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Removing lacquer for refinishing

Hi to all silversmiths and restorers, of the world!
I refurbish and restore silver holloware amidst the other departments, and sometimes the nastiest looking stuff comes lacquer coated. People seem to think that they’re immortalizing sterling silver like that, but in fact, IMHO it’s a shoddy solution on the (shortish) long term. It’s not 100% preventing oxidization, so it yellows as time goes, it’s rarely homogeneous so tiny bubbles in the coating eventually become nasty black (beauty) spots, and best of all, ye cant clain it no more, not soap, not polish, not nothing.
Soo, does anyone know of a foolproof way to completely remove lacquer from silver or brass holloware? It’s often too big to practically submerge in acetone (too much acetone needed), and boiling works 80% of times on 75% of the surface… go remove some bits and bobs of invisible!
I just got this whopping candelabra in from a high profile client that I couldn’t tactfully refuse, and I’m tired…
Thanks in advance!

Acrylic lacquer is usually the type of lacquer used for coating metal surfaces for interior applications. It adheres better to metal and is a harder when dried than most other types of interior purposed lacquers.

A good semi-paste chemical paint stripper like Strypeeze or Klean-Strip (not the water based ones) will dissolve most non-catalyst type lacquers. Brush the semi-paste stripper on and let is sit for a few minutes until you see the lacquer starting to crinkle up. If the surface starts to dry-out before the lacquer crinkles brush on more stripper. After the lacquer crinkles or starts letting loose then use a chemical resistant non-scratching pad or scrub brush, or a cotton terrycloth rag, or 0000 grade steel wool (very light pressure so not to be abrasive) along with lacquer thinner to clean off the lacquer and chemical stripper. It may take more than one coating and cleaning cycle. Once you are confident you have all the lacquer removed then clean the metal well with a clean cotton rag and clean lacquer thinner.

Only coat time manageable areas at a time with stripper. You don’t want to get more area covered than you can keep up with because if the chemical stripper is allowed to dry up on the work piece’s surface it becomes extremely hard and difficult to remove.

Always use chemical strippers and lacquer thinner in well ventilated areas away from sparks and flame. Wear neoprene, chemical resistant gloves and eye protection. And read and follow the safety precautions on the containers.

Most newer silver plate items have an extremely thin silver plating. That is in part why manufacturers coat with lacquer rather than not. The pieces just can’t be cleaned much before wearing through the platting. So if your client decides that they would rather have the candelabra recoated with lacquer after you clean it then use a clear acrylic lacquer recommended for metal. These types of lacquer are available in aerosol cans in different sheens.

Many decades ago I used to make and restore liturgical silver, silver plate and brass. The least nasty way to remove lacquer is to make a solution of baking soda and or salt and water and boil it. Immerse the piece for a bit while the water simmers.
You’ll have to run a few experiments to see what the percentages of sodium to water work best.
Be sure to throughly rise any sodium traces after as salt loves to eat into silver if left there too long.
Also… Some finishes are just lacquer. Some are baked on two part epoxy like finishes. The baked finishes take longer. Sometimes you have to get the gel stuff out. That said it’s nasty to work with and will burn your skin.
Good luck.
Jo Haemer

Thanks guys,
I only get real sterling, not plated, so I don’t mind being a little agressive…gently of course. When I said I boil it, it was in fact in conjunction with the tarnish removing baking soda/aluminium technique. I rinse it all out very thoroughly, and USonic it if it fits in. I didn’t know that it was the salt doing the stripping though. So maybe if I adjust the dose, my success rates will become more consistant. I’ll write in the result.
THe paint stripper way works really well, I know, but it’s more tedious. Thanks again for your time and advice.

I’m not sure of the age of your pieces, but real lacquer hasn’t been used industrially on metal since the beginning of the 20th Century.Lacquer (such as artists still use) a natural substance was superseded by a wide variety of cellulose acetate based finishes that were all given the name of “lacquer”. Then along came synthetics. Epoxy and Acrylic lacquers have been mentioned. Phenolithic plastics, which were baked on were also popular. Oddly enough, as place where you might get some good advice on this is musical instrument repair forums, both guitar making and particularly saxophone and flute making forums. They have exactly the same problem as you, and in many cases, particularly flutes, they’re dealing with silver. The variety of materials passed off as “lacquer” now a days is so broad, you really have almost no idea of what you’re tackling, and you’ll probably need several different methods to strip the finish off.