How I silvered the mirrors


Silvering, What a bitch the first 17 times, but after much reflection, thought, and experimenting, I kind of really enjoy it now, and the last attempt was a 100% success.Iíve been told that you really donít know something, until you can teach it. So Iím going to try and produce a written procedure that hopefully the average ATMer can follow.


Let me start with the ďGotchasĒ Those little details that ruin the whole process and make your life miserable.


*Your going to add too much ammonia, and the damn thing WILL NOT work if you do

*If its greater than 80F, your probably going to end up with white mirrors instead of Silver mirrors.

*Your mirror will not be ďperfect,Ē it may be close, but I have yet to make the PERFECT silver coat.The good news is that, in the dark, they still work incredibly well, and look really nice J

*Itís probably going to take more than one try.Even if the silver coating itself works, your probably going to put a sleek in it, rub it too much, drop a cotton ball on it while its still wet and take a big chunk of silver off, OR think you can do better.Knowing when to stop screwing with the mirror is the HARDEST part!

*Silver Nitrate Stains!It will get in the un-godliest of places.Its like it just jumps out of the container and heads directly for the item you most cherish, or whatever item you would get most pissed off about being stained. It reminds me of Roofing Tar or butyl caulk!


The next thing I have to talk about is Safety!


*Silver Nitrate mixed with Ammonia, when left undisturbed for an unknown period of time (most texts says days)CAN (notice it says can, and not Ďwillí) produce Silver Fulminate, or Fulminating Silver depending on which text you read.This neat little compound has the distinct characteristic of being a rather decent explosive once dry, and is set off by vibration or impact.You know those little paper Pop-Rocks you throw on the ground and they go ďBANGĒ, they are made with incredibly minute quantities of Silver Fulminate.Now Imagine having a glass jar full of concentrated ĎPop-Rocksí, sitting on your counter, just waiting for you to bump it!Yea, itís not a good idea!

*To avoid inadvertently making explosive compounds is REAL simple.Donít let the shit sit around!Make the silvering solution the same day your going to use it, Discard it by pouring it down the drain with LOTS of water the same day.Simple, so long as you donít forget about it while admiring your mirror!

*Weíre going to be working with a couple potentially dangerous acids and bases.These Items can injure you, but your probably not going to die from them unless you drink them. So donít drink them!(There is one exception to this idea, and that is if you decide to make your own Silver Nitrate, something I Donít recommend).

*††††††† Best Practices for handling Chemicals:

*††††††† DONíT DRINK THEM!, Donít Eat or Drink while were playing, Try not to smoke J

*††††††† Try not to get any of this stiff on your exposed skin.

*††††††† Try not to breath the vapors.

*††††††† Whatever you do, DONíT get any in your eyes!The acids arenít so bad (relatively speaking), but the Bases (Sodium Hydroxide) will most assuredly blind you in short order.

*††††††† The Simple answer to all of these problems is to wear a long sleeved shirt (Or rain suit if your paranoid) Rubber gloves, and safety glasses. I started off in full protective gear, but youíll find me silvering in Shorts, a tee shirt, Long rubber gloves, and safety glasses.

*One last thing about your author, Iím a computer geek that in 1985 Took high School chemistry 1 and still remembers most of it. There is a very good possibility that I might be dumb as a box of rocks!I may have just been incredibly lucky not to have killed myself during all my efforts.So for heavens sake, donít take my word for something, Go look it up and understand what were doing!


OK, enough of that, if your still inclined to Silver your own mirrors, lets get on with it!


You need to scrounge up the following items.


*A 12 pack of 1 quart, narrow mouth, Glass canning Jars (aka Mason Jars)

*A big bag of 100% cotton balls

*A roll of clear packing tape, 3Ē wide or so

*A plastic spray bottle

*Some Paper cups and towels

*Roll of Solid Pipe Solder, Not electrical or rosin core solder, should be 95% tin and 5% antimony, or just a chunk of pure tin.

*A cheap gram scale, try your local Head shop or ďMarijuana enthusiast supply centerĒ not that I would know anything about that J

*Chemicals: You can get most of these from local grocery, hardware or health food store.

*Silver Nitrate (25 or more grams) Try 100g for $40us (see Note at end of document)

*Nitric Acid, Concentrated, you wonít need much!Try

*Muratic Acid, Pool Supply

*Sodium Hydroxide, 25g+ from or local grocery or hardware store in the form of drain cleaner. Make sure it says Sodium Hydroxide on the bottle and contains a dry white crystalline substance. I used Red Devil Drain Cleaner.

*Bottle of Clear ammonia, cheap stuff from grocery store

*Fructose (or Dextrose) 25g+, grocery or health food store, sugar substitute, White Crystalline substance.

