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Thread: Restoration of a German Camouflage Helmet

  1. #1
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    Default Restoration of a German Camouflage Helmet

    I know that this forum is focused on WWII but I thought that, despite this being a WWI helmet, the process of restoration would interest a few WWII helmet collectors.

    I was asked to look into the prospect of removing the post-war varnish coating on this German M16 camo helmet because of my experience as a paintings conservator. Partly the reason I agreed to examine it was because I found it worrisome that a lot of collectors are using commercial stripping products and other harsh solvents to do similar work. These chemicals are not a good idea because they dissolve paint indiscriminately and too easily damage (skin) the original surface. I have seen many situations where a good portion of what the person was trying to save had been removed along with the old overpaint or varnish. If I could stress one thing, it would be that no single chemical or product will work safely in every situation. There are lots of variables that need to be figured out first.

    On this particular helmet, a thick varnish had been applied many years ago and had darkened over time. Testing indicated that the varnish contained a drying oil. Drying oils, such as linseed oil, crosslink as they age and can become very difficult to remove from painted surfaces. The reason is that the solubility parameter of the aged oil varnish is usually overshadowed by the solubility parameter of the binder in the underlying paint. This was true for the M16 helmet. In other words, any solution successful in dissolving the varnish, when applied directly to the helmet, would also dissolve the underlying original paint.

    Coming up with a treatment plan for this helmet required me to think about things in a different way. I tested the idea of using an organic solvent as a gas rather than as a liquid. After numerous tests, the idea worked and was successful in removing the varnish safely. With the proper timing, I could separate the varnish layer while preserving the original paint along with its preexisting scrapes, chips, and stains.

    One thing I’d like to mention is that because this is a customized treatment, it shouldn’t be considered a template on how to restore other helmets. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to cleaning and restoration. Using this method on another helmet could be completely ineffective or, worse yet, it could cause serious damage.

    I will post some photos, and edit in some additional comments later. I hope you find it interesting. Thanks to the owner of the helmet for his interest in sharing this project with other collectors.

    Mike
    Last edited by mjn; 04-12-2012 at 03:56 PM.

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    Senior Member mauser99's Avatar
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    Default wow

    amazing, thanks for sharing.. I've passed on lids because they were coated with varnish.. This was always a safe move because you cant get it off without ruining the paint.. Now it's obvious it can be done with the right techniques..

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    Quote Originally Posted by mauser99 View Post
    amazing, thanks for sharing.. I've passed on lids because they were coated with varnish.. This was always a safe move because you cant get it off without ruining the paint.. Now it's obvious it can be done with the right techniques..
    Thanks, I appreciate it. I'm not certain what the success rate would be with other varnished or overpainted helmets given all the variables with surface coatings and paint binders. Unfortunately, I expect that a good many will still have irreversible coatings based on what experience I have as a paintings conservator, but I'm not exactly sure since this is the only helmet I've worked on.

    Mike

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    Community Organizer Hambone's Avatar
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    Wow, outstanding work Mike! Pic stickied for ref.

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    Moderator Of all things K43 Brian Kowalski's Avatar
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    Mike,

    Wow, really a great approach here. Goes to show what can be accomplished, given the correct knowledge, patience and skill.

    I think we all have seen helmets coated like this....and passed on them. Only because we have seen the often failed results of poorly thought out paint removal attempts.

    Thank you for sharing both your pictures and information.


    Brian

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    Thanks guys. At some point, I'll edit in more info to explain a few of the photos.

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