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Tools Of The Trade!!

Here is a list of the tool and supplies that I use:

Distilled Water. As discussed earlier, I prefer distilled water to the other choices for soaking coins. It is a slow process, but yields good results with minimum effort, and mess. It is also less expensive than olive oil, or other solvents. When purchasing distilled water, make sure that it is distilled. Often drinking water is sold in the same are as the distilled water. Drinking water is not as pure as the distilled.

Dawn Dish Soap. Why Dawn? Because it is what my wife buys!! When I first receive a batch of uncleaned coins, I soak them in some soapy water for a day or two, (longer if I run short of time, or just plain forget about them!) Sometimes after this first soak, some coins come clean enough to suit my taste.

Gladware Containers.

These are the Gladware container I use , most of the time. They are cheap ($3-$4), durable, and seal tight. They also stack nicely. Perfect for long term coin soaks. I mark them with the date the lot was received. That way I can keep track of when I received a lot, as my memory isn't that good. Also, it keeps my wife from packing my lunch in a container that once help 1500yr old dirty coins.

Lamp With Magnifying Lens

This is the lamp / magnifier that I use. About 15 bucks at your better hardware stores. I will someday, more than likely have a stereo microscope. For now, this works good for me. I mount it to my desk and can maneuver it as I need. The light doubles as a reading lamp.

One thing I like about it is the ability to move it around, so that I'm not always working in the same position. That can help save the neck from some pain and stiffness!!

One other trick I have picked up is to wear a pair of reading glasses while working. This enhances the magnification of the lens on the lamp. It is only a slight improvement (my reading glasses are +1.25) but it does help!!


Above is a brass brush from my golf bag. It works good for scrubbing the first layers of crud, well before you reach the surface of the coin. Don't use it once you reach patina, as it quickly rubs it away. The nylon brush on the other side comes in handy for clearing away the debris that the brass brush generates while scrubbing.

Above is a softer brass brush. It works well once you get to the surface of the coin. It can still rub through to bare metal if your not careful. As with most things, practice makes perfect. Often this brush will leave a brass "glaze" on the coin. A brief soak in distilled water will usually remove it in short order. This brush has become one of my favorite tools to use during the final touch up phase of cleaning. I purchased this brush from Bill Roth, or cricket_44 on e-bay. Bill has become one of my favorite sources for supplies and coins. Stop by and check out his online store, www.timelesshistory.com.

This is the old stand-by, the lowly tooth brush. I buy the firm bristle variety and trim the bristles down to make them a little more stiff. This is the brush I use most of the time. This is the safest brush to use, and will not harm MOST coins. As with every cleaning technique, if used with out caution, even the lowly toothbrush is capable of damaging a coin with a weak or fragile patina.


Above is the diamond dusted dental pick. It is one of, if not the best tools for cleaning coins!! It can be purchased at noble roman coins. It is worth every penny. It grinds away dirt and encrustation without damaging the coins patina. It takes practice, but amazing results can be achieved. Use light pressure to remove crud from legends and details of the coin. Heavier pressure on hard crusts and dirt. Once you get the hang of it, you'll love it!! It seems to work best on dry coins, I just brush the loose dirt away so I can see how I'm progressing. The only problem I have is my hand seems to cramp up after a while. The best treatment I have found for this is wrapping the sore hand around an ice cold beer (you may substitute you favorite beverage!) Repeat as necessary!!!

This is a pine vise, with a short piece of brass rod. This is by far my favorite and most used tool. You can pick up a pin vise at most any hardware store for around $10. I also have several lengths of solid brass rods of various diameters, also available at most hardware stores. These rods are usually 12" when they are purchased. I cut them into 3" pieces, and sharpen the end using a small file and then I hone them with a pocket sized whetstone. The beauty of this set up is that the brass rods can be shaped and sharpened into any shape that might be required. Brass is softer than the bronze coins and is less likely to scratch the coin. Sometimes the brass leaves marks on the coin, a brief soak in distilled water will clean these off.

My friends at commonbronze.com sell pin vises and pre-cut and shaped pins of different metals. They have brass, aluminum, silver, and tungsten pins. I have recently started using their tungsten pin quite a lot. Even though the tungsten is much harder than the coin, it work surprisingly well, and, with a light touch, doesn't damage the coin. Of course practice makes perfect, but this tool is one that I wish I had found sooner!

Misc. Tools

In addition to the above picks, i use toothpicks, bamboo skewers, needles, and just about anything else I think will work. Experiment, you might be surprised at what works for you. What works for me, might not work for you. everybody's has a different style. After a few coins you will start to develop techniques that work for you.

Dremel Tool

This is a Dremel MultiPro Model 770 cordless rotary tool. It can be purchased at better hardware establishments for around $30.00. It is a very useful tool to have around the house. As far as cleaning coins, I use it primarily for buffing the coins once they are cleaned and waxed. On extremely crusty coins I have used it to gnaw through the first layers of crud. Wear eye protection, and hang on tight if you try this. Sooner or later you will be on your hands and knees searching for a coin that escaped your grasp, trying to figure out which wall your heard it careen off!!

I use the soft felt buffing wheels, pictured, to buff the coin. Dremel has several bits that are good for grinding through dirt. I prefer the diamond dusted ones. They are easiest to control, at least for me. However, in my opinion, once you see the surface of the coin, it's time to put the diamond bit away. All it takes is one slip to ruin an otherwise promising coin.

When using the Dremel, WEAR EYE PROTECTION!!! Coin dirt, brush bristle, and diamond dust in the eyes can ruin the whole coin cleaning experience!!

Toaster Oven

I use the toaster oven to dry out coins after they have been soaking. I bought an oven for this single purpose, because my wife didn't like it when i used hers to bake coins! I put the coins in the oven at 200°F for about a half an hour. Any hotter than this and some coins start to turn a funny color. Coins that have been stripped of their patina will darken some after a bake. It is important to rid the coin of excess moisture to help prevent bronze disease (see the link on the HOME page for more info).


Renaissance Wax

This is a can of Renaissance wax. I like this stuff a lot for sealing and protecting my coins. It also can make them look quite spiffy!! Buffed to a shine it give coins a wet look that can help bring out detail that might be harder to see other wise. It is a micro-crystalline wax developed for the British Museum to protect all sorts of valuable, metal, wood, leather and other materials. Just gob it on with a soft cloth and gently buff it to the desired sheen. It dries hard almost instantly and won't show finger marks. Cool stuff!! Best of all its relatively inexpensive, when you consider I have done about 200 coins, and have barely put a dent in the can. Where to get Renaissance wax? Check out the Links page. It can be purchased at Dirty Old Coins, Commonbronze.com and some of the Vcoins store.


Patience is the most important tool in the toolkit. Unfortunately it is the hardest one to use. When I received my first batch of coins I couldn't wait to get them clean and see what I had, as a result those coins suffered. The coins have had a very long time to get dirty, it is unreasonable to expect that they get clean in a few days. I soak coins for at least a month before I start cleaning them in earnest. If the crud is still stubborn, I toss them back into the distilled water and work on another. If you have to pick or scrub to hard, you risk scratching the coin. I let the water do most of the work. I have such a backlog of soaking coins, I always have something to work on.

Next...The Soaking Process



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