Pllischer progress

The Pillischer is coming along, as you can see I haven’t done the tube holder or bar yet because I have problems with them. The tube holder  has been attacked with a wrench at some point and is distorted so that the tube is extremely stiff. I am not entirely sure how to sort it out. You can get the tube in and out but it takes the strength of Atlas.

There’s a spring missing from the fine focus mechanism too so that will have to  be replaced. At least the paint is off. That took a lot of sandpaper and hard work.

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The worst microscope I have ever seen

This one is going to take a long time for a small microscope. A Pillischer International, the serial number is 2905 for those that have records of such things. It’s my own microscope and I can only imagine I decided self torture was cool on the day I bought it. It has been spray painted a copper pink colour. The spray painter did quite a good job in that they took the microscope to pieces (mostly) but the paint has etched the surface really badly and stained it too. The metal is so badly damaged that I have spent a day just on the foot.

I have had to be quite aggressive, I have stripped the paint off with paint stripper and then I have filed the metal and used 600 grit sandpaper. I would usually not use such harsh abrasives. That was just enough to remove the last traces of paint. Once I had removed the paint I used pumice and rouge as normal. There are still some flaws in the metal but I have to console myself with the fact that the flaws are part of its history.

I have only done the foot so far. My hands are aching from polishing so it’s time for a break.

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Henry Crouch Binocular

This Henry Crouch had been converted from monocular to binocular at some point in its history but the additional tube had never been lacquered. The lacquer on the original tube was mostly intact apart from a few knocks and bumps so it was only necessary to lacquer the one, unlacquered tube. The original lacquered tube was a beautiful colour, a rich yellow with a hint of chocolate brown.  I was somewhat surprised when I saw this microscope because I have never seen such an eye catching colour before. The photos don’t do it justice, in some lights it appears chocolate brown and in other lights it appears yellow. I did wonder if I would be able to match the colour when I first saw it but the use of aniline dye made it much simpler than I first feared.  Henry Crouch microscopes often used  aniline dyes. The rest of the microscope was lacquered with yellow, a lovely two-tone specimen.

The microscope was missing an aperture wheel and tensioning screws for the rack. The mirror gimbal was broken in two (held together with string) and the mirror holder was thin and cracked. I made new screws, stage clips, an aperture wheel and a mirror gimbal and holder. The stage had lost all its colour so that was blackened and the foot which had peeling paint on it was stripped and chemically blackened as it would have been originally. The rack now moves as it should and it looks very smart indeed. The  before and after pictures are below

Another day, another microscope

This is a Watson Edinburgh that has been mistreated. I have taken it apart now and starting removing the traces of old lacquer with ultrafine wire wool and ethanol. Once that is complete I will have to decorrode and polish. I have recruited my husband to help me with thepolishing.

The Watson Edinburgh doesn’t need any new parts, the rack and pinion are fine and no screws are missing. It’s all down to the lacquer. I’m not going to to much to the foot or other chemically blackened areas, just a clean for them.

Let’s see what we can do for this little one…

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The completed Ross

The Ross has turned out well, it had heavy pitting and took a lot of work. As you can see it does not look brand new, it still has signs of its age. The Ross was polished entirely by hand before lacquering. It needed several new screws at the rear and on the bar of the microscope as the original metal used contained a lot of lead which shears easily.

This is a complex microscope, every single screw was hand made to fit each screw hole. The left hand screw of a pair is not interchangeable with the right hand screw so it was important to write down and photograph where each and every screw came from as the microscope was taken apart. I’m a big fan of standardisation but that came later.

Not all of the screws were put in straight either! The legs which should be interchangeable, being identical shapes, were not interchangeable as whoever made the microscope screwed one of the screws in at an angle of about 20 degrees. Nobody could ever argue this was  anything but completely handmade. A handmade microscope deserves hand polishing and hand lacquering. I have a new respect for (and a few new grudges against) Mr Ross.

The only parts I have not relacquered is the Wenham Prism. The heat involved in hot lacquering could easily damage the prism so it’s best left as it is. The mirror being very chunky acts as a great heat sink so I was able to relacquer that.

 

More progress on the Ross

I’m working my way up, almost everything is lacquered now but there are quite a few broken or missing screws that need replacing. These screws are not made to any standard I can find. Not completely surprising given the age of the microscope. Machinists often set their lathes up at x threads per inch and made everything at that pitch regardless of the size of the screw or what it was doing. Makes it a real pig to make new ones. Standardization is a blessing.

The stage is now lacquered – an odd thing to do but it was definitely lacquered originally. Just a few bits and bobs left. Not that this means it will be swift!

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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!

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.

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!

 

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Perfectionism

Today I have re-lacquered the same piece three times. The first time I did it it came out too orange. I stripped off the lacquer, diluted it and tried again. The colour was better but after staring at it for some time I decided it was still not quite right for the era.

I stripped one piece and I made a further dilution of my lacquer then did a rough and ready re-lacquering of a test area. The colour is better now but I shall have to do the piece properly next week. I am getting impatient and making mistakes now. It’s better to wait.

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Re-lacquering a piece numerous times seems to be par for the course. I seek perfection in colour, in shininess and in all round wow factor. No point lacquering a piece absolutely beautifully but in the wrong shade of yellow. I have to feel proud when I have finished. I never feel relaxed if I know there is an error, or the colour isn’t quite right. I don’t suppose this is a bad thing.