*Note from Retro51: While we are thrilled to share inspiring ideas with our pen and writing community, we must emphasize that we cannot officially endorse or recommend the content ahead, which may involve alterations to the original appearance of your Retro51 products. Any decision to explore the following tips or suggestions are entirely at your own risk and discretion. Retro51 is not responsible for any damage on any product or personal item. Without further ado, an article written by Hayley J - Retro51 Fan...
Raw metal pens are neat because they develop a unique patina as you use them, and then that patina becomes a living part of the pen that changes each time you use it. Raw copper pens start to patina almost immediately as your skin oils interact with the metal. A natural copper patina is beautiful, but sometimes you may want a more extreme patina without the wait. Sometimes you just want your pen to look like you left it on a rocky ocean cliff for two months, and I’m here to tell you that it can be done with things that you probably already have in your pantry. While there are many easy ways to DIY patina raw copper, white vinegar and salt are easy to find and won’t cause harmful fumes. For this project you’ll need: a Retro 51 Tornado™ Vintage Metalsmith Raw Copper, plenty of paper towels, painter’s tape, latex or nitrile gloves, isopropyl alcohol, distilled white vinegar, regular salt (not iodized or kosher), a plastic or glass surface to let the pen soak in, and patience.
The first thing that you need to do is to take out the refill and spring from your Tornado. With gloves on, wipe off the pen with alcohol to make sure it’s clean. Next, tape off the parts of the pen that you don’t want to patina. I just taped the knob to protect the twist mechanism, but you can also tape off the clip and nose cone if you prefer some visual contrast. Whether you decide to patina the nose or not, add some silicone grease to the threads to protect them, and screw the nose back on. It’ll be easier to protect the inside of the pen from the vinegar and salt if the nose is screwed on. I also wedged a rolled up paper towel inside the pen for extra moisture protection.
Now that your pen is prepped, take your glass or plastic container and place two stacked paper towels on it. Pour enough vinegar on the paper towels to saturate them. Next, sprinkle on a generous heap of salt, place the pen on top, and fold the paper towel over the pen. Let this sit undisturbed for at least one hour (I let mine sit for 1 hour and 20 minutes).
Unfold the paper towels. You might already see some blueing happening on the pen, and that’s okay because this just means that the oxidation has already begun. The next step is to leave the pen undisturbed on the same paper towel (salt too) until you’re satisfied with the oxidation level. I let mine sit for about 9 hours.
With gloves on, gently rinse your pen under a very light stream of water to get the excess salt off. If you use too strong of a stream, much of your built up patina will wash away. Place the pen on a new paper towel, and let it dry and re-oxidize to your satisfaction. I let mine sit for 1 more day after rinsing.
To protect the patina, you need to seal it. This keeps the patina from changing further, and from blue residue getting anywhere you put your pen. I recommend using something durable like Mod Podge or some kind of automotive clear coat. I started out by using a glossy Mod Podge, but ended up going over the glossy with a matte Mod Podge. Whatever finish you use, make sure that it dries hard and will be durable. The Mod Podge that I used is dishwasher safe once cured, and is an all-in-one sealer and finish (there are versions that are just a sealer and require an acrylic finish to dry hard).
Mod Podge requires a brush application, so I used a small soft bristle paintbrush. For the first coat, I started in the areas with the heaviest patina and dabbed on the Podge. The patina will absorb the Mod Podge, so be careful during the first 2 coats and just gently dab it on. Let the finish dry for 1 hour in between coats. Make sure to unscrew the nose cone before this so that it doesn’t get stuck.
After the third coat you may need to sand for an even finish. On my pen there were some areas of patina that were quite bumpy, so I wet sanded with 1,200 grit micro mesh. Because I switched to a matte finish, my pen has more coats than what is probably necessary, so my pen has 6 coats total. 4 or 5 coats is more reasonable, but this really comes down to personal preference. For a more even finish and no brushing, you can also use some kind of spray clear coat.
Once you've finished sealing your copper Tornado, you’ll be rewarded for your patience with a beautifully unique pen. The Mod Podge takes 30 days to fully cure, but your pen can be used as long as it’s fully dry. The patina process is not completely reversible as the salt and vinegar kinda etch the metal. The Mod Podge is easier to get off within the first few days after its initial application. After that window it’ll be much harder and will require soaking and sanding.
About the Author: Hayley J. is a Retro51 Fan and a stationery blogger at Left Hook Pens, reviewing different styles of pens, inks, and paper from a left handed perspective. You can follow Hayley on Instagram.
*Reminder from Retro51: It is important to note and understand that we do not officially endorse or recommend the content ahead, which may involve alterations to the original appearance of your Retro51 products. Any decision to explore the following tips or suggestions are entirely at your own risk and discretion. Retro51 is not responsible for any damage on any product or personal item.