[8.02.13] Birkel's Lamp: Refurbished Brass Physics Lamp

Brass Lamp - Kerosene Test from Andrew Birkel on Vimeo.

Description of Project

During the summer I was tasked with organizing and cleaning out an old physics storage room at MIT. There were a lot of cool items for different experiments I salvaged for both Junior Lab and TSG (8.01/8.02). This is one of the items that I salvaged but it was not needed by either group, So I was able to keep it for myself.

From my best understanding, this is a turn of the century (1900) brass lamp and steel stand. I believe it had a dual purpose between desk lighting and use as a heat source for experiments. This is just my best guess from the evidence that I have found. Mainly some built up chemical gunk on the surface of the brass and the location I found it, amongst equipment in an old experimental physics closet.

Processes Applied:

Chemical rust removal


In short, the aim of this project was to remove a layer of material from all external surfaces of the lamp. Since the object is not simply a few flat surfaces, but instead a bunch of complex curved structures, I had to try a few different methods for removing surface material from the brass lamp.

The first method was a very standard approach: Sandpaper, ranging from low grit (~100) to mid-range grit sandpaper (~1000). Using this method, I was able to clean most of the surfaces with ease but ultimately was unable to achieve a surface finish that I was pleased with.

The second method involved using a machine-shop sandpaper sponge, which in short is just a sponge-like material in a rectangle with sandpaper adhered to 4 sides. Using this sponge, I was able to smooth out some of the rough features and ultimately clean up the rest of the lamp.

Finally, for the lamp, I brought it to a buffing/polishing wheel setup and cleaned the outside to a decently shiny finish.


The base was much the same but with the added difficulty of steel. Because of this fact, I started with a handheld sandblaster (which was under-powered at the time) and removed as much rust material as I could manage. Once I accomplished this, I switched to sandpaper/sponge. This method worked fine on the legs of the stand, but not on the base of the stand. This is where I was given the suggestion from a friend to use a starter or primer chemical for assisting in the removal of rust. From his experience with mopeds, he has found that it works very effectively in small concentrations against rust. Once I tried it, I was able to remove the rest of the rust and give the material a cleaner look, void of rust.

Ultimately though, going this method is not suggested because of the harmful nature of the chemicals used. If I had my pick, I would suggest getting access to a decent sandblaster setup and use low grit sand. If that doesn't give you the finish you want, you can always move up in the quality of the sand to a higher grit.

Project Photos