How to polish old steam gauge bezels
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    Default How to polish old steam gauge bezels

    I recently picked up this old gauge which I want to add to my wall of gauges and machine nameplates on my wall. The problem is how do I polish the bezels? In the past i have tried doing them on a buffing wheel but all too often when working the lower edge the wheel will grab on the bezel and fling it against the buffer damaging it. Is there any good way to do this.

    I am almost thinking it would be nice to dip it in something and then send it out for bright nickle plating. Is there any way to do it electrochemically?

    Any thoughts other than get better at running a buffing wheel?

    Are there any polishing services that anyone can recommend who do this type of thing for hire? I actually make some model pressure gauges for the live steam market and would love to be able to send out my polishing work.

    Thanks

    Adam

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    The ring is done pretty much as you say. Some of the larger gauges have a cast brass ring which seems to have a real "tendency" to corrode to the point of pitting: something about the cast composition perhaps? Coal dust will settle in the upward facing surfaces of the ring, the sulfur in the coal apparently contributing to this pitting. Smaller gauges generally have a "pressed" or spun ring and these seems to survive pretty well, except when the gauge gets dropped and puts a flat spot in the thin material.

    Many of the spun brass rings over time have developed "stress cracks" where the ring is pressed over the gauge body. These cracks relieve the natural tension of the rings and may be cause for the ring to drop off. Be careful picking up ANY gauge by the ring lest the glass be sundered in the fall. A ring with issues this way can have the ring drilled in three equidistant places and matching tapped holes/small brass screws used to hold the ring to the case. Many manufacturers did this as routine knowing of the issue.

    The dial faces are more of a problem. Generally these were done "in the day" with a thin silver wash. Restorers today tend to go at it with the Brasso, and in the process, possibly only a few wipes, the silvering is removed.

    Unfortunately there is no way back when this happens except by methods as you describe - send it out for plating. I have looked into the chemical to do this myself, but the chemicals are poisonous, you'll have disposal issues, and I'm not entirely sure of the "shelf life" of the chemicals. Plus doing it yourself you HAVE to start from scratch.

    Over at Harry's board I have recommended to limit polishing the dial face to a dry clean cloth - and perhaps leave it at that. Possibly the wiping to be "circular" in motif so that if marks are left, the marking seems consistent with the original manufacture.

    Along with dial replating you can either get your fine artist brushes out and flow more paint into the markings, or I have used a "Sharpie" to add ink if some of the paint has chipped away.

    Sorry about my bad news on the dials. Generally I find most unaware sellers attempt to "improve" their gauge appearance, and almost all without fail end up removing the silver. For me as a gauge buyer, being minus the silvering is a serious value detract - given two otherwise nearly identical gauges I will ALWAYS choose the better silvering.

    My best and "central" gauge in the collection is a 14" "Babcock & Wilcox maker New York" gauge which came out of South Street Station in Providence, RI. The gage reads 0-400 with the station header pressure normally maintained at 200psi. The other smaller gauges are arrayed in size to either side of this center gauge.

    A recent acquisition is a Crosby gauge which has the dial marked "Exeter Machine Works." It came from a collector in Indiana who along with me celebrated it's "return home" (Exeter, NH is the next town over.) They're out there but not too widely seen.

    Joe in NH

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    On items that are silver plated I was wondering about using the baking soda and aluminum foil method used for cleaning household silverware that is a form of electrolysis that converts the silver oxides in the tarnish back to the silverware and oxidizes the aluminum ?
    Maybe it would be worth a try on something of low value first .
    There are several videos on line about it including this one.
    Clean silver with hot water + baking soda + aluminum foil - YouTube
    Also even though I have never tried this myself , perhaps mounting the bezel on a piece of aluminum either threaded or otherwise attached to the aluminum the way it is held to the gauge and spinning it in the lathe using a soft cloth or a cloth with some kind of polishing paste similar to what you are using with the buffing wheel might work .
    Just the reverse of what you are doing now with the wheel spinning and the bezel held in your hand .
    Having the bezel on an arbor or mandrel would help hold the shape.
    Jim

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Christie View Post
    On items that are silver plated I was wondering about using the baking soda and aluminum foil method used for cleaning household silverware that is a form of electrolysis that converts the silver oxides in the tarnish back to the silverware and oxidizes the aluminum ?
    Maybe it would be worth a try on something of low value first .
    There are several videos on line about it including this one.
    Clean silver with hot water + baking soda + aluminum foil - YouTube
    Also even though I have never tried this myself , perhaps mounting the bezel on a piece of aluminum either threaded or otherwise attached to the aluminum the way it is held to the gauge and spinning it in the lathe using a soft cloth or a cloth with some kind of polishing paste similar to what you are using with the buffing wheel might work .
    Just the reverse of what you are doing now with the wheel spinning and the bezel held in your hand .
    Having the bezel on an arbor or mandrel would help hold the shape.
    Jim
    Jim,

    I think I like that idea other than the cost of getting a large enough piece of aluminum to make it practical.

    I wonder if there's any good way to make an expanding mandrel out of MDF or the other thought maybe I can make a set of MDF soft jaws for the 3 jaw chuck and spin it as you say using the MDF soft jaws to support it during the polishing process.

    Right now I am leaning towards the soft jaw concept. The only issue in all of this is time to work in the shop these days is pretty scarce.

    Sending these things over the buffing wheel doesn't appeal to me much.

    We do a lot of work with a plating shop at work and I am tempted to send this way and see if they've got any tricks up their sleeves too.

    Joe, when you say it's fine exactly as I say does that mean with a buffing wheel? I've done it a few times and every time I try to be more careful it always ends in the same disaster with the wheel snagging and pulling the bezel. Only other thing is maybe if I make a disk to place inside of it while polishing it may protect against the the wheel snagging.

    Sent from my SM-J737V using Tapatalk

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    Quote Originally Posted by adammil1 View Post
    Only other thing is maybe if I make a disk to place inside of it while polishing it may protect against the the wheel snagging.

    Sent from my SM-J737V using Tapatalk
    I have held the entire gauge in the jaws of a chuck and "polished" using a cloth and brasso. The rings HAS to be tightly mounted to the gauge body to do this.

    Maybe keeping the ring on the body will give you enough support to use a buff?

    Joe in NH

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    Never worked on a steam gauge. But I own some copper artifacts from Mexico and I clean them using worn scotchbrite and a solution of citric acid and salt:

    To a quart of hot water, add two heaped teaspoons of citric acid and the same of
    table salt.

    The solution does the work, no laborious rubbing.

    I did my cazo de cobre (copper pot) the other day and just for fun I cleaned a brass pot I keep on my dresser for miscellaneous objects.



    Very little effort for a lot of result.

    Citric acid is found in many foods and beverages and is not a toxic chemical; either is table salt. The solution can be safely poured down the sink. I wear latex gloves and they turn a little bit yellow.

    Does this apply to bezels on steam gauges? I don't know, but maybe?

    metalmagpie

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    Adam ,

    I didn't think about the gauge being that large but since I have several bits of aluminum scraps and other materials handy in my shop I hadn't thought about the cost of the mandrel material or just chucking the gauge as suggested by Joe .
    I don't have any chucks with soft jaws so I would have to watch that I didn't over tighten the chuck and deform the bezel or the gauge body .
    Mounting it on a mandrel of some kind that would stick out a little farther from the chuck would allow you more room to work on the bezel.
    A piece of thick walled ABS or PVC pipe or pipe fitting if it happened to be close to the right size might also work for a mandrel.
    You might also be able to glue up a mandrel from MDF discs if you have some on hand with a threaded rod through the middle to tie them together and try threading it or turning a step on the end to fit the bezel.
    Jim

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    Adam:

    I have polished a number of steam gauge bezel rings, some being the really thin "push fit' type and some of the heavier threaded type. I've used a soft cotton buffing wheel and stick polishing compound for the bulk of the polishing. To get into areas where you might risk having the edge of the bezel grabbed by the wheel, I was able to avoid this by using two hands to hold the bezel and approaching the wheel from angles where the edge was not 'up for grabs'. A soft wheel, light pressure, and taking the direction of the wheel rotation vs position of any edges.

    Another method which will work quite well is the use of what jewelers call 'bobs'. These are smaller diameter felt wheels which screw onto a tapered mandrel.
    The bobs have the added advantage of being small enough to get into "details' such as are found in the inner circumference of the bezel ring. The bobs are held on a tapered threaded mandrel. All of this can be purchased from jeweler's supplies such as "Rio Grande". The tapered threaded mandrel is furnished with a bore to slip onto a motor shaft. You can run the smaller diameter bobs at a fairly high speed, so a 3450 rpm motor will work fine for the purpose.

    I do not know if you know of the existence of "Semichrome" or "5 Star" metal polishes. These are sold in motorcycle shops. These are paste type polishes which come in tubes like toothpaste. They contain a very fine rouge or pumice aside from whatever other chemical polishing agents and 'vehicles' are needed. The best buy, in my opinion, is the 5 star polish. A good sized tube cost about what a much smaller tube of Semichrome (German import) polish cost. Harley dealers should have the 5 Star polish. I find that charging some of it into a cotton buffing wheel for a final polish works wonders.

