Picture of Saxophone Alchemy
I have had an old Yamaha Saxophone for over thirteen years. It was bought a bit rough to begin with, and after years of use and abuse, it was time to give this reliable instrument some love. I have a munchkin who has been learning to play, so I figured this would make a wonderful gift.

This instructable will show you how to do a chemical oxidation on brass, bronze, or any copper alloy for that matter.

Why do it?
In this case the chemical oxidation (sometimes called patina, redox, or distressing; depending on the application) serves two purposes: Give the sax a unique vibrant look and protect the brass from further erosion. The color I was going for was a charcoal gray to black. I believe I was successful!

What you will need:

-Saxophone (or whatever brass/copper/metal you wish to use)
-Small Flat head Screwdriver
-Small Philips Screwdriver
-Masking tape
-Fine grit sandpaper (400+)
-Ferric Nitrate
-Sodium Thiosulfate
-Multipurpose household cleaning agent
-Disposable gloves
-Plastic Tub
-Black marker
-Disposable coffee cup
-Disposable spoons
-Rust-Oleum Clear Lacquer

Optional, but it will make your life a heck of a lot easier:

NOTE:  if you don't have a sandblaster, you can make one with
-2' tube
-air compressor
-accessory kit

-baking soda

Total cost for materials (not including the sax, compressor, compressor parts and stuff I already had): A little over $80 bucks
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Step 1: Step 1

Picture of Step 1
Disassemble the saxophone. Be careful to write down and keep track of everything you take off, especially the screws.

I used masking tape and a black marker to hold and label everything. I didn't lose anything, so I must have done something right!
Lizwou26548 months ago
The cover picture is a bass clarinet, not a saxophone
joechacon98 (author)  Lizwou26547 months ago

Haha negative; the cover picture is not a bass clarinet. It is indeed, a saxophone!

Gijs Vis1 year ago
I love this instructable! I'm gonna do this on a trumpet of mine, and I'll maybe make an instrucable out of it. I'm wondering though, how did you do it with the laquering on the inside? I mean, when you do the laquering, obviously something will go through the holes and the bell and stick to the inside. Did you covered the holes, or laquered the whole inside on purpuse or what? Please let me knoew
joechacon98 (author)  Gijs Vis1 year ago
I am glad you like it! I did not cover any holes. The inside did get some residual lacquer that was sprayed in. However, I do not have any valves that would stick. Since you're doing a trumpet, I would definitely pull out your valves and cover the insides. I would also recommend pulling out all the slides and doing each piece individually. The inner tubes, don't sand or lacquer those as that might affect how they slide.
Good luck! I look forward to seeing your results!
crankyjew3 years ago
wow, what impressive results. how do you think this process would work on a brasswind, say a trombone or euphonium?
joechacon98 (author)  crankyjew3 years ago
Funny you mention that, the next test is going to be on a trombone!
In my opinion the trombone will be easier since it has no keys or valves. If you have a bass trombone then be careful around the trigger.

The euphonium, I would pull the valves out and either leave those alone or do it by hand. I believe the valves are not brass, but I may be wrong.

On either, you should have similar results. The metals are brass which is what the processes is intended for. Please share if you do it!!!!

One final note, I am still trying to figure out what I am going to dip the trombone in. The tub is large, but not large enough to submerge at once. Perhaps the flipping method I used will work??
did you try taking the trombone apart? like do the bell section first, then the slide section?
I used the same chemicals to patina copper pipe for a curtain rod. My solution was to soak rags in the solution and twist around the pipe. I got a great tie-died look from the different concentrations and contact areas. I think a tie-died bone would be awesome.
joechacon98 (author)  billy5653 years ago
That sounds really cool! Do you happen to have any pictures you can share? I would love to see that!
Perhaps you could fashion a large tubular bag out of garbage bags.
joechacon98 (author)  rattyrain3 years ago
That's actually a good idea. If I make a form for the desired instrument, I will need less of the solution and put more to work! Even a pit outside would work!
AT3 years ago
So... how does it play?

Very nice instructable and an interesting project. Many years ago I paid $50 for an old bari and had it all cleaned up and fixed. Chemical dip and all. Looked like new when it was done. Still plays like an old low tone horn. ;-)
joechacon98 (author)  AT3 years ago
It plays quite well! The tone has not changed at all, it is the same as before!
Your bari, they did a chemical dip? Where?! Typically what I found, at least in my area, most places will sand and polish the brass, then lacquer with what ever type of lacquer they bake on horns. It comes out looking beautifully, like a brand new horn!
My issue with that was, when they sand to remove all the scratches they thin out the brass, which in turn changes the tone/pitch of the horn. Plus getting it sent is expensive and I am cheap! haha!
Oh some places will also electroplate, say silver, on to the horn. Neat stuff!
I would love to see pictures of your bari, could you share? :)
AT joechacon983 years ago
I'm not sure where it was done exactly. It was one of the finishing shops in Minneapolis. It was many years ago and it was not cheap. When I got the horn it had some major green patches on it. When it was done, it looked like new.

