Whenever I hear the term ‘saga’ I think of the Norse. Their adventures, victories, and defeats. Tonight, I sit at the computer with a short fat glass of rum, looking at a shiny brass portlight that took 45 days to transform into its present condition, through spectacular victories, head hanging defeats, and minimal facial scarring.
I’ve been helping my cousin renovate a house he recently bought. Back in December, after a particularly nasty evening or removing 100 years worth of mouse droppings from flimsy bulkheads, he gave me it. It was a portlight. Dirty, with chrome chipping off, and the blue green oxidization of whatever metal was underneath bubbling through its nickel plating. I loved it.
I thought! Wow, a quick rub with a piece of steel wool, and she’ll be shining like new! Anxious to get home, I wasn’t in the door 5 minutes before retreating to the basement to begin scrubbing.
At first it was great, a swipe here and there, the oxidation came off instantly, chrome chips were flying off, revealing a pinkish brown underneath. Brass? Bronze? I’m still not sure.
Then the chrome got a lot more stubborn, and no amount of scrubbing was working. So I turned to the internet. “How to remove chrome” was the query, which yielded a score of different ways to remove chrome. I tried them all. And none of them worked.
I shouldn’t say I tried them all. The way professionals remove chrome is with a process called reverse electrolysis. Get this, a piece of metal is suspending in a hydrochloric acid bath will a 12 volt current is run through the piece. Isn’t that nuts? Who was the first person to try this?
There were many methods on various site on how to remove chrome. I looked for the easiest, then would move on to the next easiest when the previous failed. Each of these were found online as a was to get rid of plating.
Soak in Bleach – A lot of times I would use a test piece, including the bleach. After a few days in the bleach, strange white crystals appeared to form on the test piece. It was weird, but had no effect on the chrome.
Soak in Coke – We’ve all heard rumours about what coke can do, wash blood off pavement, dissolve a nail in 24 hours, liquify an elephant, etc. One thing it can’t do, is remove chrome. No effect, on to the next one.
Soak in Acetone – No effect.
Cover with Oven Cleaner – This had no effect on the chrome but did turn the exposed metal a dull brown colour.
After the oven cleaner bath
Use a wire-wheel – This was the shortest lived of the attempts, about 1.7 seconds. The instant I started, the wire wheel went through the chrome, and chewed into the metal underneath. Ugly gouges, great.
Sanding – Here we go, back to sanding. I sanded one section for a good 10 minutes and I don’t think I made it through. then went with a 60 grit disk on an orbital sander and it had minimal effect. There was progress, but the entire project would have taken a thousand year, there aren’t enough flat surfaces to make this a plausible method.
Acid Bath – I saw some say that soaking the item in Muriatic Acid can soften the chrome and eventually dissolve it. This is where I began to get nervous. because muriatic is basically hydrochloric acid diluted to 33 percent, and if not handled carefully, can mess you up. I went back to the test pieces. With gloves, goggles, and mask I poured a bit in a ceramic bowl and let the pieces soak for a few hours. I knew this was stuff to be handled with care when I noticed that just standing within a few feet of the bowl, could create breathing difficulty. I left it to sit over night, only do discover there was no impact on the chrome. I did learn a valuable lesson about handling acid though. Despite wearing gogs, gloves and mask, if a drip gets anywhere on your clothes, then onto your bare skin, it will make a mess. I think I must of had a drop on my clothes, which got on my hand and then onto my eye lid and hour later when I was back indoors when I rubbed it. It stung something fierce and ontinued until i made a caustic solution and rubbed it in. This was about a month ago, and the acid burn mark still hasn’t gone away, so I guess it’s permanent. I don’t mind that much, and am actually pretty thankful it wasn’t a lot worse.
what an idiot
It was around this time that I decided to seek professional help. I had sunk to many hours into this thing to quit, no matter how much I wanted to throuw it in the harbour. Like I mentioned in previous posts Cape Breton Island is somewhat isolated, and products and services that are readily available in large centres could be a day’s travel away. There was nobody on the island who stripped chrome. Nobody on the island could plate chrome. So, I did what Cape Bretoners have been doing for hundreds of years, and improvised.
I took it to several machine shops, and for the most part, the machinists were helpful and full of advise, but it wasn’t until I brought it to a shop that refinishes wheel rims, did I find someone to take on the challenge. RimPros was literally a 20 second drive from where I work, so I stopped in one morning to see if they had any ideas. The owner, Kyle, told me to leave it there and he would be able to sandblast it clean by the end of the week. Not having worked on brass before, we was careful not to damage the piece. A week turned into two weeks, into three weeks, into four weeks. Every morning I would stop in to visit the porthole like a relative in hospital recovering from hip replacement surgery. Every morning Kyle would show what he had accomplished the day before, what he had tried, what had worked and what didn’t. I was amazed that he was still trying! This portlight was like ‘The Dead Man’s Gun” . I obsessed over it for weeks, the I pass it on to the next guy who did the same. On the way in this morning I pick it up, clean as a whistle, and polished to perfection. It will look great in the hatch doors… once I rebuild them… good grief.