How To: Repair an old copper sign


A 1930s copper sign. (Reader photo)
January 8

Question: We have a copper sign made in the 1930s. Some of the copper has broken or been bent, and one letter is not attached to its neighbor. Fishing line holds one corner to the metal backing. We aren’t interested in having it cleaned; we like the patina. Do you know of a place that can make the repairs?

— Arlington

Answer: You’re smart to be concerned about preserving the patina, because the deep, rich color is one of the things that clearly make this a vintage piece. But this priority complicates the repair process. Ordinarily, the best way to mend broken metal would be to solder or weld on replacement parts or at least supports, with soldering the option for copper.

“But we can’t solder with the dirt there,” said Dennis Mace at Metro Plating and Polishing in Kensington (301-493-4009; www.metroplating.com). “It has to be metal to metal.”

After looking at the picture you sent, he said his approach, which would probably cost less than $250, would be to polish off just enough of the patina so he could make the repairs. He would then touch up those areas with a chemical antiquing solution or even paint, depending on the patina color, which is hard to assess from a photograph. Or he could make the repairs and you could let the bright metal areas corrode naturally; in time, they’d blend in.

Joseph Grenon, owner of Awesome Metal Restorations in Kensington (301-897-3266; www.awesomemetals.com), also looked at your photograph and suggested repairing the copper parts on the back, for an estimated cost of $200 to $500. He said he’d need to see the actual sign and talk to you about your goals, but his approach probably would be to polish off just enough of the patina on the back so he could glue on bridge pieces, using epoxy. (Glue, like solder, doesn’t stick to corroded metal, just to bare metal.) “This wouldn’t do for a structural repair,” he said. “But as a cosmetic repair, it’s one way to hold the pieces together.”

If the sign is flimsier than it appears or if you need a stronger repair for some reason, he could try to solder the parts onto the back. However, there’s a risk that heat from the soldering iron would change the patina color on the front. So it wouldn’t be his first choice.

Polishing the front and making the repairs there is also an option. “But I would not recommend that, as it would certainly compromise its value,” Grenon said. An authentic patina is difficult to fake with chemicals, he said.

Question: I lifted the lid from my Le Creuset pot to see the enamel disintegrate before my very eyes. (I’d put a few popcorn kernels in oil to gauge the temperature.) This happened to another enameled cast iron pot years ago, though that was a wannabe Creuset; I can’t recall the brand. A frying pan that matched that pot is still alive and well. Before I indulge my Creuset lust and buy another pot, how can I avoid enamel destruction?

— Washington

Answer: You probably turned up the heat too much, and putting a lid on the pot while the oil was heating only compounded the problem, says Denise Tuttle, an associate at Le Creuset.

Because cast iron holds heat so well, the company recommends heating over low to medium heat. The effect will be the same as it is when you use higher heat on non-cast iron pots, Tuttle says.

For sauteing or making popcorn, you should heat the oil until it shimmers and looks wavy. Leave the lid off so you can see the oil; this also prevents condensation forming on the underside of the lid and dripping into the oil, causing spatters. Once food is in the pan, it’s fine to add the lid — and, of course, you’d want to do that if you are making popcorn or it will shoot all over your kitchen.

If you are deep-frying, use a thermometer to track the temperature. Keep the lid off while the oil is heating, and pay close attention as overheated oil can burst into flames and start a kitchen fire.

Le Creuset offers a lifetime warranty on manufacturing defects, not user error. But the company does have a generous return and replacement policy and often offers discounts on replacements even when a customer did something wrong. The warranty office might need to inspect the pot, though, so Tuttle recommended keeping the ruined pot until you contact that department at 877-273-8738. Warranty information is also available on the company’s Web site, www.lecreuset.com.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

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