one of only four metals on the periodic table that are not gray or silver – cesium, gold, and osmium being the others. It is relatively soft and ductile, and an excellent conductor of heat and electricity, which is why it’s literally everywhere. The electricity and data that allow you to read this were likely delivered by copper cables, through various other copper components, to your screen.

Copper Wire

Copper use began in a period between the Neolithic (Stone Age) and Bronze age, in an era known as the Chalcolithic or Copper Age. Makes sense. It was during this period that the first weapons and tools were formed from metal, replacing some stone implements. Interestingly, two early applications of copper still exist today – ornamental metalwork, like statues and reliefs, and copper pipes. Some of the copper pipes inside the temples and tombs of ancient Egypt are still functional today, nearly seven thousand years later. The era lasted around a millennium, at which point bronze smelting was discovered beginning the bronze age, which we covered in our bronze primer. Large scale copper mining and smelting continued through the classical and medieval period, supporting bronze and brass production.

Copper Age Dagger

Courtesy of Jmiall

But what about copper? Was it doomed to be a supporting metal for the rest of history?

The Statue of Liberty

Not this element. Thanks to some neat chemical properties, it still enjoys great popularity. Pure copper exposed to air will form an layer of oxide, which protects the metal. Naturally it’s a brown-black color, but the presence of salt or vinegar instead leads to a lovely green patina known as verdigris. This corrosion resistance, in addition to the attractive color, has led to extensive architectural use. It is also popular in modern statuary, most notable the Statue of Liberty. It is also completely recyclable, without any degradation. It is estimated that over 80% of the copper ever mined is still in use.

And the most important property of copper is that you actually cannot live without the stuff. It does so many things inside our bodies, in fact, that I could probably write a whole article on those processes alone. One fun fact – horseshoe crabs have copper-based blood, which makes it blue. This helps them get in to the best prep schools, I’m sure.

a horseshoe crab

Here at Progressive Bronze, we treat copper much like it’s bronze and brass brothers. It is rarer to see, but it take a polish very nicely, and makes an attractive plate, handle, knocker, lamp, etc. If you have something copper that needs a polish or repair, send us an email here. And don’t forget you can subscribe to our RSS feed using the link in the upper-right corner of the page.