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Author Topic: Removing paint from vintage binoculars  (Read 6601 times)
milamber
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« on: December 09, 2013, 02:00:03 pm »

I have a couple of pairs of vintage brass binoculars (1914/16) which I have broken down into component parts to use in other projects. Some of the parts were leather coated which is easy enough to remove clean and polish the brass up, but other bits are painted in a hard black paint  - some sort of enamel? I want to remove this and get back to the brass, but with no luck so far.

My first thought was paint stripper, but 2 coats of Nitromors double strength made absolutely no impact at all, apart from giving it a good clean Smiley I can remove it by mechanical means, but don't want to scratch the brass underneath and anything abrasive enough to remove this paint will do that.

I know other people have used vintage binoculars in projects so wondered if anyone had an answer?

Thanks
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Drew P
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« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2013, 05:12:34 am »

Possibly try a lacquer thinner.(?)
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Athanor
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« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2013, 09:53:31 pm »

Actually, brake fluid makes pretty good paint stripper - it'll even take off baked-on automotive enamel. Soak the binocs overnight in a can of the stuff. A steel can, not plastic!

Athanor.
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milamber
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« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2013, 12:21:48 am »

Thanks both. I'll try the brake fluid first as I have some. I'll report back in a day or two.
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Peter Brassbeard
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« Reply #4 on: December 11, 2013, 07:14:16 pm »

If a solvent stripper doesn't work, you might try some heat in the form of steam.  Wink
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milamber
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« Reply #5 on: December 18, 2013, 02:19:44 pm »

Sadly 48 hours in a brake fluid bath hasn't had any effect at all, apart from cleaning it some more - must have built things to last in 1916. Looks like lots of rubbing is the only answer.
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Drew P
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« Reply #6 on: December 19, 2013, 05:39:30 am »

What about the lacquer thinner? Or try acetone?
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« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2013, 07:11:38 am »

IN the UK, try Detol!
The brown Detol stuff makes a very good model paint stripper (both enamel and acrylic) without damaging the model but it will damage human flesh!
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milamber
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« Reply #8 on: December 19, 2013, 08:54:44 am »

Thanks. I have some Detol so will try that first, not holding out much hope mind. I think nail varnish remover is acetone so will raid my daughters room later.
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Kieranfoy
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« Reply #9 on: December 19, 2013, 03:29:20 pm »

If the paint is vintage, why not leave it? More authentic.

Besides, with the luck you seem to have, it'll turn out to be steel underneath, not brass.
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milamber
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« Reply #10 on: December 19, 2013, 07:16:10 pm »

No luck with either Detol or acetone so it does look like rubbing is the only way forward. Appreciate the suggestions though.

I have another pair of 1914 binoculars which I will keep - these ones were damaged beyond repair though and came free with the others. They separate nicely into about 12 parts, many of which look like they will contribute towards a nice pair of brass goggles (or brass/black goggles as it stands...) with the addition of a few other things. The lenses are intact and the whole body is brass. Just trying to recycle something that was probably only good for the bin otherwise.

Something to do over Christmas when the house is full of relatives anyway Smiley
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Athanor
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« Reply #11 on: December 21, 2013, 09:25:32 pm »

For historical interest only....

Back in the early 1960s, when I was an Engineering Apprentice at Crewe locomotive works, whenever a steam locomotive was stripped down for repair and maintenance, all the parts got dumped into a huge steel tank full of boiling concentrated caustic soda solution. This took everything off; paint, congealed oil and grease, ballast and brakeblock dust, mixed unspecified gunge and even the last mortal remains of sheep that had strayed onto the tracks.....

Now, I have to say "please DON'T try this at home". Caustic soda is fiercely corrosive and definitely not to be messed with, even cold. The guys who tended these caustic soda tanks, even in those less-than-'elf-and-safety-conscious days, wore heavy leather aprons, thick leather gauntleted gloves, full face protection and respirators - so, as I said - strictly for historical interest. You have been warned.

Athanor. 
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Peter Brassbeard
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« Reply #12 on: December 24, 2013, 07:13:20 pm »

Caustic soda would be effective in cleaning steel, leaving the steel intact.  It attacks aluminum and zinc, as well as fats and oils (including those in your skin).  Brass has zinc, and so would be out.  I'm not sure about copper, bronze, and numerous other metals.
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Athanor
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Keep them off-balance and brazen it out!