I will have to see about taking some pictures of it. I had the work done on it close to 20 years ago now. It doesn't look as good these days but till in great shape. It has the used look about it. As it should. I have gotten some good mileage out of it.

Now it seem I may have the opportunity to gig in the EU later in the year. I need to get a newer case for it. Both horn and case are pushing 90 and the case isn't doing well enough to make that kind of trip.
elizle3 years ago
I have a YTS-23 that has been sitting in it's case for over 8 years now. I used it in marching band so it is kinda banged up, but on top of that, some idiot carved I <3 Beth into it before I owned it. I have been wanting to overhaul it so it plays good again, but this looks awesome. I'm going to have to try this if I get some spare time.
joechacon98 (author)  elizle3 years ago
If you get the time, restore your tenor! The most time consuming part was sanding the horn.
I hate to admit this, but my alto had carvings that I did in 6th grade (I was 11, so cut me some slack!).
At any rate, most scratches and said carving was only on the lacquer. Once I removed the lacquer tada! Mistake gone!
A professional sandblaster lives less than a mile from me, but my dad also has a compressor, so if I don't get the time to do this I might see how much he would charge. My brother is a chemical engineer, so he could definitely help me with this. He also plays the saxophone, but his is in way better shape than mine. If I take on this project I will let you know how the end result is.
kretzlord3 years ago
that turned out pretty darn sweet! I know i'd have been jealous in band class
joechacon98 (author)  kretzlord3 years ago
Quizicat3 years ago
I have to say at first I thought...Oh this is a sacrilege, how could he! But after seeing what you did. It looks great. I like the contrast of the octave key. And the stripe on the bell looks cool too. As long as it plays well after all that. Photos of the color changes would have been cool, but maybe not easy to do. My Bari could stand to have this done to it, but I think it might be too big a chore to take on.
Thanks, good work!
joechacon98 (author)  Quizicat3 years ago
Thank you! I was worried about the tone and fortunately nothing changed. I think if you were to mold a shape of the bari to dip in, you would be set. Or as Billy565 mentioned, soaked rags. Oh and you would definitely need a sandblaster!

I did include pictures of each color change on step 4!
Thanks again!
Lovely 'ible, the process is really well documented and the pictures are excellent. I don't play sax, but I believe I will use this method on some other metal stuff when I next feel like getting all chemically (and sand-blastery!). Brave of you to do this at all, but the results bore out your premise. Very good job, Joe.
joechacon98 (author)  omalachowski3 years ago
Thank you for the kind words. I will admit I was scared to try, but I figured if worse came to worse, I would turn the sax into a lamp!
JellyWoo3 years ago
would this work with a trumpet as well?
joechacon98 (author)  JellyWoo3 years ago
Jep! Any copper alloy; bronze, brass. Just be sure to remove all the lacquer!
nvnusman3 years ago
How to distress a saxophone? (That's the billing for this instructable in the email!): Call it a grimy, overgrown, flatulent piccolo! That should do it! ;}
zigzagchris3 years ago
That is so awesome. Iv been playing saxophones for 7 years now and would love to this to my cheap Jupiter alto, but don't think my parents would be happy with me doing that..
joechacon98 (author)  zigzagchris3 years ago
Well be sure to get your parents permission before trying!! Maybe all they need is a little convincing ;) If I can do it, anyone can!!!
Cdn Sapper3 years ago
Absolutely beautifully finished piece! And I see why you almost stopped at blue. Very good instructable as well.
joechacon98 (author)  Cdn Sapper3 years ago
Thanks! I seriously contemplating just stopping right there. Frankly the picture does not do it any justice. It was a vibrant metallic blue, was pretty surprised to say the least!
I was a sax player, myself. And that is a cool looking horn. Great job.
joechacon98 (author)  The Papier Boy3 years ago
Thank you very much! It was nice to give this old horn a makeover.
Well done!! Looks amazing!!
joechacon98 (author)  Yeah Yeah 51663 years ago
Thank you!
hirod33 years ago
Well done instructable! Steps are clear, concise, and well documented! Great pics too!
joechacon98 (author)  hirod33 years ago
Thank you!! I appreciate the input and review.