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topic 55742

How to polish and protect a copper table

September 16, 2010

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 [linked by editor to product info at Rockler] 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!


Please give me some ideas! Thanks so much in advance


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

September 24, 2010

A. Hi, Kelly.

Nobody can tell you that your Incralac dregs are still good after years of very hot and cold temperatures; they're probably not. But unlacquered copper does lose its shine in a week, and copper/brass lacquer of this sort is the best 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 [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] 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; it's more that these are subjects that have already been covered pretty expansively and you may need to find a thread that is intriguing, and follow up on the approaches that you find most interesting. Good luck.


Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

September 27, 2010

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 Goocher
- Lancaster, California, USA

October 4, 2010

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

I don't know offhand where to get that particular brand of lacquer, but G.J. Nikolas is a major supplier of lacquer, and you can get brass lacquer by the spray can from Amazon =>

Good luck and Regards,

Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

Brass Lacquer

October 2, 2010

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
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

sidebar October 4, 2010

thumbs up signHi, Ron.

I think this is very good advice and that the finish will last a very 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, electrocoating, and paint were not essential to the performance and corrosion resistance :-)

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


Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

October 18, 2010

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

Robin Thede
metal finishing - Toronto, Ontario, Canada

May 3, 2011

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?


Jane Hedberg
hobbyist - seattle, Washington, USA

October 20, 2014

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 [linked by editor to product info at Amazon]. 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 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.

(sign after 10 years outside)

(copper sign after lemon, salt and vinegar)

(after 10 hours but NOT neutralized with baking soda/water mixture)

(finished sign using Liver of Sulphur [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] 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

October 2014

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


Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

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