*Bottle of Rubbing Alcohol, or IPA

*2 gallons of Distilled water, Not drinking water, Spring water, or De-ionized water! (well, de-ionized might/should work)

*Red Rouge and a Chamois cloth (maybe, depends on temp)


We now have what it takes to silver a mirror.Iíll give a quick over view of the steps, then Iíll detail each step afterwards.


*It will take a day to make our sensitizing solution, so plan ahead.

*We will mix our Silvering and Sugar Solutions the day we silver.

*We will Wash, and prepare our mirror.

*We will put a damn of clear packing tape around our mirror

*We will combine the two silvering solutions and pour them on our mirror

*We will wait 5 minutes, then dump the solution down the drain

*We will do our best to remove the remaining green gunk from the silvered mirror without scratching it

*We will allow our mirror to air dry and see if it needs burnishing.

*We will admire our mirror, or think it looks like crap and try again!


First thing we have to do, is define how we will clean our ďglasswareĒ here after called the Mason jar.Wash the Mason jar with warm water and dish soap; use a green scrub pad and a plastic serving spoon or stick to get all the way down to the bottom.Rinse with lots of tap water, then do 3 final rinses with distilled water.Donít try and eat from the spoon again, it probably wont cause harm, butÖ


Creating the Sensitizing Solution

(Helps the silver form uniformly on the glass, and adhere better)


Take a clean Mason Jar, add 100ml water (when I say water I mean Distilled water, and it can usually be +/- 100ml with out a problem!)Cut off a 5 gram piece of plumbers pipe solder and drop it in the mason jar.Add 50 ml of Muratic acid to the contents of the mason jar, swirl carefully.Nothing exciting happens, but you should notice bubbles forming on the metal pipe solder, these of bubbles of hydrogen, so no smoking!OK, I did, but Iím probably somewhat demented.


Allow this to do its thing overnight, preferably in the Garage with the door cracked open, a window open, and a fan blowing.It canít hurt to give it a swirl every now and then.


Its now the next day, Check out the mason jar, it should have some of the solder left in it, and black granular junk in the bottom.IF there is only black stuff, we either added too much muratic acid, or not enough solder.No problem, add another chunk of solder and give it another day.Check it again, There must be some solder left in there, it should look like a chewed on stick or a black rusty nail and the bubbles should have stopped forming.


Now, add the bottle of Rubbing alcohol, or IPA to the contents of this mason jar, swirl.Put a lid on it, but leave it loose, just incase its still producing gas, and label the Jar Stannous Chloride/Sensitzer and set aside.This stuff is relatively safe so long as you donít drink it!


Creating the Silver Solutions

(Create and discard within 12hrs!)

(This is for an 8 inch mirror done face up, chemical weights can be scaled for different sized mirrors, just make sure you use the surface area of your mirror, and not its diameter!)


Grab a clean mason jar and add 200ml water.Put a paper cup on the scale and weigh out 9 grams of silver nitrate, add this to the Mason Jar and swirl it around till the crystals are gone. Rinse and Discard the paper cup and Label the Mason Jar AgNO3 / Silver Nitrate and set aside.(By the way, this stuff will stain the hell out of anything besides glass!)


Grab a second clean Mason Jar and add 200ml water.(You damn well better be wearing your safety gear by now!) Put a paper cup on the scale and weigh out 16 grams of Sodium Hydroxide, add this to the second Mason jar slowly, swirl till it clears.Rinse and discard the paper cup, and label the jar NaOH/Sodium Hydroxide and set aside.


Now its time for the first bit of Visible ĎMagicí J


Slowly pour the contents of the Mason jar labeled Sodium Hydroxide into the Jar labeled Silver Nitrate.WOW! Brown stuff (Silver Oxide), which is not soluble in water and precipitates out.Too Freaking cool, but it only gets better!


Set aside the empty Mason jar labeled Sodium Hydroxide and give the Silver nitrate jar a few minutes for the brown crude to settle to the bottom.After about 5 minutes the Silver Nitrate bottle should look like chocolate milk with brown clay in the bottom.


Now its time to wash the brown stuff, were going to do this by decanting the chocolate milk looking stuff into the empty Sodium Hydroxide Mason Jar.The goal here is to SLOWLY pour off the brown liquid, and keep the Brown Solid stuff.Its not important to get rid of all the Brown liquid, but it would be nice.Its more important not to waste to much of the brown silver oxide ďmudĒ we want to keep as much of that as possible in the Silver Nitrate mason Jar.


So here we go, we pick up the Silver Nitrate bottle gently, so as not to agitate it too much, and slowly pour the brown liquid into the empty Sodium Hydroxide mason Jar.Now add 200 or so ml of water to the remainingbrown mud, swirl and allow the brown stuff to settle again.Again decant the liquid, saving the solid brown crud.


