art, nature, photography, style

copper and patina // new versus old

After re-arranging my indoor succulent plants to make room for my little tabletop tree decor, I began admiring the small specks of blue coloring on the dark metal table the plants sat upon. As long as I have had the table, I thought it was made of brass, but now that I was starting to see these new colorations of light blue-green, I began to think that it was, instead, made of copper.

copper table-before

Although I love the look of my table and its unique antiqueness, I couldn’t help but think of what lied below the tarnished surface. I began to think of the original owner and how they may have experienced the table and enjoyed its original, untarnished gleam. I know that I will have this table for many moons to come, and it wasn’t even close to the point of the decades-old admired patina we think of when we see worn copper objects like the Statue of Liberty — so I decided to take the chance and try to shine it up a bit for the sake of curiousity.

Copper vs. Brass: You can usually tell you have copper if you see a red tint in the shine, just like the color of a new penny. If you see yellow-gold hue, then you might actually be looking at brass. Brass alloy (copper and zinc) is also much harder, while copper metal is pliable and easily molded. (Read more about copper vs. brass here)

Simply put, copper has a beautiful bright orange/red color that changes over time to protect it from environmental weathering. The resulting blue tarnish is called Patina and the chemical process of the change is called Patination. This oxidation over time can provide a protective layer to materials that would otherwise be damaged by corrosion or weathering. Here is a simple chart of the color changing process by year, which is from outdoor exposure:


The current, weathered color of my table seemed to be about three years in the making according to this color chart, although the coloration was probably all from indoor use. I have no clue how long it has been tarnished dark brown or how old the table is…I can say however that it looked this way when I found it at the thrift shop about four years ago.

After looking up a few different natural copper cleaners I began trying them out. I started with the suggested lemon juice and baking soda applied with a soft cloth. This did virtually nothing to the finish and I began to think that maybe I was wrong about the table being copper…

Second, I tried baking soda and vinegar with a soft cloth. I thought I was maybe seeing a slight change, but it was so miniscule, that I wasn’t sure if I was making it up in my head for instant personal gratification… I think if anything, the vinegar was the changing factor in making it (maybe) work…

At this point, I grabbed some super fine steel wool and rather than adding baking soda, I poured some white vinegar directly on the table and just before I had a chance to start scrubbing, I noticed the table changing color! It was slight, but I knew the vinegar was working!

The vinegar and steel wool together were only doing so much and it didn’t seem to have the scrub action I needed to remove the tarnish. The last suggestion I read was to add a delicate abrasive, so I added some salt to the vinegar already on the table and began scrubbing with the super fine steel wool.

VOILÀ! It was almost instantly that I could see glimpses of super bright copper color develop from where I had started to scrub. I scrubbed and scrubbed, and after some really good arm toning work, I had finally removed the years and years of tarnish.

clean cooper table

Looking back, I really, really loved the dark tarnish on the table. It was that beautiful, thick, dark tarnish that first drew me to the table when I eyed it way back when.


Now though, I am looking at a shiny, richly-colored, beautiful cooper table, with detailed etchings that could only be slightly seen before. It is so mesmerizing and beautiful. I’ve been in such awe, looking at the table as if it had magically appeared in front of me. I don’t recognize it as my past table, but rather a brand new table, from another place and time. Above all, I can now experience the table as it once was,  a long time ago, and know that I will again get to see it dark and tarnished some day far from now.

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