« Reply #13 on: December 24, 2013, 07:25:01 pm »

Coupling and connecting rods and valve gear components were dumped into the caustic solution with the bearing "brasses" still in place, without damage. I suppose they might actually have been bronze, though.

Athanor.
« Last Edit: December 24, 2013, 07:26:42 pm by Athanor » Logged
Narsil
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« Reply #14 on: December 24, 2013, 08:05:05 pm »

Yeah mechanical bearings are almost certainly brass rather than bronze and therefore zinc free.

We tend to think of cleaning as a specific task but the cleaning ability of any chemical depends entirely on what you're trying to remove. In this case alkalis are particularly effective at getting rid of oils and grease because they actively react with and modify the oils 9teh same reaction used to make soap from fats and lye : saponification)  , as opposed to detergents which bond weakly to both oils and water molecules increasing their mutual solubility.

There are various types of paints, alkali degreasers will have an effect on alkyd (oil based) paints but may not do much to other paint media. Confusingly the term 'emanel' is used both as a generic term for gloss paints and for vitreous enamel which is essentially a fired ceramic glaze.

It is possible that the coating you have is a vitreous enamel, in which case removing it will be a challenge as it is both very hard and chemically inert. The best bet is a high shock mechanical process such as sand blasting or abrasive fleece wheels as it is somewhat brittle, even so great care is require not to erode the underlying metal.



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« Reply #15 on: December 24, 2013, 08:06:47 pm »

Coupling and connecting rods and valve gear components were dumped into the caustic solution with the bearing "brasses" still in place, without damage. I suppose they might actually have been bronze, though.

Athanor.

I can't recall where or when, but I clearly remember a reference to bronze (possibly phosphor bronze) being used for the blocks in friction journal bearings, so it likely would have been in the rod bearings as well. Perhaps Harold or Kevin could verify this, as both have volunteered on restoration projects.
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« Reply #16 on: December 25, 2013, 04:13:52 am »

Aircraft Remover should work.

"Rust-Oleum® Aircraft Remover is a fast acting remover that strips finishes from metal automotive surfaces. Use Aircraft Remover to quickly remove acrylics, lacquers, polyurethane and baked enamels from automobiles and trucks in 10 minutes which leaves a bare surface that is ready to be primed or painted. Not recommended for use on fiberglass, plastics, or any other synthetic surface. This product is non - corrosive to all common metals under normal exposure time."

Read all the precautions. You need gloves, goggles, and ventilation. This is an aggressive solvent.
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Wilhelm Smydle
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« Reply #17 on: December 25, 2013, 04:25:39 am »

I wonder if its glass enamel, urushi, or porcelain?
All of them are durable and resistant to most chemicals.
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milamber
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« Reply #18 on: December 26, 2013, 04:30:44 pm »

In case anyone is faced with the same challenge in the future the summary is that I found it resistant to any chemical I threw at it - I'm sure something might work, but not anything I would feel comfortable using at home.

As Narsil correctly pointed out, whatever it was was fairly easy to remove by mechanical means, but the brass underneath is incredibly easy to damage if using anything too abrasive. The difficulty is finding something abrasive enough to remove the paint, but gentle enough not to do too much damage to the brass.

In the end the one that was most successful was a rubber polishing disc from a Dremel (rotary tool) kit. It took the paint off easily, but still left a slightly hammered look to the brass, a bit like the hammered copper finish popular during the Arts and Crafts period, which I can live with.

Thanks again for all the help
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barb dwyer
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« Reply #19 on: December 29, 2013, 06:21:05 am »

thanks Narsil was what I was going to throw in -
it was common to bake enamels onto metal surfaces
particularly for use in military, etc.

I've a pair of Korean binocs that I LOVE DEARLY
still with the leather 'repaired' strap
so heck with that they're stayin green...

Also good call, Anathor -
My ex brother in law transformed an old civil war train station
into a restaraunt back in the 80's
and was when I learned about Tri sodium phosphate. (TSP)
As well as just how dangerous it was/is.
(it's literally nowhere near as potent now as it was once available via retail)


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