We now have a Mason jar with brown crud in the bottom and its labeled Silver Nitrate, which it no longer is, its Silver Oxide, but it wont stay that way for long.Discard the brown liquid in the Sodium Hydroxide mason jar and set aside, you hopefully wont need to use it again J


Now its time for the second bit of ĎMagicí.You may want to open a window, or turn on your Fume hood, or do this outside.It smells like ammonia, because it is J


Grab the Clear bottle of Ammonia (ammonium hydroxide), Slowly pour 100ml or so into the mason jar with the brown mud and gently swirl.You may not notice it at first, but the Ammonia water is Ďeatingí the brown silver oxide.The goal here is to continue adding Ammonia until MOST, but not all of the brown crude is gone.This is the most critical step of the whole process!If you add the least bit too much ammonia, it wonít work.Its better to have a bunch of brown crude left in the bottom, than none at all!


OK, so slowly continue adding ammonia water to the Silver Nitrate Mason jar.When you have what looks like a table spoon of Brown crude leftover. STOP!Keep swirling the jar every now and then, and let it set for 10 minutes.Come back and look, is there still brown stuff in the bottom?IF not, click here and Iíll tell you how to fix it.If there is, you have to be the judge.Is there an excess amount of brown crude? Do you want to try and add a little more Ammonia?This is a judgment call.Leftover brown crude is wasteful, but much more preferred than failure!


Congratulations, you have just made Tollens reagent OR Ag(NH3)2OH.It should be a clear liquid, with an ammonia smell (Do NOT stick your nose in there and smell it!) and some chunks of brown stuff in the bottom.Set this aside, its time to make the Reducer, or sugar, solution.


Grab a third Clean Mason Jar and add 150ml of water.Place a paper cup on you scale and weigh out 7g of Fructose (or Dextrose) and add this to the Mason jar and swirl till dissolved.Label the Jar Reducer and set aside. Youíre almost ready to silver!


Cleaning the Mirror, sensitizing, and prep


Now its time to play with Nitric Acid, you damn well better be wearing your protective gear!


Place your mirror face up in a plastic sink or container its helpful to place three old 2 liter plastic LIDS under the mirror as feet, so its easier to work with.I actually did this in a Ceramic Kitchen sink, but I would not do it in a stainless steel sink.


Fill your Spray bottle with Distilled water.Get your Sensitizer solution, Nitric acid, dish soap, cotton balls, packing tape and some scissors handy.Make sure you have some good ventilation.


If your mirror is coated, no worries, its about to come off!


With mirror face up, wet the surface by spraying a mist of water on it, grab 3 or 4 cotton balls, and CAREFULLY wet them with nitric acid.Take a deep breath and hold it, then Gently swab the surface of your mirror, its going to give off white smoky fumes, try not to breath this stuff!Keep swabbing till your out of air, the coating is gone, or the nitric is not working anymore.Rinse with distilled water and repeat one more time.


You have a fairly clean mirror, but lets wash it with some dish soap and cotton balls, Rinse it, Wash it with dish soap again, rinse it, then lets swab it with some more nitric acid and Rinse the hell out of it.


You now have a VERY clean mirror, but donít let the face dry out.I donít know WHY your not supposed let it dry, but every text Iíve read said so, So Iíll say it too J


Take some more cotton balls and wet them with some sensitizer solution, then gently swab the mirror trying not to get any on the sides, nor too much on the bevel, and Rinse the hell out of your mirror again with water.


Now comes probably the most difficult thing to get right, putting on the packing tape dam.Hereís a hint,Glance over at the 2 mason Jars containing the Silvering solution and Reducer solution.Add up how much you have, Your damn HAS to hold that and have enough room not to spill overboard while rocking the mirror!


Take off your gloves, keep an eye on the mirror surface, donít let it dry.Put the mirror; face up, on a flat surface covered in paper towels or plastic, preferably with some feet under the mirror.Grab some paper towels and dry the edge of the mirror, but keep the surface wet.Now, grab the clear packing tape and stretch out 2 feet or so holding the loose end in one hand and the roll in the other, Carefully, starting at the back of the mirror and the center of the outstretched tape, wrap the tape around the mirror, keeping several inches of tape above the mirror!.Snip off enough to give you several inches of overlap, then press the tape firmly against the edge of the mirror, making sure your donít have any wrinkles in it.


Add the same amount ofdistilled water as you have Silvering and reducing solution to your mirror surface and dam.Any Leaks?A drip every now and then is ok, but a constant drip, or stream is going to make an incredible mess!


OK Take a break, Your almost ready to do this!


The Silvering


Lets do a mental rehearsal of what were about to do.


