Polishing supplies

At least once a year, polish the outer castings of your bells with polishing cream to remove spots and other marks left behind during routine wipedowns. To save time in preparing for this annual ritual, I store most of my polishing supplies together in plastic boxes. Some of the items, like a vacuum cleaner, are obviously used for other purposes during the rest of the year. If you’re preparing for your first polishing session, here’s what I suggest you gather.  Click here for this checklist as a downloadable PDF:  Polishing supplies checklist

Routine polishing:

  • Table covers
  • Polish
  • Disposable gloves
  • Polishing applicators
  • Buffing rags
  • Cotton baby diapers
  • Plastic bag
  • Popsicle sticks and plastic squares
  • Cotton swabs (e.g. Q tips)
  • Artist paintbrushes
  • Tools and spare parts
  • Canister vacuum cleaner with crevice and upholstery attachments
  • Mending kit

If you plan to take the bells apart:

  • Plastic cups
  • Maintenance guide
  • Nail polish

If you plan to wash the bells:

  • Palmolive dish soap or other mild soap with degreaser
  • Dishwashing gloves
  • Sponges
  • Towels
  • Rubber dish mats for the sink
  • HairdryerRoutine polishing

    Table covers – You don’t want to polish the bells on your performance table covers. I use old bedsheets to cover the bell table when polishing.  You can also buy cheap plastic picnic table covers.  Even if you use regular tables instead of custom bell tables, it’s a good idea to protect both the table and the bells with some kind of fabric.

    Polish – I use Blue Magic, which you can buy at an auto supply store or from Malmark. Get a small container. It goes a long way, and, the more polish you have, and the bigger the workgroup, the more likely you’ll contaminate the can of polish and have to throw it away anyway. If you use Simichrome from Schulmerich, buy tubes instead of a can. If you do buy (or inherit) a can, you need a screwdriver to open it and a rubber mallet to close it.

    Gloves – Protect your hands from the toxic polish by wearing disposable gloves. For a group, buy boxes of gloves in assorted sizes from the drugstore or safety supply store. If you have or suspect latex allergies, choose vinyl gloves. (I use unpowdered.) Buy plenty of gloves; you’ll use more than one pair per person in each polishing party, as the gloves tear, and you can keep unused gloves from year to year. When I bought for a group, I bought boxes of 100 gloves in each size (S, M, L, XL). If storage space is limited, you can get smaller boxes, or  packs of 10 gloves.

    Polishing applicators – Any soft clean cotton cloth will work. Ideally, you want something small and disposable, so you use different parts of it to apply polish to a few bells, then toss it before you transfer tarnish from one bell to another. Shoe polishing cloths from hotel rooms work well for this, if you’ve accumulated a stash from your travels. If you have access to a medical supply store, you can also use disposable surgical wipes. (One brand I’ve used is A.B. Dick.) I tried using cotton cosmetic wipes, and found they weren’t sturdy enough.

    Buffing rags – You want different rags to buff off the polish, so you don’t just smear it around by using the same cloth you applied it with. Supply plenty of rags. I cut up old T shirts and flannel garments, but any soft clean cotton cloth will work. Bigger is better here, so you can keep turning the cloth to get a fresh surface.

    Cotton baby diapers – Once you’ve buffed off all the visible polish, an invisible layer remains. Use white cotton baby diapers to remove the last traces, and watch the diapers turn black. You can buy retired diapers by the pound from the local diaper delivery service.

    Plastic bag – To gather dirty rags to launder for reuse

    Popsicle sticks and plastic squares – Don’t dip the polishing applicator directly into the can of polish; you can contaminate the polish with tarnish from the last bell the cloth touched. Instead, stir the polish with a popsicle or craft stick and dish out a small dollop onto a sheet of stiff plastic shared by 2 or 3 polishers. I cut up an old plastic cutting board into 4” squares, but you could use plastic lids or something similar. Don’t return leftover polish to the can; throw it away.

    Cotton swabs (e.g. Q tips) – Useful for cleaning grime from inaccessible places

    Artist paintbrushes – Buy an inexpensive set of artist paintbrushes in assorted widths. Use them to brush debris from the inside of the bell and clapper mechanism.

    Tools and spare parts – The polishing session is a good time to take care of adjustment problems, or replace worn parts. For example, you may notice a broken spring while brushing out the inside of the casting.

    Canister vacuum cleaner with crevice and upholstery attachments – To vacuum empty bell cases and covered foam

    Mending kit – Needles, thread, scissors, and thimble, for repairing table covers. The thimble is critical for pushing a needle through Velcro. Supply needles in assorted sizes, for repairing different parts of the covers.

    If you plan to take the bells apart

    Plastic cups – Both beverage sized and larger tubs, to hold parts associated with each bell. I like the round plastic tubs that contain Trader Joe’s chocolates, and enjoy emptying them of their original contents. You can use cottage cheese or yogurt containers, if you must.

    Maintenance guide – Be sure you can reassemble all those bells! If you don’t have a maintenance guide, you’ll find one on the manufacturer’s website.

    Nail polish – To mark bells to prove ownership in case of theft. When you have the bells apart, if they aren’t already marked in some way, put 1 or more small dots of a special color on the tang. When you reassemble the bell, the handguard will completely cover it. If the bells are ever stolen and recovered, you can tell the police, “If I take one bell apart, there will be x number of dots of (whatever) color, which isn’t factory standard.” The best time to mark the bells is when you already have them apart for cleaning. You could use an etching tool instead, if you have a steady hand and nerves of steel.

    If you plan to wash the bells

    Palmolive dish soap or other mild soap with degreaser
    Dishwashing gloves
    Towels – absorbent terry cloth
    Rubber dish mats for the sink – to prevent chipped castings
    Hairdryer – to clear moisture from the hole in the base of the casting

    Another time, I’ll write about the polishing process.

Copyright © 2013 Nancy Kirkner, handbells.com