Brightening up complex silver items

Lately I’ve been having a very frustrating time, trying to polish a
piece made up of many interlinked silver knots. (Some of you may have
seen it, it’s the knotted chain-mail shirt that I’ve been working on
for the last few years.)

The problem is that as it has grown larger, it’s also become
extremely difficult to polish. My latest tumbler is a five-gallon
chamber mounted in the barrel of a small cement-mixer, which appears
to work fine, at least from the outside. However, the shirt bundles
itself up and doesn’t let the media flow through it easily. Even when
it does, though, it doesn’t seem to be doing much of a job on the
silver that is exposed to it.

I’ve added some fresh material just lately, and those areas are
brilliantly white metal, visibly contrasting with the older links,
even after six hours in the abrasive media. I boiled the shirt in
citric acid overnight, and you can still see the difference between
the old and new. I even used the washing-soda and aluminum foil
method, but still no luck.

I know the material is the same (fine silver, 999) and the areas
where I repair broken links in the body turn nice and white under the
torch, so now I wonder if I’m going to have to just play the flame
over the whole shirt to get rid of the age patina.

It’s not as if the thing looks bad with that patina on it, in fact,
it’s great, but I want the whole thing to be the same color again.
Ideally, brilliantly polished pure silver color, but I’m willing to
compromise. I’ve got a week and a half before my next occasion where
I’ll be wearing the shirt in public.

Any suggestions?


Loren, I’m thinking “stuffed shirt” as a possible solution to your
shirt bunching up. What if you take a shirt (tee shirt, maybe long
sleeved?), stuff it lightly with polyfill (quilt batting, etc) & sew
the openings shut. Slip your chain-maille shirt over it and safety
pin it in place. You say you have a large tumbler, would it fit this
way? I’m not sure how large a 5 gallon chamber is.

Betty – just thinking out loud –


Has any suggestion worked?

How large is it in a bag? I know your shirt and I love it. Would
sealing it in plastic with hard boiled eggs to darken it work? Give
it that darker patinated look.


Continue from:

Hi Loren,

I’m so far behind that I doubt that anyone will even remember this
thread by now, but I wondered if baking soda might be the solution
to your problem (if you still want to remove, rather than darken, the
oxidization). I’ve used baking soda to clean some severely tarnished
pieces, with beautiful results. I love the satiny, intensely white
finish it helps to produce. Sometimes, I’ll finish the tight corners
of a matte-finished piece with baking soda and water on a toothpick
chucked into the Foredom.

I’d try “tumbling” the shirt in a large cylindrical container–maybe
one of those newfangled plastic coffee tubs–with a whole box of dry
baking soda. Just put it all in there, tape the lid on, and then
kick it back and forth across the floor with your friends, or try
rolling it down a hill for more exercise. (I don’t know whether this
is true, but I’ve heard that rusty chainmail was cleaned in the old
days by rolling it down a hill in a barrel full of sand.) If it
doesn’t work dry, try it wet.

Whether you decide to oxidize or de-oxidize your shirt, please let us
know when and where we can see photos of it! From what I’ve seen of
your work, I’m sure it will cause lots of drooling :slight_smile:


Jessee Smith
Cincinnati, OH


Loren has worn this wonderful shirt to the orchid Dinner in Tucson,
along with his Chain mail Handkerchief. To see it is to love it, To
know Loren is to love him.


“chian mail handkerchief” I want to see it!! Sounds so cool!

Sharron in Hot Kuala Lumpur

Terrie, and all,

I’ve considered tarnishing the whole thing, yes. The thing is, when
it’s bright, it’s got such incredible visual impact that I really
want to keep bringing it back to that state. Maybe if I can just get
it all up to the same finish for a while and let it age naturally,
I’ll go with that. Thanks for all the suggestions. The tumbling that
I’ve done has been in abrasive plastic media, and in stainless steel
shot, all done in a 5-gallon sealed bucket, mounted in a home
cement-mixer. Works great, except for the shirt being so hard to keep
from bundling itself up. I put a piece of styrofoam tubing through
the arms to hold them open, which helped a lot.

One of the things I tried was to get it all to a fairly high
temperature, and then quench it in citric acid. Well, the color was
about right, after that, but I weakened all of my less-than-perfect
solder joints. For the last few weeks I’ve been going nuts, trying to
track them all down and fix them. Every time I get to the point where
I think it’s okay, and wear it for a bit, when I look again there are
more popped knots. I wore it all weekend, just before Halloween, and
a cursory inspection the other day showed at least a dozen places
that needed repairs.

The ultimate solution is going to be to hit every single knot with
the torch, to bring it to annealing temperature. It doesn’t have to
be totally soft, so I don’t need to quench it, but I find that
coating with boric acid and hitting it with the torch, whether I’m
repairing the particular knot or just cooking it a bit, cleans up the
metal beautifully.

Another situation that has come up, while examining it knot by knot,
is that some of them are getting rather distorted. I’ve come up with
a tool that straightens them out, and also stresses the solder joint
to the point where any weakness will be revealed. Here’s the tool:

I don’t have an occasion to wear it again until mid December, so
that should be plenty of time for me to finish the current round of
repairs. If I’m called on to dress funny between now and then, I can
always button my shirt up to the neck, put on a red tie, and grin –
I look just like Wallace, of Wallace and Gromit.



What an inventive brain you have. I’ll bet your chopstick device
would make a whole bunch of armor makers happy campers.