    There are different compositions of polishing compounds. If you have a solid brass bezel that is scratched or dinged, there is an emery compound which can 'rough down' the work, and you then finish with a finer compound specific to the metal being polished.

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    Turns out I got somewhat lucky here as this was the first gauge I have ever come across that actually had a cast or machined from solid bezel as opposed to most of the others I own which are made from thin sheet brass which was either spun or maybe stamped. I have a collection of these that my wife allows me to mount on our livingroom wall along with a few old machine nameplates.

    On a side note I have always wanted to see the tooling that made the sheet metal style bezels as I have no clue how they supported the back side of the forming operation.

    None the less having this made from solid rather than sheet metal made holding it on a lathe far easier as I don't know if the sheet metal ones would tolerate being chucked up in a conventional 3 jaw chuck.

    Also chucking this gauge up with the bezel attached was going to be way too hard as it was a back mount gauge and the stub end protrudes about 2 inches which is deeper than my jaws. Plus as you will soon read the speeds I had to run at to get a good polish were a lot higher than I would want to go with a full gauge mounted on the machine. I wonder if the bourdon tubes could survive spinning that fast. Sure most likely this gauge will likely never again see pressure I don't want to be the guy to damage it further.

    Once on the lathe I started slow but that didn't work well. The faster the better the results were until finally I was running at 2000rpm which is the fastest the lathe goes. I tried both simichrome and hard red buffing sticks. I found in the end what worked best was to rub the hard red stick against the bezel and then hold a towel against the part ready to let go if it snagged at a moments notice in what amounted to essentially an inverted buffing wheel arrangement. It wasn't much different in many ways than using emery cloth just a cloth towel. I found the red stick seemed to work even better than then tube of simichrome.

    The challenge was doing the center as well as the back side where the fingers are too close to the spinning jaws for comfort. For those parts I found that wrapping the towel hard around a drill bit worked pretty well but not as good as my thumb.

    In the end I am close to mirror finish but still not as good as i would like. It almost seems like no matter what I do there is still some tarnish or unpleasant looking finish on there.

    I also polished away all the old plating so at this point I may try to get it nickel plated. I have seen the shop we use provide two finishes one super shiny that would look great and the other matte which I don't like so I may try speaking to them first. Any one more familiar with plating then I am know what causes that?

    I am also tempted to try getting some citric acid and seeing how that works. Metalmagpie do you think that the citric acid would take this thing up to perfect shine from here?

    Joe how big is the buffing wheel you use, I wonder if that may be part of the reason why I have had little luck on my buffing wheel with gauge bezels. The one I have is a hard wheel on an old bench grinder with the guards removed. I have noticed most better buffing arrangements also have a longer shaft which I think may be better for getting in there than my machine.

    See below for a photo of it on the lathe. I am not sure how well the final appearance will come thru in the photos. The face is a different story. It cleaned up pretty well but has a white paint on top of brass finish on it. I am not sure how that one was done originally but I tried cleaning some of the rust streaks off it with some cleaner I had some luck and got the worst of the issues off but I couldn't push it too hard as some of the finish was coming off also. I am almost tempted to strip it all the way down to the etched brass but thinking it's better to leave it be.

    While I have everyone's attention focused on gauges does anyone have any spare bezels or parts gauges lieing around for a 6" or 7" Ashcroft? If so I have a beautiful old Dillon Boiler Works gauge that a former asshole coworker either stole or lost when he promised to bring the bezel to the family's plating shop. After a whole year of him promising to bring it in "tomorrow" he got fired for unrelated lies never to be seen again. I always hope one day I will find a parts donor or less flattering gauge with a good bezel to restore that one. So I figure this is worth a shot if anyone thinks they have anything let me know and I will get the case diameter measurement so we can confirm.

    Anyone know who the Carbondale Machine Works was and what they made I haven't had the time to Google them yet.

    Lastly Joe Michaels, since I have you here did my email I sent last week ever make it thru? I want to make sure it didn't get lost in a spam filter. We're all cheering for you to beat your cancer.




