A microscope under the microscope

There are lots of pictures to look at today, I have been putting the little Merz under the microscope to check whether it was painted brown or whether it was chemically coloured and then lacquered.  I compared the brown foot of the Merz with chemically blackened areas on the Merz and with the paint and lacquer of a very old Reichert that I had to hand. I also looked at a microscope I lacquered myself to see how my lacquering compares to the masters! I used a trinocular Olympus SZ stereomicroscope and a Canon EOS 1100D

First, two pictures of the brown areas on the Merz. Click thumbnails to enlarge.

The picture of the left shows what a small scraping of the “paint” looks like. This scraping was made near the area of corrosion which will have to be replaced anyway. The picture on the right show some intact “paint”

 

It certainly looks like paint although it is an extremely thin layer. For comparison here are another two pictures. On the left, a chemically blackened area on the Merz, on the right the paint on the foot of a Reichert.

BELOW: The rather interesting pattern made in the “paint” by the corrosion is shown on the left,  in the centre is the lacquer on a lovely old reichert and on the right is some of my own lacquering. I’m pleased to say that the surface looks correct. the underlying metal on the piece I did is in worse shape but that is to be expected. It was heavily corroded when I got it. I wouldn’t have needed to lacquer it if it had been in the same condition as the Reichert.

 

I’m thinking that the microscope was painted, I can see brush marks in one area which also makes me think it was painted rather than chemically coloured/lacquered but it is quite hard to be sure. It could be that the chemical colouring has somehow soaked into the lacquer and coloured it. I may have to consult Henley’s 20th century recipes to check a few old methods of chemically colouring brass before I start doing anything drastic.

I wish I had a mass spectrometer.  I asked my husband, he said he’d put it on the shopping list and that as long as they have them in Tesco he’ll get me one.

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Making paint

Pb or not Pb? that is the question. Pb is the chemical symbol for lead, today I shall be talking about lead. Hilarious aren’t I? ( please don’t answer that).

I have a new baby to work on.  You can see below that it has a patch of corrosion on the foot which has to be treated before if spreads. I shall treat it with a gentle rust remover, sand the area and prime before painting. Here’s the tricky bit – I like to use ingredients and techniques that are as authentic as possible. I am pretty sure that the original maker would have used a lead oxide primer. I can’t buy lead oxide primer and although I can buy lead oxide powder, it is very expensive and it’s not a clever thing to be working with. Also, the chances of me ingesting some are quite high, because I tend to lick things if I don’t have a damp cloth to hand.  I shall be using a commercially available non-ferrous metals primer instead, it won’t show underneath the paint anyway. Interestingly, I can see brush marks in the original paintwork so they weren’t being all that fussy.

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I shall be starting on it as soon as some brown paint pigments arrive from my chums at Ingilby. I need to mix my own paint for this one. For a bog standard black and chrome 1950s – 1970’s microscope I tend to use black enamel paint. either Japlac or a reasonably high temperature coach enamel, sometimes with lacquer on top, sometimes not. This baby is special, it is also much older than 1950 and painted brown not black.  Below is my paint mixing kit: pigments, linseed oil, a large ground glass sheet and a muller. Hopefully the brown pigments will arrive tomorrow.

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Brass stamp

My stamp arrived yesterday, it fits into my fly press and allows me to stamp my mark onto any brass items I make. I’m very pleased with it. It was made by two lovely chaps at Chalco Stamp and Die engraving in Wellingborough and looks so professional.

I can’t wait to use it on something. I plan to make a bullseye condenser in the next few weeks. A traditional feel for a contemporary item. Splendid.

Chalco can be found at their website here; chalco dies

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finished jug handled microscope

This lovely little Baker jug handled microscope came to me in need of repair. The coarse focus pinion was horribly bent and the mechanical stage was sticking. The paint on the handle and the chemically blackened stage were very worn and a small area of paint on the on the foot was badly chipped.

