What is Living Finish?

When considering a metal sink or countertop you may or may not have heard the terms “living” or “organic” finish. Any metal other than stainless steel that is uncoated or with no sealant will oxidize acquiring a unique “patina” over time. This means the finish will change and transform through exposure to the environment. It is sometimes referred to as “oxidation” (exposure to oxygen) but the patination process is also caused by other environmental factors that the metal surface might come into contact with as well as wear resulting from regular use.

A living finish is often a much sought after look when buying a copper, brass, bronze or nickel silver sink. Without an added protective coating, these materials are allowed to age gracefully in their natural state in what is referred to as the living finish. Over time, the finish will oxidize with use adding more character and uniqueness to your custom piece.

The term “living finish” comes up most often regarding copper sinks. Faucet and drain manufacturers generally address this issue with coatings that protect the metal surface from environmental factors preventing the patina or oxidation of the finish. However, these coatings (PVD, powder coating and others) are more difficult to apply to a larger surface area such as that of a sink and require a mass production manufacturing process. In effect many of the artisan crafted copper, brass, nickel silver and bronze sinks are not sealed and will have a true living finish.

Stainless steel products are often referred to as “non-living”. However the surfaces of these products can also dull over time depending on the environmental factors involved and how well they are cared for. Nickel is also occasionally referred to as “non-living finish” though Nickel will patina or “tarnish” as well.

With uncoated brass, nickel silver, bronze, and copper the patina or oxidation process occurs more rapidly. So, what happens to the metal finish over time? The answer depends your finish choice and how the patina is applied when the sink is made, the environmental factors involved in your home, how much it is used and the type of care and maintenance you have decided to go with.

If you choose a copper sink that has a medium, dark or oil rubbed finish; heat and/or chemicals have been applied to speed up and mimic the aging process. In creating these finishes, the metal has likely been exposed to a chemical bath and or heat causing a reaction with the metal and changing its color. In choosing a medium, dark, or oil rubbed finish you still have a living finish that will evolve. However, the darker the patina is to start with, generally the slower the changes are over time.

Environmental factors specific to your home and chemicals that may be exposed to the surface of your sink are the great unknown. Every finish application and environment is different. Some factors include but are certainly not limited to;

  • Humidity
  • Airborne salinity
  • Pollutants
  • Oxygen content
  • Foods
  • Cleaning products and various chemicals
  • Water hardness

All the elements and conditions listed above and more will work together with time to coat the metal surface with a unique patina. If you have a copper sink and expose the metal surface to certain acids such as those found in lemon juice, you will actually dissolve some of the patina. The constant changes due to limitless factors are admired by some and not so admired by others. You can anticipate your product to have its own “character” and appreciate the uniqueness in color and tone between two identical products in different environments.

If you admire a living finish, the care and maintenance will be fairly simple. If you wish to prevent it, this is often possible to a certain extent. There are several different ways you can slow down the patina process. Applying a special wax that does not contain polish or cleaners (such as beeswax) can slow the change in patina similar to how an automotive wax protects the finish of your car. Patina on a sink can be removed with a metal polish or mild acid such as lemon juice or vinegar. Waxing the surface can preserve the shine, or you can leave the newly untreated metal to develop a new patina, how exciting!.

Some customers are fearful that the living finish will be more maintenance or it will turn out undesirable. Any copper or brass cleaner will revert the patina back to a bare surface if you so desire. Left unprotected, the aging process starts over again and within a few weeks the metal surface will begin to darken. In opposition, you could choose a sink with a darker finish and wax the surface regularly ensuring the least amount of change over time. While these methods will help mitigate or retard the evolution of your sink’s patina, the living finish phenomenon will still continue.

An occasional cleaning with soap and water is the recommended maintenance. If you choose to wax your sink to extend the life of the desired finish, it is generally something you will need to do approximately every 3 – 6 months depending on the frequency of use.

Meet Texas Lightsmith: Luis, Artisan & Craftsman

Texas Lightsmith wants you to meet the faces of our hard working artisans & craftsmen. I had some time recently to go into the shop and grab some shots of our amazing crew. Luis always has a smile, even under his welding garb. At Texas Lightsmith we celebrate craftsmanship & artisanship. Stay tuned to see more of our artisans & craftsmen.

Meet Texas Lightsmith: John Worsham

Texas Lightsmith Artisan & Owner John Worsham

Texas Lightsmith wants you to meet the faces of our hard working artisans & craftsmen. One of our leaders John Worsham was hard at work blacksmithing a few months ago instead of pushing office paperwork. At Texas Lightsmith we celebrate artisanship. Stay tuned to see more of our artisans & craftsmen.

Back In Brass

Brass Facts

Brass is as relevant today as it was in the latter part of the bronze age when copper and zinc were first alloyed to create the first brass.  Its many inherent properties make it ideal for many uses.

Known for its attractive yellow color, brass has been used for decoration because of its gold-like appearance but it also has uses in industrial, residential, and consumable applications. Brass can be found in zippers, gears, door knobs, sinks, ammunition cartridges, plumbing fixtures, range hoods, electrical components, art, pens, lighting, furniture, hardware, door hinges, pull knobs, thumb tacks, counter tops and countless other places. Brass is a go-to metal for making tools or fittings where it is important that sparks are not to be made due to flammable or explosive environments.  It lends itself to the casting process as well as machining processes and even has bactericidal properties! The copper in brass helps naturally kill bacteria.

Due to its limited oxidation in harsh environments relative to iron and copper, brass has a tradition of use in maritime industries. Before stainless steel was invented in the early 20th century, brass was the primary metal in all things nautical.

Solid Brass Jewelry is known as an “allergy-free or allergy friendly” metal for people who are allergic to the widely used nickel in jewelry. Brass is used in many musical instruments as well such as cymbals,  guitar strings, and the entire brass section of the orchestra.  Like bronze, brass has a rich tonal quality that resonates well.

So brass has its uses for the sheer beauty of it in its various incarnations, but there are often practical and historical considerations at play as well.

Discover Nickel Silver / German Nickel For Your Project

Sample Comparison Texas Lightsmith

Initially developed in the East, nickel silver, commonly referred to as German nickel, was being produced sometime in the 16th century in Western Europe and was in regular use by the 18th century. Used for jewelry primarily, nickel silver found its way into coins, musical instruments, model railroad tracks, and items to be electroplated with silver, among others. At Texas Lightsmith, we have been using nickel silver for over 20 years in the production of range hoods, sinks, and countertops.

Nickel silver is a very tough material due to its nickel content. It is much less prone to denting and scratching than zinc or pewter as well as being less reactive. Thus, for items such as countertops, sinks, backsplashes, and range hoods, it is a superior material.

Nickel silver is an alloy of copper, zinc, and nickel. In appearance, it has a subtle warm silver color naturally that is very apparent when contrasted to stainless steel, pure zinc, or pewter. This alloy will oxidize, though not as readily as copper and other copper alloys and can achieve a lovely range of patinas including a range of graphite greys to black and even some degree of verdigris.

At Texas Lightsmith we use solid nickel silver instead of a copper plated with nickel silver to give your artisan projects superior durability to last for years to come.

Considering a Custom Copper or Copper Alloy Range Hood

As the president and founder of Texas Lightsmith, Inc., a manufacturer of custom range hoods, lighting, farmhouse sinks and numerous other products for 21 years, I offer the following reflections and advice regarding the purchasing process and considerations of custom copper and copper alloy range hoods for residential applications.  This information is a result of over twenty years in the industry and reflects many personal experiences and is intended to provide a potential buyer with a truly in depth look at how to make the most of your move into the market of exceptional metal range hoods. There are a number of things to think about once you have decided on a copper or copper alloy range hood. How will the copper hold up over time? What about performance? Where do I get one? How do get what I want?  How much is it?  How does my investment get to me safely? I know it can be a daunting prospect once the decision has been made to purchase a copper hood, but it is my hope this article can assist you in finding your cooper range hood.

How will the copper hold up over time?

When considering copper products it is important to keep in mind copper will age naturally over time.  Everyone is familiar with how a new penny looks compared to an old penny.  This is a good example of how copper ages naturally.  Similarly, brass, bronze, and nickel silver (also called German nickel) are copper alloys and tend to oxidize (or patina) like copper does.  Inside a home the change will happen as well, but much slower, and will also be affected by contact with chemicals and oils, some of which may turn part or all of the copper various shades of green or blue, but browns are more common.  Typically, it is good to have your hood sealed for a consistent look.  All sealants can potentially be scratched so it is important to avoid abrasive cleaners and to discuss the care of your hood with the manufacturer before you clean the hood for the first time or pass on these instructions to anyone else who may do the cleaning.

What about performance?

Most companies that manufacture or import copper range hoods use a mass-produced liner for the lights, fan, and filters.  This is unfortunate as these are typically aluminum or stainless steel and reflect a cheap, mass-produced esthetic, which at best doesn’t tie-in with the rest of your hood and, at worst, diminishes it.  To my knowledge, only Texas Lightsmith makes the liner and offers baffle filters of the same material as the hood and finishes them to match.  Just as the cost of imported and mass produced hoods are elevated to cover the myriad of mark ups between the manufacturer and the purchaser, the inclusion of a mass production liner is typically in line with the cost for a small manufacturer such as Texas Lightsmith to produce a custom liner with better detailing and materials, and equal or better functionality.

Hopefully you will decide to have a reputable U.S. company make a copper hood to order.  Having made this decision, you likely now have the option for the hood to be built exactly to your specifications in terms of width, height, depth, CFM (cubic feet per minute or CFM http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page), finish, as well as any other details you may have wanted.

It is important to consider the hood in terms of functionality.  The amount of air a range hood pulls is referred to in cubic feet per minute or CFM.  A general rule of thumb for range hood airflow is at a minimum of about 100 CFM for every 10,000 BTUs or every 10” of stove width.  I recommend having a fan with a speed control and err on the high side so you have the potential to pull more air than you typically need just in case.  At the same time, it should be noted that some people will opt for far more draw than they need and the potential down side to this is that you are pulling air out of your house and, typically, exhausting to the exterior which means you are not only exhausting your conditioned air, but, depending on how well your house is sealed, you may be actually straining the fan as it tries to pull in make up air from the outside which is not available.  This situation may require make up air and a separate set of ducting with a make-up air unit tied-in with the exhaust. More information about this can be found by searching “make up air” or something similar.  Basically, you don’t want to have too little or too much draw from your hood.  Manufacturers, contractors, architects, and HVAC professionals vary widely in their knowledge and familiarity with these factors.  There is an abundance of information regarding these issues on the Internet.

Where do I get one & How do I compare manufactures?

Not all companies that provide range hoods provide copper hoods.  Most of the mass production companies either don’t make copper hoods or they offer relatively few designs.  In the end, these companies tend to produce copper range hoods that look mass-produced with minimal options for customization and cheap details and joinery.  For cost, hoods from these companies can range from the middle to the higher end of the pricing spectrum, though the quality is more toward the low end as the customer pays for multiple markups on products from these companies to cover advertising, distribution, sales reps, and other costs that are not part of the product itself. Welded anything is rare while open seams and mechanical fasteners are the norm.  This also applies to the companies that bring in hand-made hoods from foreign markets, though there may be more welding.

If you decide not to go the mass production or import route, this leaves a relatively small number of companies that either manufacture or import copper range hoods.  These companies tend to be much smaller than the mass production companies mentioned before.  It may feel daunting to enlist one of these companies for an item that costs thousands of dollars.  I believe this is a normal, healthy feeling.  After all, who is this company, often discovered on the internet and often out of state?  There are a number of things you can do before you decide to move forward with a company and place an order.  First of all, are they actually manufacturing the hood or are they importing it?  There are multiple reasons for not buying from an importer.  Importers spend pennies on the dollar for third world labor to produce products for sale in the U.S in conditions that we find unacceptable for US workers.  In the case of copper range hoods, the products are made before you ever order them so customization is difficult if not impossible, regardless of what is advertised.  The end result is a more cookie cutter type look and the cost is arguably not sufficiently different than those made stateside to warrant the diminished quality and options.  Also, one may be surprised and disappointed with the thickness of material and the finer details of imported hoods.

Secondly, look them up on the Better Business Bureau website.  The BBB has been around for decades and is as trusted a source for savvy shoppers today on the Internet as it was prior to the development of the World Wide Web.  Even if a company is not a member of the BBB (this should be a prerequisite, in my opinion), the BBB will post legitimate complaints about companies regardless of their membership status. Make sure the link is active as some companies will counterfeit the BBB logo, a non-active link can be an indication of this.

Some companies actually copy product images directly from their competitors (though I have only seen this personally with import companies using copies of Texas Lightsmith products, taken directly from our website) and marketed to consumers. This kind of marketing is one of many reasons for doing some research on company legitimacy before you buy.  For an additional $ 60.00 or so, you can even purchase the company’s credit history from Dunn and Bradstreet to check on their solvency, credit rating, and payment history to vendors.

Don’t concern yourself too much with flashy logos from trade groups or the like.  These tags are often used by companies to spiff up their websites and add a perception of legitimacy, but there is no real world regulation or quality control associated with most of them.

Ask about the product warranty.  There should be a formal, written warranty policy in place for the hood you are ordering.  Read the warranty and make sure it makes sense to you.  If there are issues down the road, this will be the bottom line.

Finally, look at their catalog.  For most of these companies, this means looking at their websites. There are a number of small manufacturers that have been producing copper range hoods in the U.S. for years.  Most of these companies have images of hoods they have built for previous customers and added to their online catalogs. When looking through these catalog images in depth there should be a reasonable quantity of different designs and at least some close up detail shots to give you an indication of the quality of the work. Look for images that have been digitally modified.  Some of these companies use Photoshop® or other editing/modelling programs to either improve or simply “create” new designs and pass them off as actual products they have produced.

How do I get what I want?

Contact the company(s) for pricing if it is not provided on the website.  Most companies do not provide pricing on their websites, but even if they do, you should still request a quote as the pricing shown will likely be the list price and if there is an opportunity to get better pricing, it will be by contacting the company directly.

Ask about things like getting finish samples in advance, whether or not shop drawings are provided for approval prior to fabrication, what type of liner/insert do they use or do they make their own. A finish sample and a company’s willingness to give you one speaks volumes both about how the material looks and feels in person as well as with whom you are dealing.

After you have decided on a manufacturer and product, you will likely pay a deposit.  This is typical. At this point in the business relationship reputable manufacturers should be able to produce detailed shop drawings for you so you know exactly what your hood will look like when it is complete. It is very important to review all the drawings very carefully as well as any other detail related paperwork. Detailed paperwork is in the best interest of the manufacturer and the customer. Both parties need to be on the same page before production begins and this requires a careful customer review of all details provided by the manufacturer. Remember, you will know better than the manufacturer what you want and what your space is like.  Most of these products are made to order and the return policies are typically very limited at best.

How much is it?

The price of hoods varies from business to business, but typically they are all within the same ballpark of a few thousand dollars to start.  Size and details will affect the price.  Be sure you are comparing apples to apples when comparing prices between companies.   A small picture on a screen with a vague or minimal description will not be likely to give you all the information you need to make an informed comparison.

How does my investment get to me safely?

Unless you are purchasing from a local manufacturer, your hood will likely be shipped.  Texas Lightsmith ships hoods all over the US, Canada and Europe regularly.  Receiving the shipment in good condition is critical to the successful conclusion of this process.  We at Texas Lightsmith provide extremely well built custom crates for our hoods and send detailed information regarding how to best receive the crate, check for damage, and what to do if there is any. You should have contact with your manufacturer about shipping details to ensure the process goes smoothly and that you are prepared to receive what is typically a rather large shipment.  This is another instance where it is good to be familiar with the manufacturer’s warranty and terms in case there is a problem.

My reflections and advice regarding the purchasing process and considerations of custom copper and copper alloy range hoods for residential application are to help everyone from interior designers and home builders to independent consumers. Remember that at all times, from the time you first contact a manufacturer through the installation process and beyond, the manufacturer you decide on should be available for contact and be responsive to your questions and/or concerns. I wish you the best of luck on your project and hope you will consider www.texaslightsmith.com for your custom copper or copper alloy range hood.

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