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  #1  
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Default Aluminum patina

When I acquired the engine cases for my current project they were polished. Even though someone went to a lot of work to polish them, I'd rather not have them polished. I was considering painting them, but also thought of trying to somehow etch the aluminum to make the cases look closer to original castings.

I read in a post here by ferrous head (I don't remember what thread) that he found the best patina maker for cast aluminum is household oven cleaner. I checked with Ferrous head and he said he tried both oven cleaner and paint stripper and if his memory serves, he thinks the paint stripper worked best.

So I did a bit of research on the web. It seems sodium hydroxide is the active chemical in paint strippers and oven cleaner that damage aluminum. I found very little information on using paint strippers to create patina on aluminum. I found quite a lot of information on using "Heavy Duty Easy-Off Oven Cleaner (contains sodium hydroxide)"

I applied some to a test piece of aluminum:


I let some sit for 2 hours. When I cam back to inspect it, it had hard grey residue coating that did not easily come off, But with a bit of scrubbing by wet rag It came off. I took the coating off only part of the sample, It didn't look very much distressed at all so I applied more to the same spot to leave it sit overnight. Then in another spot I just sprayed more oven cleaner right over top of the residue, I watched it sizzle a bit and then parts of it started to slide down - so it seems I put it on a bit too thick. I wiped that whole area with the damp cloth and the whole area turned frothy so I decided to leave it overnight to see what happens. On the last section of the sample I sprayed a very light coating on top of the hard residue. This I could see reacting and bubbling and gurgling below the surface of the hard residue - and it did not break away and slide down.

Next morning I checked the sample. Hard grey residue everywere. On the first 2 test sections it managed to get most but not all of the hard residue off. But on inspection, the surface does not look distressed enough. You can see some of the hard grey residue that would not scrub off on the bottom of this piece:



The last section, where I applied a light coat of oven cleaner on top of the hard residue, It was impossible to remove the residue with a wet cloth. I also tried a vinegar soaked cloth (I didn't have a stronger acid available at the time). Finally I removed it with a wire brush. That's not great because of course it leaves brush scratches, but I can see it does leave the kind of finish I was hoping for:



Now possibly with a stronger acid I could remove the residue but the conditions to create this finish are difficult to reproduce on an irregularly shaped surface because of the requirement to use just a very thin coat of oven cleaner on top of the first 2 hour grey residue coating.

So I went off to the store looking for for paint stripper with sodium hydroxide. Three different hardware stores and I found nothing. The world has gone green and eliminated the most "dangerous" products. probably if I kept looking I would find what I'm looking for at an industrial supply (and then I might have to buy a minimum of a gallon). But since I struck out at the first three stores, I decided to go back home and test out what I have in stock. This is left over from when I was experimenting with hydroxy generators:



Yes, I can make an aqueous solution and apply it directly to the aluminum but that would not be like gel paint thinner that is designed to stick to vertical surfaces. But if I make the solution strong enough, I can probably get away with applying it for a short time and just make sure to keep applying so the aluminum doesn't dry out. At the same time, if I make it this strong, I know that one drop on my skin would create a third degree burn quicker than I could dunk my hand in a bucket of water. So carefull precautions are in order.

I'll post results of my test once I've done it. First I need to research a bit to get an idea how strong a solution to make. In the meantime, I welcome any comments from those of you who have done this, or of a source for gel type paint stripper containing sodium hydroxide and available in Canada.
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by the way, in the first photo above you can see green masking tape and electrical tape. That was an experiment to see what could work to mask the aluminum from the oven cleaner. The electrical tape worked perfectly. The masking tape shriveled up and fell off in about 10 minutes.
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http://xlforum.net/forums/showthread...ht=Pterodactyl

Some tid bits of info here. Sometimes it’s tough to get your questions through, but weeding through you’ll get some leads to follow. I got some good info from some of the contributors.
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I found a reference here https://askinglot.com/how-do-you-make-aluminum-patina which says:
"Try a mixture of 5% sodium hydroxide with about 5g/l sodium chloride in it (common salt). Mix this with some sawdust and leave it for a few days on the aluminium surface - it will give a corroded finish. If it is not corroded enough, put the sawdust back for a few more days or until it is the finish you need. Make sure you keep the mixture moist."

Im guessing the sawdust would give it some bulk, like a gel, to keep it on a vertical surface.

But for all this prep, I might as well just paint it and I'd have a better protective coating.

My reason for wanting the patina was mainly not wanting to keep up the polish on the cases, cam cover and primary cover sure but not the cases. The original cast finish on cases is a contrast to polished covers so it doesn't look out of place if dirty and unpolished. But I was worried about how much effort would be needed to prep polished aluminum for painting. Well this idea of patina is a lot of effort. I could use less effort to etch the aluminum enough to make paint stick to it.

Don't know yet what I will be doing...
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I electro-etched my backing plates with a car battery charger in a salt water solution. I went for the 100 years of corrosion and grime look but you could play with amperage and duration and get a milder finish. The problem you'll have to watch out for is that the etching takes place anywhere and everywhere bare metal is exposed. I used spray can enamel for the outside which is just porous enough the let the solution leach through to the surface.
Anywhere that needs to be completely protected gets a good coat of "Class F Insulating Paint". The same stuff the insides of generators and starters are painted with.
Because aluminum is so reactive, (.7 of a second after you lift the file, sandpaper, grinding disc, it's already on it's way to becoming corroded), you'll want some kind of protective coating on it. I've had good luck with some stuff by Flood called "Penetrol". It's sold as a paint additive but also works well to lock in patinas and weathering on bare metal surfaces if you're going for a vintage look.
To avoid leaving brush marks in aluminum use a scrub brush with fiber bristles instead of metal. Might also try using a scotch-brite pad; they come in different grades of coarse from white (very fine) to red or green.

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I would anodize the parts. Will leave a mat finish and give corrosion protection. This can be done by the "brush plating" method. But you need a power supply and some chemicals.
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The engine cases on my 04 Ironhorse are completely polished. They have held up better than my friends bike with cast finish cases. His are discolored and grungy. My polished cases are clean albeit not as shiny as they were 18 years ago.
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At this point I’ve pretty much decided to just leave the cases as they are, polished. Painting them is what I would really rather do and the optimal time to do it is past and I want get this engine in the frame an move forward. Separating the cars again and prepping for paint, and painting and reassembling is not that big a job but in all reality it would set me back by about a month at the speed I work.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RicThompson View Post
The engine cases on my 04 Ironhorse are completely polished. They have held up better than my friends bike with cast finish cases. His are discolored and grungy. My polished cases are clean albeit not as shiny as they were 18 years ago.
That’s good to know Ric
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