The pictures below show the microscope before and after repair. Paint work renewed, stage blackened, pinion straightened and stage “un-stuck.” Nothing was re-lacquered

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I have been awarded a grant!

I am overjoyed and very honoured to have been granted an award by the Gane Trust, a charitable trust which gives grants and awards to people involved in crafts, design, social welfare and the arts.  I have received a grant which will enable me to buy more hand files for producing small hand crafted brass items and spare parts.

Crofton Gane was a Quaker and a furniture maker who took great interest in craftsmen, he went to great lengths to encourage craftspeople, both young and old to develop their skills.

From the Gane Trust website:

In 1968 a fellow Quaker wrote “Crofton Gane’s main concern was that men should enjoy their work and find fulfilment in it. All his activities, spread over his long life, arose from his faith in man’s inherent dignity as a maker. He believed that man would come through because God is in him. He believed, therefore, in tomorrow. Beauty of form and excellence of craftsmanship were his delight.”

He was fascinated by fresh ideas and quick to give the word of encouragement, continually writing to people who were undertaking some creative service. To everything that was making a “contribution” (to use his favourite word) he was willing to give his great energy, his thought and his money.

I certainly feel encouraged, I hope Crofton Gane would have been pleased with my work if he could see it. I’m off to write a thank you letter now.

http://www.ganetrust.org.uk/

 

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Interesting chemistry of walnut hull inks and dye

Juglone, a brown dye, is found in several consumer products, including hair dye formulations and walnut oil stain. Juglone is an active ingredient in dietary supplements prepared from walnut hulls. Walnut hull extracts and poultices have been used for many years in folk remedies.

citation

Melting Point: 155 C (Merck, 1997)

Solubility: Slightly soluble in hot water; soluble in alcohol, acetone, chloroform, benzene, and acetic acid (Merck, 1997)

CHEMICAL IDENTIFICATION CAS Registry Number: 481-39-0 Chemical Abstracts Service Name: 1,4-Napthoquinone, 5-hydroxy-(8CI) Synonyms and Trade Names: Akhnot; C.I. 75500; C.I. Natural Brown 7; 5-hydroxy- 1,4-naphthalenedione;5-hydroxynaphthoquinone; juglone; regianin; walnut extract Structural Class: Bicyclic; napthoquinone

Image result for Juglone

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It works!

So here we have it , black walnut dye in alcohol. It came out quite pale so I had to evaporate off the alcohol and resuspended in a smaller volume. I started with 100mls and ended up with about 5mls but it’s the colour I wanted. Tomorrow I shall add a few drops to some lacquer and job done!

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Walnut adventures continued

The walnut hulls in alcohol have been on the magnetic stirrer for about 6 hours with intermittent heat. I’m not terribly impressed with the depth of colour. It looks okay unfiltered on paper but I am not convinced it will be dark enough once it is filtered. We shall see. I’ll give it until the end of the day before I filter.

Sadly , my magnetic stirrer heating element is not thermostatically controlled so I can’t leave it on the heat unattended. I have to keep an eye on it. Makes for a rather boring day. I may concentrate it down after filtering. ideally it will be dark enough that I can just add a few drops to my usual lacquers to tone them down when necessary. I hope it’s worth it. I had high hopes.

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Very impressed

I’m still waiting for my walnut hulls to arrive (damn you bank holiday) but I thought I’d try mixing some alcohol dyed with coffee in with some lacquer while I wait. I am NOT going to use coffee in microscope lacquer but it does give me an indication of the kind of colour I might achieve when the walnut arrives. Coffee in the lacquer gives exactly the colour I want. Hurry up Post-lady! Bring me my walnut!

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Walnut, yes!

