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Caranuba wax or lacquer for Brass/Aluminum?


Sep 3, 2005
Raleigh, NC
I'm finishing up a mechanism which will live inside a wooden puzzle box. It's made of brass and aluminum. The mchanism will be visible when the box is opened, and I managed a nice brushed / jeweled finish on the parts. I'd like to protect the metal from oxidation by putting some sort of finish on it. I'm primarily a woodworker, so the easiest thing for me would be to spray it with lacquer or use my buffer to put a light coat of wax on it. The parts should not be subject to much handling, and do not rub against each other. Which finish would be provide better long term protection? Will either of them react with the metal? TYIA!
Lacquer can be a whole bunch of different things. Most of them are probebly ok. Caranuba wax is probebly ok too. The carnuba won't hold up too well under wear, but if it isn't going to be touched, it ought to last pretty much forever... assuming that you are able to get a thorough coat on there and the corosion can't get underneath the coating.

In my antique clock restoration work, I found that wax did not last very long. I use the traditional shellac finish on brass parts, applied very much the way it would be applied to finished wood, with cheese cloth. For silvered areas such as chapter rings on clock dials, I used traditional clear lacquer. I have never tried polyurethane, as it would be out of place in restoration work.

Hi Max,

I have a similar problem, and have not found a lasting solution. I build model engines, which often have some polished brass parts that I would like to keep bright-looking. Most of these are functional, and small scale, so a spray-on coating is not really workable. I have used several coats of paste wax, and it seems to keep the brass looking shiny for up to a year, or so. Eventually, to keep up appearances, I have to re-polish and re-wax.

In a similar vein, I have used spray-on gloss lacquer to preserve the shine on brass machine tags, etc. Even with this, the brass seems to begin to dull after several months to a year. I don't know whether this may be discoloration of the lacquer coating, or the brass itself.

An upcoming project will have me polishing some brass oil pumpers. To finish them after polishing, I purchased a clear spray-on coating from Eastwood, which is supposed to be designed for preserving the finish of polished metal. I don't think it's lacquer -- I'm not sure exactly what it is. We'll see how it works out.

Max & Paula;

I use brass parts and engraved nameplates on my musical instruments, which I buff up to a bright shine. I've tried various waxes and metal polishes, but so far the best thing I've found is the StayBrite brand lacquer. It's the standard preservative used on brass instruments (trumpets, etc.) undergoing repair. In my own experience, if the parts don't get much direct abrasion, the shine will last for 5 years or so before it begins to dull. If anyone finds anything more durable, let us know!
On ornamental lathes I have seen from the 1800s a lot of the brass was gilded and looks nearly as good today as it probably did when it was applied. Exactly what the finish consisted of or how it was applied now that is another question.
25 yrs ago, my plating shop coated 1000 lbs a day of brass plated steel parts. I used a spray type lacquer from Agate mfg in NYC. Some parts I have around still look good, coated in the early 80's. I believe they are still around, and may offer the stuff in spray bomb cans. http://www.agatelacquer.com/
I believe that the brass parts on ornamental lathes were finished as contemporary clock plates were done, with shellac. The yellow of the shellac gives the brass a beautiful hue, and is easily reversed and renewed.

I tried to do a little research on the finish without any luck. On certain parts there appears to be a patern not on the metal but in the finish. Somewhere I heard it referred to as vermiculated ?

irregardless 100 plus years and still looks great.

Hi Rick,

A good friend of mine (in England) has two ornamental lathes and is a member of the Ornamental Turners Society. I'm sure he knows what was used. I'll get back to you after I speak with him.

By the way, I have seen both of his lathes and attachments, and they don't look like the gilt finishes I've seen on the ornamental parts of clock cases. Ornamental lathes and attachments are really beautiful pieces of work.
Hi Rick,

I received word from my friend concerning preserving brass parts on ornamental lathes. As far as he is aware shellac was used. This is what he uses for his own tools. Perhaps yours is an unusual example, or a finish added at a later date?


I wonder whether the vermiculated effect is due to "fire gilding" having been used? See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilding. This consists of applying a thin coat of mercury to the brass with a mercury nitrate solution then rubbing on gold amalgam followed by heating to drive off the mercury - the article describes all the steps, which include wire brushing with a brass brush. Naturally no-one would use this technique now, but I remember "silver" plating copper pennies with mercury nitrate in a school chem lab about 50 years ago when paranoia about mercury wasn't at the level it is now.

- Mike -

Quite often I am proven wrong. I found an article about Machine Renovation / Ornamental Turning Center where they talk about the curlicue design ( vermiculated )in the brass. seems they may have been drawn on with a piece of charcoal or artist charcoal pencil then laquered over.

I might be forced to try it to see if I can duplicate the look.