We need a sink close by, next to the sink we need some cotton balls soaking in dish of water, the jug of distilled water (with the lid removed!), the Spray gun full of water, and some scissors handy.


Next to the mirror, we need the Jar of Silvering solution, The Jar of Reducer, and a Stop watch or Clock.


Real quick, look at the silvering solution, is there still brown chunks in the bottom?If not you added too much ammonia and will need to fix it before going any further (click here). Your mirror will be fine for a few minutes as long as its covered in water.Other wise its time to do the ďmagicĒ J


At this point, my hearts beating pretty quickly, what weíre about to do is one of the coolest things Iíve ever done!SO here we go!!!!!


Put your Gloves back on! Pick up the mirror, swirl the distilled water around and pour it down the sink.Return the mirror. Gently pick up the Jar of Silver Solution so as not to agitate the brown crude (there is still some brown crude in it, right?) Quickly, but carefully pour the contents of the Silvering solution into the jar of reducer solution (fructose) trying to leave the brown crude behind.Set down the empty Jar and pick up the rapidly turning Yellow/blue/green/dark green jar of solution.Give it a quick swirl and quickly, but carefully, pour it on your mirror.Set the jar down and start the clock for 5 minutes.Gently rock the mirror full of solution constantly.Your heart will be racing!Now this is FUN!!!


After 30 to 60 seconds, look where the tape meets the glass, you should see silver forming!Keep on rocking!


After 3 minutes or so, youíll see Silver floating around on the surface, Oh yea,this is cool!


At the 4 Minute Mark, Turn the cold water on in the sink.


At the 5 Minute mark, pick up the Mirror, and pour the contents down the drain. The mirror will be coated in Green Gunk and you wont see the silver coat, so donít worry.†† Hold the mirror in one hand and pick up the jug of distilled water with the other,Add a bunch of water to the mirror and Swirl, then dump.Hereís the Magic moment, Can you see silver?


Anyway, add more water, swirl and rinse.Then use the squirt bottle to get as much off as you can.Then add more water and gently add the cotton balls.Swirl the cotton balls around to get the last remaining gunk off.Then pick up the scissors and cut the tape at an angle.Grab the tape and gently pull it DOWN and AWAY from the mirror, we donít want the tape to pull the silver coat off!


Spray the mirror down with more distilled water.Howís the silver coat look?Any Pits?Look at the filiment of a light bulb thru the mirror, how thick is the coat?Is it uniform?


Whatever you do, DONíT TOUCH THE SILVER COAT WITH ANYTING, until it dries for several hours!You will want to,but donít!


Set the Mirror on edge, leaning against a wall, on top of some paper towels and allow to air dry.In the meantime Clean up the mess we made, wash your Mason jars, and put everything away.


OK, your mirror is dry, look at it, if it looks fairly good, Iíd leave it the hell alone.However if you can see a white haze on it you may need to burnish it.If so, here how to do that.


Cut of a piece of chamois cloth, and place a few cotton balls in it and wrap it up so you have a smooth side. vigorously apply some red rouge with a tooth brush to the chamois.Now comes the hard part.


Gently, with just the weight of the cloth, rub the surface of the mirror with small, slow circular strokes.Count to 5 while you do this, when you get to 5 STOP, use the tooth brush and scrub the chamois to get any gray/green stuff off.Even if you donít see any, still do it, otherwise your going to put a sleek on the silver coat.Keep doing this across the mirror.While you scrub the chamois with the toothbrush, look at the mirror surface and see how your progressing.While your burnishing, never look away from the spot your working on, the minute you look away, your going to pick up a bit of garbage and start scratching the silver coat!Murphyís law in action!


Wow, Weíre done!If everything went perfectly, you have a perfect mirror coating.Since things never go perfect you probably have a few pits, some sleeks or scratches and maybe even some missing spots.If they donít add up to more than a quarter sized spot, I would leave it alone!


Failure modes


1.      The silver coat is almost non-existent, or very thin and wipes off easily with your finger.

a.      You added too much ammonia

b.      You forgot to count the weight of the paper cup when you measured out your chemicals J

c.      Its too cold, and you need to leave the mirror in the solution longer.

2.      Lots of Pits, or missing spots

a.      Mirror was insufficiently cleaned

b.      The mirror was not rinsed sufficiently

c.      You touched the mirror after cleaning and got something on it

d.      Contamination in your water or glassware

e.      Air has lots of dust in it

f.        Insufficient rinsing

g.      Not enough, or Too Much Sensitizer

3.      Mirror is hazy or white and wonít burnish out

a.      Its too hot

b.      Mirror left in silver bath too long


I guess thatís it, let me know how it works out for you, and I wish you the best!


Take Care,

James Lerch


PS.For the really adventurous, or those without easy access silver Nitrate, Click here