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Thread: Polishing Nickel keys at Home

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    Default Polishing Nickel keys at Home

    How can one Clean and Polish their own keys (excluding silver plated keys)
    NOTE: This example is for polishing nickel plated or raw nickel-silver keys. DO NOT use it for polishing silver plated keys. Silver plated keys are commonly found on Buffet E11s, some Buffet R13s, most of the Buffet Prestige lines, Leblancs, some Selmer Paris models, many vintage professional clarinets. If you don't know for 100% that you have Nickel Plated (or raw Nickel) keys then don't try. Have someone look at your keys to confirm that they are nickel or raw nickel-silver keywork.

    ITEMS NEEDED
    [1] MAAS (or other) polishing cream
    [2] paper towels
    [3] Lava soap (can be found at hardware stores)
    [4] Patience

    When I compare my clarinet overhauls with other technicians out there what I normally do is purchase an overhauled clarinet. I get to see first hand how someone elses work compares to mine. What I also find out is how the instrument plays compared to my work. Incidentally, I also find out how the tonal quality is of the selected and installed pads compared to what pads I select and install (after I change them).

    Every so often I hear from clarinetists that their keys are "foggy" or not as highly polished as someone elses. They try using a polishing cloth or other means and can never get them as shiny as they would like. They consider these keys to have "foggy" plating. For the most part, this "foggy" plating can be polished up nice and shiny. In purchasing overhauled clarinets I have found many where the keywork is simply not 100% polished like it should be. They may have taken shortcuts in the process or simply don't have the correct techniques.

    A couple years ago I purchased a 1955 Buffet R13 clarinet with a fresh overhaul. The keys were never as shiny as I would have liked them even after i used a red rouge polishing cloth on them.

    An Example, upon close inspection is as such below:


    Compared to a nicely polished key (done by hand by the technique I'm going to review),
    we can see the pad cup compared as below:


    In the normal process that a technician uses to polish keys we first take off all the keywork and remove the pads and cork/felts. Of course, removing the pads for the player themselves is not an option (thus part of the problem). But during this process the keys normally get mechanically buffed, manually buffed using various buffing wheels and grit rouge (rouge is a powder substance which various in "grit" like sandpaper and thus allow fairly quick work at polishing. There's different stages of it and such but either way, out of the reach of the player).

    First we need to find a polishing material that can polish the keys quickly and to a nice polish. In the past for some quick key touch polishing I've used a polishing cream by MAAS. I've had this particular tube for easily over 10 years. So first, I don't polish many keys by hand and when I do it's very selective and I use very little of the paste.


    Secondly, we need a polishing cloth. For simplicity, simply use a paper towel.

    You can use a cloth, etc but you will find a paper towel much more handy as when you polish the paper towel will get this icky black stuff all over it. And thus you will replace the paper towel quite often or fold and use different sections of it.

    NOTE: Your hands will get very dirty, and I provide an example of how to clean them properly below.


    Basically as you see a super small dab on a paper towel. You don't want too much because if you use too much you will find that you start leaving paste all over the place that needs additional cleanup. And when you polish the key cups, you may get paste on the pads, which may, as you try to remove it, ruin the pads. So we are talking as minimal amount as possible on the paper towel. You'll still be amazed how such a small amount can still polish as the above picture examples have shown. You may find your self repeating as necessary on a key.

    Next, select either the left or tight hand spatula touches. We select these simply because they are easy to get too, have a large surface area for visual comparison and it will not ruin anything in this test !!

    Basically start polishing one of the touches. Remember, patience is required. If you try to use too much paste or go too fast then you could end up with a mess and it won't be as shiny as you want it. Check underneath the key to see if you left residue cream.


    But, in the example above (with badly tarnished bass clarinet keywork) the Eb key is much more polished than the other keywork, though still not as polished as we would like it. You will notice that the paper towel has this black crude on it now (and your hands may have it too)

    Now we put a second dab on the towel and give it a good polish. This time we can get the key much more clean. I then used another part of the paper towel (on the far right) and after cleaning with the cream I gave it a final "polish" and this time it is a nice and polished key in comparison to the others.


    So as we can see, if we use a good polish, small amounts of it and patience we can polish up not only the touches by also the rods and key cups.

    I recommend leaving the key cups for last as you improve your technique and make sure you don't use too much polishing cream - after all, you don't want to get the stuff (especially after it turns black) on the pads. You also do not want to get the cream between the posts and rods - this is the area where the keywork touches the posts (the parts that are attached to tbe body). This polishing agent would be gritty and cause the keywork to get rough feeling over time and may cause other problems.


    Afterwards you fingers will probably have the nice black stuff all over it. I've found that Lava soap (found at hardware stores) works wonders on getting oil and other icky stuff off of you hands. Don't expect it to make your hands nice and velvetly smooth though, but it will get them nice and clean.

