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How to polish, finish, & protect a copper table

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Q. We have a copper table from Arhaus furniture with a clear coat on it. The clear has some deep scratches, and I want to repair them then reseal the finish. How do I go about fixing the scratches, and restoring the clear coat?

doug simon
- dayton, ohio
October 14, 2022


A. Hi Doug. Arhaus builds very expensive, very beautiful, copper tables, so if I were you I'd try to find and hire a professional who has actually done this. It's very hard to advise whether filling the gouges with clear epoxy vs. repeated application of brass lacquer will turn out better, especially because I don't even know what Arhaus uses for their clear coatings. But if you do use brass lacquer it must be very thin and in multiple coats to avoid visible runs.

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey





Closely related historical posts, oldest first ...

Q. My friends and I are redoing our basement this summer and we want to make a table with a copper top. We found an old copper plate that was used to print a map (it's a large flat rectangle of copper with etchings that used to hold ink for the map). We want to use this plate for the top of a table that we're building. However, as copper is an active metal and will oxidize easily (especially with use), we were wondering if there was a good way to finish the table so that it will keep its shiny glow.

Another concern we have is if the copper will be easily scratched by use as a table- should we cover it with glass or will a laquer be enough?

We are also concerned with using harmful chemicals and would tend to shy away from substances such as polyurethane, but we're not completely against using it. It also seems that it may be better to leave the copper unfinished and periodically clean it with lemon juice, or some other cleaning agent.

What lacquers and/or cleaning solutions would you recommend for our copper table?

Becca Grace Weaver
Cooperative House - Saint Louis, Missouri
2005


A. Apologies that it's hard to advise on matters of taste such as whether you will be happier retaining the shine or allowing the tabletop to age.

If I had the item I think I'd just periodically clean it with Brasso [affil link] or other copper polish, but that's me. To retain the shine instead, apply brass lacquer or a clear coat such as Protectaclear from Everbrite [a finishing.com supporting advertiser].

Good luck.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey




Q. Greetings;

I have a copper coffee table that has consumed enormous amounts of my time trying to keep it polished - I've attached a photo for your reference. In the past I 'cleaned' it with vinegar/water/salt solution which removed the tarnish but didn't last long; I was polishing it every weekend! At one point several years ago, I cleaned/polished it fairly well (to me) then applied "Incralac" as a protective covering. This seemed to work well but I hit a mid-life crisis, and put the table and the rest of my belongings in storage. Now the table need refinishing again and I'm looking for new answers; convinced there are better ways to to this than my last attempts. I still have the bottle of Incralac but am not sure it's still good as it has gone through very cold and very hot temps in storage. I tried 0000 steel wool [affil. link] on a very small corner just out of curiosity and it gave me a wonderful finish, but not sure I should do this to the whole table; and then there's still the question of how to protect the finish so I don't have to do this every weekend - yes, it tarnishes that fast! Please help! I'd like to put it back in my living room and use/admire it!

55742

Please give me some ideas! Thanks so much in advance

Kelly

Kelly Goocher
just a person with a nice table! - Lancaster, California USA
September 16, 2010


A. Hi, Kelly.

Sorry, but I doubt that anyone can tell you that your Incralac dregs are still good after years of very hot and cold temperatures (they're probably not). And unlacquered copper does lose its shine in a week or less, so copper/brass lacquer of this sort is probably a good way to protect shiny copper, so buy some more :-)

It's neither right nor wrong to steel wool the table -- although someone who has done it will hopefully come along and comment on technique. But a full bright look doesn't come from the tiny scratches that steel wool implies, it comes from power buffing with soft buffs and very fine polishing abrasives. Many people just use Mother's Mag & Aluminum Polish [affil link] for that. The alternative is to go for a more "natural" oxidized look because it's less work than keeping it shiny We have dozens of threads on line covering that idea; please search the site for "oil rubbed bronze". Copper can also be patinated with vinegar and salt water, ammonia, liver of sulphur, proprietary copper patina solutions, etc., so you can search with those terms. It's not so much that people are unwilling to answer you; it's probably that there are so many possibilities and most have already been covered pretty expansively. You may need to find a thread that is intriguing, and follow up on the approaches that you find most interesting. Good luck!

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey



Q. Thanks for your reply Ted. I'll do some looking - I prefer the shiny copper look. I tried '0000' steel wool on a small corner and didn't see any scratches - much to my surprise. But I will defer to your expertise that they are likely if I continue on a larger area. I could do the buffing route - maybe - just want it to look nice. Can't find a place to buy more Incralac - any ideas? The co. I bought the first bottle from seems to no longer exist.

