CLEANING ANTIQUE BOTTLES
CLEANING ANTIQUE BOTTLES
Bottles that have been dug out of the ground often have a white stain on the inside, outside or both. While this stain cannot be removed by washing or scrubbing the bottle, it can be removed by "tumbling". Tumbling involves suspending a bottle inside of a piece of tubing, usually PVC or sometimes acrylic plastic, then adding a polishing compound, bits of copper wire, and water. The tube is then slowly rotated so that the liquid with the polishing compound and cut copper wire tumbles over and over the bottle. After around four to six weeks the bottle is removed from the tube, washed and inspected to see if all of the stain has been removed. The process is very much like the process to polish rocks.
Many new to the hobby are curious about cleaning their bottles. There are numerous "professional cleaners" who will, for a fee of around $10-$20 clean your bottles and return them to a nearly mint condition. The degree to which this is accomplished depends on the skill and experience of the person doing the cleaning. The time, effort and cost of using and building a bottle tumbling machine make cleaning bottles worth less than the price of cleaning unprofitable.
There is a great interest on the part of many collectors in building their own bottle cleaning machine. I usually advise people to build a machine that will be big enough to pay for itself and be salable if you tire of cleaning. Build a machine that allows you to do a little cleaning for friends and that will pay for your supplies and equipment. It take on average about two weeks to thoroughly clean a bottle, if you build a machine that can only clean one bottle at a time you can clean about 25 bottles a year. If you were charging $15 each, the machine would generate about $375.00 a year, which is not half of what it will cost to get a machine, supplies, and copper together. Building a machine that can clean four to ten pieces at a time will pay for itself within a year. The cost to build a larger machine is insignificant compared to the initial outlay.
On the other hand, cleaning is not for everyone. It is work and takes some time and patience to learn how to get the best results. If you have only a few bottles to clean or just want to clean your own collection, then you may not find it financially reasonable to spend the $500 or so that it takes to put together a good cleaning system and you might consider just sending your pieces to a professional bottle cleaner. This, too, is not without some risk. Bottles do get broken in the cleaning process from time to time and the professional cleaners do not take responsibility for damage.
If you still think you are interested in building your own machine, I sell a set of plans for $29.95 that come with my phone number and a willingness to see that you get your money's worth. I explain how to build several different types of cleaning machines and provide you with a number of options for building them. My plans include addresses for where to buy cleaning supplies and show you how you can cut your own copper and save big bucks, plus tips on how to get the best performance from your cleaning machine.
I have been cleaning bottles for over ten years (I do not clean professionally for others, only my own dug bottles).
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