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Learn About Why and How Metals Patina With Age

 Jun 19, 2021    General

What is patina?

Patina is an outer layer of protection certain metals and other naturally based products attain from their environment. The patina process can occur through aging or with chemicals for an accelerated patina.

ILA mix of products that patina over time.

Unlike other changes that can occur in metals and fabrics, a layer of patina actually protects an object as it forms on the outer layer. In many types of natural materials the patina actually strengthens the natural material by bonding to it, creating both a stronger item and a shield from the outdoor environment.

While the true process of patina is defined by each natural type of product, the term patina is often used to describe any product with an aging color change. This usage of the word patina is most often found when antiques are being defined.

But the true process of patina is only found in natural earth based items when most of the composition of the item is rooted in an all natural product. Items and created products that patina include copper, brass, bronze, steel, soapstone, cast iron, concrete, and leather.

Items created from these all natural based sources will age and color change on a somewhat set color tone palette. With the degree and speed of the patina process set by the natural environment of the item.

Copper has perhaps the most well known patina color changes with its bright ash green patina that over takes the equally bright copper of an item. It is hard to imagine the Statue of Liberty as bright as a new penny but she was cast in the best copper for the time. Sitting on what was then called Bedloe's Island, surrounded by salt water, the Statue of Liberty quickly began her patination process.

A reference and image link to learn about the patina process on copper

Your product whether a copper bowl or a leather travel bag will have a range of possible inherent color patinas. The deciding factors for whether your product patina’s to a light bright color or a deep rich tone is how much sun, salt water, and heat the product is exposed to. And also, the specific creation process used in the manufacture of the item.

Leather items have a remarkable patination process that gives us the beloved distressed leather look seen in travel bags and even overstuffed home furnishings. Like all of our other natural based materials that can patina, a well patinated leather piece can survive for thousands of years.

The Areni-1 shoe is a great example of how truly extraordinary leather pieces can be. At over 5,000 it is the oldest intact leather shoe ever found. In our modern times we really just want a great looking piece that will last us until we decide to replace or retire it.

A reference and image link to learn more about the leather patina process

You can learn more about the leather patina process and ways to care for your leather for optimal use and best patina at the link above.

The patina process can occur in inside environments due to moisture or direct heat. Using chemical cleaners can also cause or change the patina of an item. Generally, in a home with an average amount of humidity and sunlight the patina process will be so slow that you will never notice a color change, even on copper pieces.

Concrete image link to learn more about the patina process.

Care should be used if you have a saltwater fish tank as the water will evaporate into the air. This air is thick with the saltwater nearest the fish tank. It is advised that computers or other electronic devices not be kept near a home saltwater tank. The same is true for any of our naturally based list of items than can patina.

Using strong or the wrong chemical cleaners can also tarnish or stain your natural based product. Sometimes the tarnish can not be reversed or the natural patina will not occur on the tarnished areas.

 

Always be sure that your cleaners are approved for your item. Also, always use caution before using any abrasive, as most products created from these natural materials can scratch very easily.

We are all accustomed to using abrasive kitchen cleaning pads on our stainless steel. These can sometimes scratch the surface of our cookware. But it does not harm them. Stainless steel does not patina to a stronger product either. Most forms of steel oxidize less strong than our other natural based products.

That is why Corten Steel was developed. This amazing invention was out of the necessity of using the strong steel in outdoor environments. But, without a product modification these steel beams and other construction items would need to be replaced more often than is practical.

With Corten steel, the steel does create a true patina that both strengthens and protects the steel item. It also creates an attractive color change showing the protection of the steel item. Many of our products are designed in Corten steel or weathering steel for an optimal patina process.

You can learn more about the steel patina process, see our Corten Steel based products, and learn about Corten Steel at the link below.

A reference and link image for Corten Steel patina

The beauty of the patina process:

Each naturally based created item has its own new appeal with some people preferring to keep the gleam of their new item. But as with all things in nature the patina process is actually quite amazing! Below you can see many examples of the patina process in a variety of different constructed items.

Colors found as copper patinas can range from deep turquoise green to a light ash green, an electric blue, a bright fire orange - which is normally seen under a tone of green, and the most sought after - the deep royal purple.

We are partial to the deep colors created on the copper water and fire bowls. Perhaps it is the combination of two of earth's strongest forces or just the simple beauty of fire dancing over water, in an electric green toned vessel.

Should you speed up the patina process?

Speeding up the patina process is sometimes referred to as patination in arts and crafts literature. Patination is actually the word for the action that causes a surface to patina.

As a rule you can speed up the patina process for all natural made products. Also, as a general rule you can do this without damaging the product. Providing you find tried and true patina directions for your item.

What isn’t known or deeply studied yet, is if a sped up patina process achieves the same protection benefits of a natural aging patina. It would make sense that a year after year process that adds a tiny layer over itself would give a stronger process than one completed in an hour or so. You can, though, often achieve the color results you want with an artificially created patina.

An often asked question that helps to explain speeding up the copper patina process is:

Why does my copper ring turn my finger green?

Our body heat, moisture from hand washing, and the natural skin oils accelerate the copper patina process. But because it is an accelerated process and the reactions are always present the patina process ends up on our fingers as well as on the ring itself.

You might also notice that a ring has an uneven color patina. This is the same problem that is encountered when trying to speed up the patina process. In a natural environment the patina process will happen gradually and generally with an all over effect.

Or at least, a defined patina process to the environment with items turned to one side in the sun changing differently than the shadowed side. This patina effect is also true for high moisture environments, including areas around salt water. You can try to even out the patina but nature has a way of balancing the patina and generally left on its own the color changes will bridge together beautifully.

If the item is small you could try to even the patina with an accelerated process, avoiding the more naturally patinated side. If the item is large and set in a forever space this process would need to be repeated as the more patinated side ages.

Another problem with speeding up the patina process is the unknown, even if you have had success with an accelerating product on a certain metal or other natural product before.

Liver of Sulphur is one popular patina accelerator. This product and others like it are not formulated with specific recipes like medicines or even paint is. The formula could have a touch more potassium thiosulfate or other ingredient from a previous batch, causing you to get uneven results from previous successes in accelerating the patina process.

If you do decide to speed up the patina process, research reliable sources for what works for your type of natural material. And buy accelerators from trusted suppliers. Do keep in mind though that you can damage metal or other natural surfaces in this accelerating process.

The Statue of Liberty was permanently damaged during a cleaning when bicarbonate of soda leaked through from the inside. While this damage was done during a cleaning the catalyst of baking soda on the copper was the culprit.

A reference image showing the staining of the Statue of Liberty

Baking soda, also called bicarbonate of soda, is often listed as a patina accelerator. But as you can see from The Statue of Liberty it can cause forever stains too. Bicarbonate of soda is also listed in many resources as a way to turn a green copper patina to blue.

This may or may not happen depending on your metal compositions and other accelerators. If you have a larger financial investment in your copper piece or sentimental value it might be best to find a metal converter to do the work.

Staining vs Patina:

Another pitfall of accelerating the patina process is permanently staining the item. As with our beloved Statue of Liberty, these stains are often forever. The accelerator or cleaning supply bonds to the natural based item and instantly it becomes a part of the item.

Accidental staining often occurs when cleaning an item that is in its patina process or can patina, as these items are naturally open to soaking in whatever is laid on their surface. Additionally, many patina accelerators are not creating a true chemical induced patina process but a faux patina stain on an item.

This effect is very popular and can help save money on design accents made from less expensive materials but with the rich warm look of an aged patina. You can see many of our color patinated products at the link below.

An image link to hearth products including decorative crickets

An image link to our leather products of wood holders and wood gloves

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Last updated on July 12th 2021.

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