One question we hear a lot is “I’ve got this damaged bronze statue. How can I repair it?” Before we get to specific techniques a key thing that people forget to investigate before attempting to repair their bronze sculpture is whether it is made from real bronze. There are a lot of impersonators out there, so let’s start by testing your sculpture, art, or statue to see if it’s the real deal:
Cold Cast or Bonded Bronze Statues
Pieces made from cold cast or bonded bronze are commonly mistaken for real bronze. This is a material made from mixing bronze powder and resin. It does a great job of impersonating bronze, but has a much lighter weight. For example, you could weigh a real bronze statue or sculpture and get a 6- to 10-pound reading. A bonded bronze version would weigh in at only 2–3 pounds. Big difference!
Bonded or cold cast bronze also has a dense sound to it if struck by a wooden dowel or pencil in a hollow area. True bronze will have a metallic ring to it.
And if the piece has actually broken off, chances are it’s not pure bronze. Cold cast/bonded bronze is more brittle and can be broken much more easily than bronze. And when it happens, you’ll see a whitish interior, possibly with small flecks depending on how it was produced.
While iron packs a lot of weight and can produce a ring, there is an easy way to tell if your sculpture or statue is iron: magnets. Simply hold a magnet up to the piece, if it sticks, you’ve got iron! If it doesn’t, you’ve got bronze (or some other non-ferric material).
Another easy way to spot an iron statue is if there are any small patches of corrosion. Bronze does not contain any oxidizing metals and will not rust and corrode. This is why it lasts thousands of years.
Spelter is a lower-value metal also known as white metal or pot metal. It’s typically an alloy of equal parts copper and zinc, i.e. a brass. Adding lead creates an alloy that is sometimes used for low-end sculpture. Spelter is typically a whitish color, rather than the warm reddish yellow of good bronze
Go to the Source
Outside of the tests noted above, you can always research the sculptor; they or their estate will know what material their sculpture is made of.
Look for the sculptor’s initials or signature on the sculpture. Often it will be located in an area that isn’t obvious. I put mine where it doesn’t interrupt my sculptural lines and take away from the piece. Who knows, you may own a one of a kind or a limited edition! The more information you can find, the better.
Repairing the Metal
Once you know you’ve got a bronze, it’s time to look at repair options.
Repairs on a bronze statue or sculpture can be tricky. A common method of repair on a broken section is brazing or welding. You’ll want to find a craftsman familiar with “chasing” bronze sculptures who’ll do a clean job and match the original look. This gives you a strong and lasting repair.
The downside, however, is that the patina —or finish on the sculpture — will be damaged in the process. We’ll talk about that shortly.
Strong adhesives are another repair method for minor damage. These repairs are cheaper and faster, but unlikely to last as long as welding. On the other hand, using such a bonding method allows the repair to be reversed should that be a concern.
Repairing the Patina
Patina work is a very complex art unto itself. Working on a repair is quite different from working with a new piece. A repair may be concealed if you have a competent patineur able to blend the new with the old.
After a weld repair, a professional patinuer will attempt to match the primary coloration of the piece using chemicals or paints. The nature of the repair depends on the components of the original patina, the age of the patina, and the environment the sculpture has been living in.
For smaller pieces, the original patina can be removed entirely by sandblasting it with tiny glass beads. This does minimal damage to the sculpture and provides a new canvas for a fresh patina.
This method doesn’t take into consideration archival concerns, or the need to preserve the piece as much as possible. If that is a consideration, you’ll need a specialist in archival repair. Be clear on what your intention is when having a piece repaired. It’s possible a family heirloom tells a more complete story with a scratch or two, a darkened patina, or rubbed off spots; they’re all part of the sculpture’s journey.
(Note that if you do have a cold-cast bronze, there are some chemicals designed specifically to work with that material.)
Wrapping it up
Bronze is an amazingly durable and beautiful alloy that has given art lovers joy for centuries. Whether you have a contemporary bronze statue or an antique, it can be have a high monetary as well as personal value. If your bronze sculpture or statue has been damaged, consider taking it to a local professional to help get it back the way you like it!
Here are a couple sites of interest to learn more: