Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ugly Firescale vs Speed Brite

* **This has been updated to add some pictures of an experiment at the end..***
I prepared some wires today to try out Mary Tucker's, "Flat Twining Guide" tute. While I was doing it, I took a few pictures for the blog because I want to share with you something I came to recently by accident.

As a newbie to the torch, I was shocked to see how much firescale and discoloration was left on the copper wire, even after a simple balled end. I wondered if it was worth all the trouble of cleaning to use the torch.

I have a tool that always sits near my work area. It is a Mini Speed Brite and it, again, came to my rescue. Here is what I had to say about my nifty tool at jMf. (It's not a paid endorsement, I swear!):
"SB is an ionic cleaner. It works by placing a tiny charge on a piece of metal resting in a liquid bath of cleaner. The mild current lifts dirt and other things off the metal. This may not be an exact analogy, but I like to think of it as the opposite of electroplating. Instead of using current to put something ON the metal, you are using it to take stuff OFF the metal.

SB is very, very safe to use, both for yourself and for your jewelry.

What I love to do with it, just for fun because it is so pretty and amazing to see, is to clean diamond jewelry. No matter how clean you think yours is, SB will show you what the word sparkle really means!!! All diamond jewelry should be cleaned daily with a SB. It is just that fabulous.

I used to avoid sterling silver jewelry like the plague because I so despise how it tarnishes, but now, my SB keeps it looking like fine silver. It does a really beautiful job on silver. It has saved more than one great chain that was almost trash because of stubborn tarnish in hard to reach pieces.

I use it to clean all my jewelry, with one exception: be careful with purposely oxidized pieces, especially copper!!! It will remove your oxidation. But, it can be used carefully. I've done it. You can see your pieces being cleaned, so you can pull it out before it gets *too* clean.

I use it to do a final cleaning before sale, I use it to clean metal before torching, I use it to clean after tumbling, I use it to help remove firescale. I use it to clean before LOS. I use it ALL the time! It is tied with my tumbler in terms of usefulness. Like the tumbler, once you get one- you will wonder how you ever did without one.

They are relatively expensive, especially for how simple and lo tech they are. But, FDJ has a large one on sale right now. You can find them at a lot of supply places, but shop around because prices vary. My DH got me mine for cheap on eBay when we didn't have the extra money for one. I had wanted one for years and he got me one for my birthday a long time ago. Still works like new. I bought more of the liquid and a plug because, on my small unit, the battery wore out too quick. But, only the small one has batteries. The battery unit is good for taking it to shows, if you do them.

So, was I a good commercial? LOL! Seriously, I swear by mine and if it's in your budget, I strongly recommend one."
When I first used the torch, out of curiosity and not really believing that it would work, I dropped a piece of copper with firescale in my SB-- By golly, IT WORKED! It took off most, if not all, of the firescale! I used several cycles and have found that the amount of time varies with the amount of firescale. What I was left with was dull copper, that very easily shined up with a Sunshine cloth. Check out these pictures.

See how nice the center wire is after a light polish?? Amazing, no??
Seeing is believing. I have had some firescale that was tougher. With that, most came off but needed a little Scotchbrite to finish it up before a polish. For the most part, the SB has worked a charm and will be what I continue to use for copper firescale. I have yet to try this with silver, but you can bet your bottom dollar that I will. :)
I ran some experiments after reading Kate's question. I thought it would be better just to do a pictorial answer. I use the SB almost unreservedly, but I understand others' reservations. I thought the best way to tell you was to show you. Hope the pictures are of enough.

I chose to use a copper spectrolite piece that I was aging naturally, a copper piece with a patina and a piece of rainbow hematite in silver- I believe it is fine silver, I can't remember, but it IS tarnished, it's an old piece. The first piece is red, as you can see; the second could use a good cleaning with a polishing cloth and the third needs a good cleaning and polish to shine it up.

Here is the used and dirty SB solution that was in the SB. I am going to use this solution. It has had all kinds of dirty jewelry in it including the firescaled copper.

Here at my table, I had to use a flash, so it is a little more blue, but you can see the tiny bubbles streaming off the piece and you can clearly see the piece to judge what's going on. I used this patinaed piece first to show you that I am going to use the same solution for the rest. If you are nervous, particular or doubting-- just change the solution. (The large bubbles are from pouring the solution back into the tub. It never bubbles that big with jewelry.)
Here's the piece fresh from the SB and gently wiped with a towel and polishing cloth. The recesses are still patinaed. The nice golden color is still on the high spots, but shinier. I left this in for abt 1.5 cycles (abt 45 seconds). If I had left it in, the darker areas would start to lift.

This spectrolite had a completely red, natural patina. One cycle in the SB and it was pink again. (Guess I'll have to wait awhile for that patina to come back :) )

It isn't real obvious to the camera, but this looks like raw copper again.

This piece was more stubborn. I left it in one cycle. I could have left it in more, but didn't. That's ok, one was enough. The unit and the solution are safe for rainbow hematite-- absolutely, hands down the most delicate of anything that I have worked with. I have no reservations about putting anything in my SB.

I needed to polish this a little more than I did the copper, but it still came out great. Again, I could have and probably should have left it in longer. The directions say don't leave silver in for too long, I usually do though. You can see, on the top of the picture, that there is quite a shine that wasn't there before.

Here is the solution after cleaning. It's not much different. It takes a long time to get to the point where it needs changing. In the Summer, I usually have to change it when funk starts to grow in it. (moldy stuff, yuck!)

Here are the cleaned pieces together again. Notice that the red copper is pink, the patined piece is just cleaner and shinier and the silver is cleaner and shinier.

*** For my own curiosity, I just put the patinaed piece back in for 10 cycles. The high spots aren't quite as dark, they aren't quite raw looking, either. The low spots are still dark. Actually, I really like the look and will do that again. :) So, Kate, thanks for the question. I wouldn't have tried this, had you not asked. This was my personal piece and I thought- what the heck- I can always redo it, if it all comes off, right? :)

Bottom line, change the solution if you want to or keep separate solutions for different metals, but you don't have to.

Raw copper cleans quite easily, but if you leave clean, raw copper in too long, it gets dull. No picture of that, this is just from experience. It can be shined up again, so don't worry.

It is suggested to use it for shorter times on silver. I haven't found that to be true.

Patinas are pretty hard to take off by accident.

(Sorry about the formatting with gaps between pictures and texts. It seems to be a real Blogger bug and I'm sick of trying to fix it. Argh!)

Update on the twining.... I kept breaking my 26g copper and switched to 24 which was working better. I had to take a break because, and don't laugh, my fingers are sore from filing the copper forms. I inadvertently filed my skin more than I thought I had and I'm a little raw. There's a lesson there, I'm sure. :)
Another update:  It doesn't work as well on silver, but helps.


  1. Hey Tela, This is amazing! I was not familiar with Speed Brite. What an amazing tool. Fire scale really surprised me by what a pain it is. I have a little pickle pot but dislike having one more chemical. You really should do an infomercial on this as you have me sold!
    Thanks for sharing and I look forward to seeing your twining.

  2. Tela, you have done a great job explaining about the Speed Bright ionic cleaner. I just helped my teenage son study ionic reactions for his chemistry test and so this whole concept intrigued me for more than one reason. The science behind this is really fascinating. To think that one can clean pearls, silver and copper in the same pot without the use of harsh chemicals or much elbow grease is very useful to know. Thank you for educating us on this tool. Guess what is on my next wish list!!

    I do have a couple of questions: Do you use distilled or tap water in the Speed Bright? Also, how often do you change the solution? How long did it take you to take the fire scale off of the middle copper head pin?


  3. Christine, I have never used a pickle pot, but I have ordered Sparex and have a little crock pot for it. I'm sure I'll have occasion to use it for very stubborn scale. But, the SB works fine for smaller jobs. I will try as hard as I can to stay away from pickle- for the same reasons as you.

    Hey, Susan :)What a great practical example for your son!! The SB is simplicity in action.

    As to your questions-
    I have very good city water and I use that. I haven't used any water other than my tap, so I have no comparison to make. If your water isn't that great, try a different water.

    You change the water when the water is yucky. Simple as that. It takes a long time and a lot of cleaning to need a changing.

    When you push the button, the light comes on and runs for a "cycle" of about 30 seconds. I used about 2 cycles per end for the middle wire, the rest I didn't clean. I could have put them all in a basket, which comes with it, and finished them all at once, but then I would have had to find it first :) (I rarely use it.)

    If I had known how much I was going to love this, I would have gotten a bigger model. I have the mini and though it has sufficed, I really could have used a bigger one.

  4. Tela, thank you for posting this. You answered most of my questions in your response to Susan. Just so I clearly understand, you can clean copper with LOS under a watchful eye and as long as the solution is still clean, you can use it for gold or silver?

  5. Kate- Tell ya what... I'm going to run some experiments and take pictures. I'll post them here and hopefully you'll get the answers you want. :)

  6. Tela, I think you are an angel! I can see the differences and you explained it so well. I was completely lacking knowledge in the cleaning and finishing process. Also, from you I just learned that I could tumble copper with LOS. I always tumbled and then applied a patina. The Fusion ring I'm working on is tumbling as I'm commenting. And guess what I did this morning? I went to FDJ and bought a Speed Brite. They are so wonderful there. I was in there parking lot and saw a sign that they were closed for a gem show. Before I left, someone from the back came out and brought me into the store. The Speed Brite's are on sale till Monday. I wanted to see your post first before I started using it. I'm going to gather up all my jewelry and check it out!

  7. Good for you, Kate! You won't regret it! I hope you have some diamond jewelry, so you can get a good girly giggle when you see it cleaned. :)

    As for tumbling, I tumble before the patina for a long time, when I need to, and, I tumble again to polish after the patina, if I need to. It depends on the piece. But, yes, you certainly can tumble before AND after the patina. Tumbling, or using the SB, before you LOS helps to get a nice even patina. You can even tumble a piece that you want to leave black. The finish will come out looking like hematite. It isn't terribly durable, though. It can wear off. But, it sure looks good!

  8. Susan, I forgot one of your questions- it took as long as it takes to polish any piece of metal with a polishing cloth. Which is to say, not very long.

  9. Thanks for posting this, Tela. I have one on order. Should get here in a week.


  10. Hey, you're welcome, John. You'll find it indispensable, I'm sure.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments.