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Polishing Zinc Facade Pipes?

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  • Polishing Zinc Facade Pipes?

    Hi Guys

    For the experts out there: Can zinc organ pipes be polished to shine like tin organ pipes?

    The reason I'm asking - I visited a newly installed pipe organ about a month ago. Actually, this organ was built using the parts and pipes of a dismantled instrument, just with a new case. I complimented the organ builder on the splendid-looking facade with pipes all bright and shiny. He then told me it is the old painted zinc facade pipes of the previous instrument. He stripped the paint and then used a certain polishing technique to make them shine like tin pipes.

    Did I misunderstood him? I couldn't believe my eyes!

    So can this be achieved? Must it be a special type of zinc? Does one get different types of zinc metal? Is it something I can try at home, experimenting with my own pipe organ's painted zinc facade? :P

    I would love to get your inputs on this.

    Regards

    PJ

  • #2
    From Wikipedia:
    Zinc, also referred to in nonscientific contexts as spelter,[3] is a bluish-white, lustrous, diamagnetic metal,[4] though most common commercial grades of the metal have a dull finish.
    So it looks like it can be done with the right grades. Otherwise you can put tin foil over it and polish that.

    You don't get different types of zinc metals. But metal is rarely used pure, almost all uses are alloys: a homogenous combination of different metals. This is mostly done to improve certain properties. Like you add carbon to iron to make steel. Or copper to aluminium to make to stronger. Or Antimone and arsenic to lead to make it harder. Mostly you need only a few percent of the addition metals to obtain those results.

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    • #3
      Yes, you can polish just about anything (the Myth Busters proved this if you care to look it up). It's a lot of work though. Depending on how rough the surface is to begin with, it involves a lot of sanding with progressively finer sandpaper before buffing. A good buffer with the right type of polishing compound makes a world of difference. It's tricky at best and technique has a lot to do with it. It can be dangerous too with the possibility of whatever you are`polishing flying across the shop at near ballistic speed (guess how I know this). Were I you, I'd get a few junk pipes and experiment with them first if I were to even attempt this which may not be advisable. The cost of pipework has risen quite a bit in recent times.

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      • #4
        Terpodion, I watched that particular Mythbusters episode! It was quite educational.

        David

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        • #5
          I just telephoned a veteran pipe maker at a highly-respected, long-established pipe making firm. He agreed that this might be possible - but that it would be very unlikely that the pipes would end up looking like new polished-zinc pipes. Moreover, if one had to pay reasonable rates for the labor involved, one could probably purchase two ranks of new polished zinc pipes for what it might cost to polish the one old rank. When they build new polished zinc pipes, they start off with "virgin" zinc that is already somewhat shiny coming off the roll. I had him read this thread and he said that sometime he just might try this on a small pipe just to see what happens.

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          • #6
            Hi Guys

            Thanks for all your comments. Yes, as an amature, I certainly don't want to damage organ pipes because of experiments that went wrong. That old saying: "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread" comes to mind. And my boss always says "Stupid people are dangerous..." A couple of years ago, I helped my friend to dismantle his Laukhuff unit organ. Do you know what happens when you just start unscrewing the reservoir supports without removing the "harmonium spring blades" first? :P

            Here's a few photo's of the organ facade under discussion. I do apologize for the poor photo quality. After crawling through dusty organ chambers for more than 10 years, I guess I need a new camera...

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            • #7
              Your original post mentioned that the pipes had been painted. Perhaps the paint acted as a preservative of sorts and made it practical to polish the pipes years later?

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Havoc View Post
                You don't get different types of zinc metals. But metal is rarely used pure, almost all uses are alloys: a homogenous combination of different metals.
                Sometime in the late 1960s the alloy for zinc pipes changed, and not for the better, at least in terms of structural integrity. The older alloy has a very different appearance than the newer, and I'd have trouble believing those could be polished to look like the ones in the photos. Polished, yes, but to look that good? Hmmm...

                The newer alloy looks almost like those coming out the gate, and it probably wouldn't be too difficult to polish them to look like this even after paint was removed.

                Do you have any idea of the vintage of the original instrument? It might provide a clue...

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                • #9
                  Hi Guys

                  It's been a while since I started this post. I had a friend over this past weekend who spent about a month at a famous organ builder in Europe. They showed him a technique they use to polish up zinc pipes (even old painted zinc pipes) to shine like new pennies!

                  We took a painted zinc pipe from my one organ's string-rank and applied the technique. Basically, you start off by removing the paint with thinners to expose the zinc surface with its crystallized spotted pattern. Then you sand the pipe down using fine wet sand paper and warm soapy water. After the sand paper, you repeat the process using different grades of "Scotch Brite", then steel wool and finally you buff the pipe with a soft cloth and some polish. See the attached photo - I couldn't believe my eyes!

                  On the photo you can still see the rest of the pipe's painted body, and on the edges of the bright spot you can see how the zinc surface looked with its crystallized pattern.

                  Click image for larger version

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                  According to my friend, it takes 2 employees of the organ building firm about half an hour to polish up an 8' pipe.

                  Thus, zinc pipes (even dull spotted ones like the one I used) can be polished to shine, but one needs a lot of "elbow grease".

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                  • #10
                    Excellent post! Thank you for the information. Now, to see if the polishing stands the test of time.

                    Thanks again for sharing this.

                    Michael
                    Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
                    • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
                    • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
                    • 11 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 7 Pianos

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by myorgan View Post
                      Now, to see if the polishing stands the test of time.
                      I would think if the pipes are sprayed with lacquer the shine should last a good long time. I am currently working on an instrument with polished zinc bass pipes 20+ years old and they look great!

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                      • #12
                        Could it be oxidation rather than paint or laquer? Vinegar gives great polishing results in brass, zinc, alum, copper etc. in my experience.
                        I am not an expert in pipes but was thinking paint or laquer kill some of the resonance of metal pipes as these are not wood.

                        cheers
                        boyan

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