Cloth is either made from plant material (cottons, flax) or animal materials (wool, silk, leather). When dying these materials you need mordants – additives that help the colour grab on to the material and set it in place. It’s a complex art and experts are known as Master Dyers for good reason. The colour you get depends on pH and the type of mordant used. Common mordants are alum, iron sulphate, copper sulphate, tin chloride and tannic acid.  A dye may be brown with one mordant but green when used with a different mordant, and the type of fabric used also effects the colour. There’s a lot of information out there about using natural dyes on both wood and textiles but getting the colours right on metal lacquer is rather different.

Natural dyes are usually used in water and can react very differently in an alcohol and shellac mixture. Some simply won’t work (onion skins for instance) and others colour the solvent incompletely, or float to the surface of the lacquer and wash off (wood dyes are particularly bad for this, even those that are sold as alcohol soluble). Bismarck brown, a common Victorian stain, produces a brown/red colour when used as a wood stain but is scarlet when used in lacquer. It doesn’t adhere well either…

Brass contains copper and zinc but when you restore an old microscope you never know quite how much of each you are dealing with. Even though you are not really dying the metal, your lacquer sits on top of the metal, the zinc and copper content of the brass can still alter the colour of the lacquer. It can be tricky to know what will happen.  You might apply a lacquer that appears to be a rich gold on a test piece of brass, but when applied to the antique microscope it comes out a dull yellow. It’s a pain. I have one lacquer which when it first goes on has a slight green tinge to it (possibly a reaction with copper) but after a week or so the green tinge dissipates and it turns yellow again. I haven’t quite figured this out but I think the green copper complex is unstable. It degrades in daylight. It only happens on old brass, not new brass – just to add another layer of mystery.

Why bother, you ask? Why not buy a can of spray on nitrocellulose lacquer?

Why? because I like things to be done properly and I don’t want every microscope I restore to look exactly the same as the previous one. Different makers used different colours. Different lacquer batches from the same maker were different colours. Lacquer colours changed with fashion. Some early Watson microscopes used a deep orange gold lacquer, later ones were very pale. There was a lot of variation and considerable beauty. I like to restore things using the same ingredients as were used originally. If you don’t do that then you are not restoring anything, you are doing a bodge job. You wouldn’t use acrylic paint on the Mona Lisa would you? (God forbid she ever gets damaged). You might use a brush with a plastic handle, or maybe artificial bristles (if you can make the same brush strokes) but you wouldn’t use modern paints. Besides, it’s fun. Research is fun and experimentation is fun.

‘No synthetic dye has the lustre, that under-glow of rich colour, that delicious aromatic smell, that soft light and shadow that gives so much pleasure to the eye. These colours are alive.’ Violetta Thurston

As I have already said, not all dyes are created equal. Some are particularly wonderful. Dyes such as turmeric are known as substantive dyes, they don’t need mordants to adhere to fabric and they are not too temperamental in lacquer. In fact they are very, very reliable. Turmeric is the basis for almost every lacquer I make and it never fails to be yellow. Obviously, being a natural product there is some variation in the intensity of the yellow but it is always, without fail, yellow.

Today I had a small breakthrough, I have a tiny piece of a microscope which I repaired for a customer. The piece is repaired but the repair damaged the lacquer so I have to colour match and re-lacquer. This lacquer is a smoky gold colour. Warm gold with a tiny hint of brown. I have tried all sorts of ways to get browns and whilst I have had some success, I have not yet found a reliable source of brown which I can mix with other dyes. There are modern dyes, but I want to stick with products which were commonly used in the Victorian era.

I was browsing textile dying websites for inspiration when I stumbled across black walnut hulls. Walnut! Of course! They used to make ink for pens from walnut hulls. It was a VERY common ingredient in the Victorian era. I would be amazed if they didn’t use it. I have some water based walnut hull ink in the cupboard and it is a lovely nutty brown. A little research and I discovered that walnut is also a substantive dye that is brown in both alcohol and water. I’m waiting for walnut hulls to arrive from eBay. I am very keen to test it out. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before!

 

walnut

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