    Good luck and remember small amounts and patience.

    On another note, my Buffet R13 (which the pad cup pictures are from) are now nicely polished. I also replaced the pads and found that tonally, pads can make a world of a difference. And yes, the old ones were sealing perfectly in my tests. But that is for another writeup.


    Complete writeup can be read at
    http://clarinetperfection.com/SelfBuffing.htm
    Last edited by SteveSklar; 06-23-2009 at 11:09 PM.

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    Thanks, Steve. I have an R-13 soprano clarinet with exactly the cloudy typesof keywork finsih you described. It plays okay, though. Great post! DAVE

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    Very informative. Thanks Steve!
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    Great post, and this technique also worked well on my Nickel plated New Wonder. It's true what you say that "Less is more" when it comes to the polishing cream.

    Steve, have you ever tried "Weiman Royal Sterling Silver Polish"? It's a grit free polish with a floral fragrance and an anti-tarnish agent. It doesn't contain any strong chemicals, and is probably the gentlest metal polish I've ever used. It also works extremely well on nickel.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SuperAction80 View Post
    Steve, have you ever tried "Weiman Royal Sterling Silver Polish"? It's a grit free polish with a floral fragrance and an anti-tarnish agent. It doesn't contain any strong chemicals, and is probably the gentlest metal polish I've ever used. It also works extremely well on nickel.
    I have not tried Weiman.

    I am trying to find a manual good polishing paste for fine silver plate. Most of the hand applied stuff seems to "cloud" up the fine silver plate Buffet has. Only polishing rags and tumbler stuff seems to work exceptionally (remember, i'm trying to make it as good or better than looking new - and Buffet silver plate is top-notch in looks)

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    I am just doing up an alto clarinet, and the keys have gone beyond the grey and have entered the green spectrum.

    I am a hobby player, but happy to take an instrument apart and repad, recork, straighten rods, regulate and other basic repair jobs having had an intensive 2 days, one to one, tuition from my friendly repair tech.

    With the alto, for a quick going over the keys, I am using a hand dremel, wool mop and Hyfin buffing compound, taking about a minute to get from the before to the after. Important to fully degrease the key, rod and pivot before oiling and re-assembly (I use lighter fuel) but I have done this with the pads in-situ before now. Great care was needed with the pads. I rarely knock a cork off (will replace them anyway, but like to have them as reference point for thickness)

    I don't think I could live with just the touch pieces shiny if I can see the hard to reach bits of metal grubby.

    Chris








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    Since I created this thread I decided to clean up completely the L7 that I recently acquired. It came with cork pads on the upper and double bladder throughout. All the pads were in pretty good condition, all sealed great. It needed mechanical fixes for smooth and noiseless key action but all worked out fine.

    Though I cleaned this as outlined above I did disassemble the entire clarinet and whilst apart I also cleaned all the posts; cleaned all rods and screws and made everything tip-top shape.

    here's the results ... not bad considered it was all done by hand and with the above metal polish.


    http://www.clarinetperfection.com/work/09_L7/p01.jpg
    http://www.clarinetperfection.com/work/09_L7/p02.jpg

    This is the era of Leblanc where ther nickle plating had issues. There is some pitting on it and on the rings the plating is "edgy" and you can feel it on your fingers (and see it in the pics if you zoom in). I'm going to machine buff these to smooth everything up sooner or later.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris J View Post
    Great care was needed with the pads. I rarely knock a cork off (will replace them anyway, but like to have them as reference point for thickness)
    Did you change the size of the cork on this key to make it less noticable or something?
    Last edited by Gandalfe; 10-05-2010 at 12:38 AM.

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    Looks to me like the second photo was taken at a different angle and the cork end is out of focus.

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    Chris,

    One of the things I noticed was in the deep edges, such as on the key cup to arm area, there is still muck there.

    I've used either a razor blade to "etch" that off a bit (be careful not to scratch the plating), a stiff brush with or without cream, or mass cream on paper towel then shoved in there .... or i let the machines handle it

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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveSklar View Post
    I've used either a razor blade to "etch" that off a bit (be careful not to scratch the plating), a stiff brush with or without cream, or mass cream on paper towel then shoved in there .... or i let the machines handle it
    A perfect instrument for "getting there" is a spark plug brush - its soft brass bristles can't do any harm, yet take care of muck very efficiently.
    Ben

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    Sorry for reviving this thread, but how did you polish the keys on your RS Symphonie Ben? I am not positive if the key plating used there are really nickel-silver so...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Franklin Liao View Post
    Sorry for reviving this thread, but how did you polish the keys on your RS Symphonie Ben? I am not positive if the key plating used there are really nickel-silver so...
    Franklin,

    I used an old t-shirt and non-abrasive silver polish, and lots of elbow grease. With an old toothbrush and the polish you can clean every crease, and the tee will do the large surfaces. Silver is really easy to polish, compared to nickel which is stubborn as hell and sometimes downright impossible.