    Sent from my SM-J737V using Tapatalk

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    Hello Adam:

    Thank you for the kind thoughts. Unfortunately, the email you sent got lost in the 'ether'. I am gaining on things as far as the cancer goes. I was down to Sloan Kettering in Saturday, and the GI doctor removed the stent and took a look at my stomach from within. His remark was "everything looks great... normal activity, normal diet.." I am back to some shop work, as well as plenty of engineering (mainly light structural stuff), but the surgeon who operated on me has me on the 'no lifting over 10 lbs' restriction until 15 June. The 'targeted immune cell therapy drug" (known as "Gleevac") is doing its work. The cancer I have has THE genetic markers that this drug programs my own immune cells to destroy. The Gleevac produces mild queasiness when I take it each morning (horse-choker sized pills). The antidote is a few swigs of the real Coca Cola. It is strange to have breakfast with a glass of Coke instead of coffee, and we chuckle about it. I am down to 167 lbs from 195 lbs, but it does not show on me and is actually closer to my ideal weight. The result is I get to eat ice cream each evening, and I LOVE ice cream. Smaller portion sizes since my stomach has been resectioned with resulting 'loss of bunker capacity'. I got my wish for the 'boilermakers' to remove my cancer and do the repairs/alterations in the way the surgeon operated. He told me he put a 'triple row' of very fine titanium staples in my stomach wall to make the seams. Sounds like boiler work: "triple riveted". I have a neat single-line scar running from base of my breastbone to just below my navel, and it also looks like the boilermakers were on the job. It is a single line, with little indentations on a regular pitch where the staples were. Another 'riveted seam'.

    In all, we consider ourselves blessed in countless ways. If taking a pill and drinking Coke to chase it down is all I need to be doing for the rest of my life, I am indeed well-treated.

    Getting to the main thrust of your email. Polishing 'bobs come in different diameters and the are run on an arbor with a tapered thread which comes to a point. You screw the 'bob' onto the arbor with no locking nuts. These come in different diameters and shapes. I got a tapered arbor with a 5/8" bore (for a common size of electric motor shaft) and some of the bobs from a jewelers' supply by mail order ages ago. The polishing wheel I routinely run on my smaller bench grinder is very soft, made of cotton cloth, about 6" diameter top start with. The trick with polishing thin metal gauge bezels is always have the edge of the bezel (the edge which is on the part that goes onto the body of the gauge) pointed the same way your wheel is rotating. IE, if your wheel is rotating so it is running downwards towards the floor on the 'working side', keep the edge of the bezel pointed down. Never feed an edge right into the wheel. You can rotate the bezel's outer circumference against the wheel, but take care to keep anglng the bezel so that the edge does not point into the wheel. Very light pressure is all you need, and a soft wheel is key. Another point is don't hold onto things with a 'death grip'- if the wheel grabs the bezel ring, LET GO OF IT !!! You do not need to get your hands torn up or pulled into the wheel and abraded. It's all about keeping the edge away from the wheel if it is in a position to be grabbed by the wheel or kicked out.

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    I don't know if citric acid could work for your parts. I only know they work for mine.

    My original interest wasn't in making shiny pretty things - it was in making untinned copper pots safe to cook in, since any hint of green oxide can make you sick. I like to travel in Mexico and I like to cook. I bought a cazo de cobre and instead of cleaning it with half a dozen limes and salt like they do in Mexico (where limes cost about a nickel) I use citric acid and salt. Have a quick look at this link:

    Copper Pot or Cazo De Cobre: Maintenance and Use - Pati Jinich

    As to the difference between cleaning pure copper and cleaning brass, well, that's why I posted my experience with my little brass pot. Seems to work great for both.

    I think a felt bob on a Foredom handwheel and some of your red rouge would probably be best for you. But I would not hesitate to try acid/salt as long as you keep it gentle and rinse it thoroughly. I don't see how it could hurt it any. Worst case you might need to go over it with a rag and some Brasso afterwards to even up the coloring.

    metalmagpie

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    Adam:
    I was thinking maybe using a Dremel tool with a small buffing wheel would do the trick, especially with the bezel chucked in your lathe as you described, with the spindle at low RPM.

    Joe Michaels:
    As one of many participants on this 'board who enjoy reading your posts, I offer my prayers and best wishes for your continuing recovery.

    Brian Smith

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    Not to hijack my own thread too much, but Joe I resent the email and sent you a private message. Hopefully something got thru, if not shoot me an email. Glad to hear the cancer seems to be on the full retreat. I had Cancer, Chemo and Radiation 11yrs back and they told me back then that the advances they made in the 10yrs prior to my cancer made the treatments so much easier and less painful. I can only imagine how much better it must be today. hopefully you will be here for some time, this section of Practicalmachinist hasn't been the same without your postings if you ask me.

    As far as polishing goes, I always thought a hard wheel would be better than a soft one figuring it would remove more material. I guess I have a lot to learn.

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