Anyway - thanks for your reply

Kelly

Kelly Goocher [returning]
- Lancaster, California, USA



Brass Lacquer

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A. Hi, again Kelly. I have no expertise on this, and now that I look carefully I see that you are talking about '0000', which is superfine steel wool, not anything scratchy.

G.J. Nikolas [a finishing.com supporting advertiser] is a major supplier of lacquer if you want to talk to someone, but you can get brass lacquer by the spray can from Amazon.

Good luck and Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey


A. Well I was not going to say anything as you sounded kind of do-it-your-self but if you are willing to spend a bit of money take it down to a automobile body shop and get them to take it to the required shine and then give it a couple coats of good clear coat epoxy paint. The paint will last as long as the paint job on your car providing you treat your table the same way you treat your car. Most likely it will never have to be done again in your lifetime and you will have a lifetime of nice copper shine with no elbow grease ever again!

rod henrickson
Rod Henrickson
gunsmith - Edmonton, Alberta, Canada



sidebar

thumbs up signHi, Ron.

I think you offered good advice and that an automotive clearcoat will last a long time indoors. Thanks.

But if Kelly were actually to treat it like a car, the finish would not last long at all outdoors in the alternating freezing and blistering environment, full of salt. Just because cars have a clearcoat as the top layer of their finish does not mean that the underlying layers of galvanneal, phosphatization, electrocoated primer, and paint are not all essential to the performance and corrosion resistance :-)

"It's not paint, it's a coating system".

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey


A. The problem with spray on coatings is when the coatings start to go bad or are chipped or scratched. I recommend Carnuba Wax [affil link] which lasts for quite a long time and can easily be touched up or removed.

Robin Thede
metal finishing - Toronto, Ontario, Canada




Q. We have cleaned our outdoor copper table with vinegar and salt, lemon juice and salt, rinsed and unrinsed. The instant it gets wet again it turns black and mottled -- not the look we are going for. Is there anything we can use to either keep it shiny or get a greenish patina rather than a black one?

55742-2

Jane Hedberg
hobbyist - seattle, Washington, USA
May 3, 2011


A. To all above ... 0000 steel wool will work like a polishing cloth on copper. Further, lemon juice, salt and vinegar work wonders on cleaning old tarnished copper (I have never tried to clean any other metals) BUT you MUST neutralize the acidity ... you have to rinse off the juice, salt and vinegar with water and immediately apply 8 parts to one part water and Baking Soda . Rub it in for a couple of minutes and wash it off with water. Then use your steel wool to brighten the copper.

Further, a product called "Incralac" was recommended by www.copper.org as an exterior protectant for copper/copper alloy metals to keep the copper looking just as you want it. It has a sunscreen inhibitor, which no in-store lacquer has. I have purchased it from a company in California and will give it a try.

55742-3a
(sign after 10 years outside)

55742-3b
(copper sign after lemon, salt and vinegar)

55742-3c
(after 10 hours but NOT neutralized with baking soda/water mixture)

55742-3d
(finished sign using Liver of Sulphur [affil link] for premature oxidation on all aspects of sign EXCEPT name, and polished with 0000 steel wool on "Sumdat Farm" name and around ivy design)

Sarah fleisher
- moneta, Virginia USA



thumbs up signBeautiful work, Sarah. And thanks so much for the detailed instructions!

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey




Q. If I have a copper table that has little to no shine what can I use to give it a lasting glow? Is there anything that will last for an extended period of time like a polyurethane or not? Thanks for your thoughts, Adam

Adam proud
- Cincinnati, Ohio
October 2, 2014



Mothers Polish

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Mothers Polishing Tool

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Hi Adam. When metal loses its shine there may be two factors involved: a tarnish layer, which is a metal oxide that doesn't have the brightness of the bare metal, and roughness of the surface so that it doesn't offer specularity (it's no longer mirror-like).

The best way to attack both problems at the same time is with a fine buffing compound on a powered buffing wheel. Powerful buffing wheels are dangerous for the untrained if something gets away from you, but you can probably hold on to a 12 or 14.4 volt battery operated drill. Probably the easiest to use and most available combo would be Mother's Aluminum & Magnesium Polish (it works well on copper) and their buffing attachment.

After you have it the way you want it, brass lacquer can keep it that way for a reasonable period, especially indoors. Best of luck.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey


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