    A silver plated clarinet will take me about 1..2 hours of polishing, not included the repadding. Manual polish has the advantage that all corks will survive, and no springs have to be removed, at the expense of time, dirty fingers and tired arms.

    The plating on the Marigaux is really thick fat silver and you do yourself a big favour if you don't machine-buff it and only buy the mildest silver polishing agent.
    Ben

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    Ben, Steve, I don't know how to thank you two enough.

    A combination of both of your tips made me go from



    to



    (Well, it's a lot more impressive when you see one blackened rag and glistening keys in person... photos do lie.)

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    pretty. You did a great job polishing the keys up.

    I've never really noticed until now the two lower spatula keys on the RS and their shape. They really did think out the spatula keys ... I wouldn't mind having one in my collection some day.

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    Franklin - good job!

    You probably did, but just in case you didn't - do remove the roller rods and rollers and give them a good clean with lighter fuel and a pipe cleaner and key oil them on reassembly. You don't want any polish you may have used to get in and stay there. Even if you just used the elbow grease, it is worth doing as they are often neglected in the lubrication routine.

    Chris

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    I did check one of the rods actually (for the throat key), and that's something I think I need to have Morrie comment on that before I do anything since he just did an overhaul on my horn. Polishing the keys wasn't a part of the package so I took that upon myself...

    edit1: cleaning up the rod for the rollers. seems that there hasn't been an oil change in some time. I felt the throat key being a little sticky during playing at times, maybe it could be due to this...)

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    I just have the scullery maid do mine, when she's finished with the cooking coppers in the kitchen...

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    Does she know you call her "scullery maid"? To which funeral home should I send the flowers when she finds out?

    Yes, I'm the Artist Formerly Known as Saxpics.

    Check out my photoblog! Updated on September 7, 2014: Yanagisawa (a work in progress).

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    Question

    You mean that the rest of you aren't supporting a full household staff on the money you make as musicians? No wonder the economy is going to pot!

    Of course, times are tough everywhere. Why, last year alone we had to lay off the mechanic, the downstairs maid, and the arborist. One so hates to say farewell to old family retainers, but the hard decisions have to be made.

    With an extensive collection of bass clarinets, silver plated clarinets (of both the metal and the metal-keyed wooden varieties) and silver plated saxophones, these in addition to our silver plate, punchbowls (all three of them, formal, semi-formal, and casual), twenty place settings of silverware, and my lovely wife Joyce Ann's extensive collection of custom-made sterling silver jewelry, our scullery maid is kept quite busy. She is quite the picture as she sits, rubbing away, in her traditional French maid's uniform.

    (Actually, the first and third of those collections are quite real. It's gotten so that I only have the horns shined up when I plan to use them, and the jewelry is a constant bother to keep "ready to go", so much so that my lovely wife shines each individual "piece" when she puts it on.)

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    ...is there any silver left at all, after all this shining?
    Ben

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    O yes, what sort of anti-tarnish solution might be good so that all that effort won't simply get reset...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Franklin Liao View Post
    O yes, what sort of anti-tarnish solution might be good so that all that effort won't simply get reset...
    Refrain from storing boiled eggs in the instrument case.

    There are "anti-tarnish strips" and such, but at best they just delay the process somewhat - sooner or later silver will get black again. But compared to nickel it is easily brought back to a fine luster, so not a big deal.
    Ben

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    Exclamation

    Yup, polishing silver is a much simpler proposition than nickel plate.

    All of my horns are triple thickness, against the possibility that I might get a little jiggy with the polishing cloths. The jewelry, of course, is solid silver, so no problem there. The rest resides in the recesses of my mind, where tarnish is never a problem at all...

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    Quote Originally Posted by SOTSDO View Post
    Why, last year alone we had to lay off the mechanic, the downstairs maid, and the arborist. One so hates to say farewell to old family retainers, but the hard decisions have to be made.
    Terry - it is a relief to hear that it has not come to having to drive yourself around, yet. When one's chauffeur goes, it really is the end of the line.

    Thought I would share my latest project. I picked up a junked Noblet ages ago, and just getting round to trying to revive it. Goodness knows what fate befell it. It looks water damaged, the wood is bone dry, and I think the previous owner took a scouring pad to the keys. Anyway - it is in the intensive care unit for resuscitation

    This gives an idea of the starting point:



    This shows a buffed key with its partner yet to be cleaned:



    And here are those keys, along with the UJ / LJ comparison (LJ stripped and going through the oiling process.



    Chris

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