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Lessons in Boiling, De-Lacquering + Aging Brass Hardware

Sherwin Williams Black Magic | hardware

Our Tree House has a handful of original doors and windows throughout, and they lend so much character to every room. The house was built in the 1930s, and over the last almost-century, some of the windows were replaced, but to the credit of the previous homeowners, the replacements don’t detract from the charm we fell for. That said – and this easily falls under Old House Problems – all of them have been painted over countless times. This is always so baffling to us, but with every paint job, drips were rarely (if ever) corrected, hinges were lazily painted over and the glass was slopped with heavy brush strokes. Why?!

A goal of ours is to correct these issues, slowly, room by room. You’ve seen that we’re painting our windows (and some doors) black, and with that comes a lot of prep work! Scraping paint. Removing hardware. Patching holes. Taping off glass. It is so much effort – a labor of love, no doubt – but we think it yields big results. For example, here’s a window in our guest room, before we added thicker trim and beadboard:

The original casement latches were replaced with eye hooks (more of this: ?!), and those hinges are typical of every last hinge throughout. As a part of our guest room makeover, we took the time to correct these issues, and now the window looks like this (this was taken before the room went green):

We’ve already shared most of our painting process in these two posts, but today we want to talk about that brass hardware! We boiled, de-lacquered and aged the brass, and it wasn’t without a little bit – okay, a lot bit – of trial and error. Here’s a simple breakdown of what we wanted to do:

  • First, we wanted to boil the paint off of those pretty brass hinges
  • Second, we purchased these casement fasteners to replace the eye hooks. The fasteners were part of a lightning sale (for $5 each!) if we purchased them in a lacquered brass finish. We took a risk and scooped them up, with the intention of de-lacquering them. A lacquered brass will always look shiny and new, whereas an unlacquered brass will patina over time. Our preference is always the latter.
  • Finally, we wanted to accelerate the patina process by aging the brass fasteners. This would better match the brass tones throughout Tree House.

Okay, now let’s dig in even deeper with our methods, including what worked and what didn’t. Our hope is that we can save you time by putting popular methods to the test. Let’s go!

Testing for Brass

Before moving any further, there’s always a simple test we do beforehand, and that’s testing to see if what we’re working with is real bass. So, how do you know if what you have is brass? It’s simple: Magnets don’t stick to brass. If you have an item that looks brass and a magnet sticks to it, it might be brass plated.

Cleaning Painted Brass by Boiling

We started by removing the windows from the jamb altogether, and then we removed the hinges. We’ve heard a lot of success stories of removing decades of paint layers by boiling the hardware, but we’d yet to try it ourselves. Spoiler: it works! Like, really well. Because we don’t yet have a working stove, we actually did this on this hot plate (ha!), and we picked up a pot from a thrift store for this purpose only. (Long gone are the days where this pot will see pasta.) We boiled the hinges for 30 minutes, and using a pair of tongs, we took them out of the water to allow them to cool. Most of the paint slid right off, and any stubborn bits were easily removed with a toothbrush! Note: Our hinges were still a little rusty, but we liked this. If that’s not for you, we’ve heard that soaking them in Coke will remove the rust. Has anyone tried this?

De-Lacquering Brass: Part I

Moving onto the lacquered casement fasteners, we wanted to try a natural method for de-lacquering first. Here they are in their shiny (and still very pretty!) lacquered state:

Similar to the method above, we dropped all of the pieces into boiling water, but this time, we added about 2 tablespoons of baking soda for every 1 quart of water. After 15 minutes, there were areas where the lacquer was bubbling up, but a quick scratch test proved that it was still tacky. We continued to boil them for another one hour with little success. The smell of metal was overwhelming, so we flung open all the windows and turned on the stove vent, too. Every 20-or-so minutes, more water and baking soda was needed as it slowly evaporated.

As we neared the one and a half hour mark, we decided enough was enough. Using tongs, the hardware was removed. Each piece was ran under cold water, and I used a piece of steel wool to remove as much remaining lacquer as possible.

Our results were patchy, at best. In fact, most of the fasteners took on a haze! Below, you can see where the haze settled onto the latch, whereas the base of the latch was lacquer free. Not thrilled with the results from the natural method, we moved on to the bigger, stronger method …

De-Lacquering Brass: Part II

… Acetone! A few swipes of acetone removed 99% of the haze and remaining lacquer. I don’t have photos of this process, because I was wearing gloves, and this stuff is strong. Basically, I soaked a cotton pad with the acetone and rubbed it into each fastener. Each one took an additional 2 minutes to de-lacquer, which is muuuch better than the length of time the boiling method took! Note: Open the windows, and wear a mask and gloves when using acetone.

Aging Brass

Finally, it was time to age our de-lacquered hinges! Wearing gloves and using cotton pads again, we had a lot of luck with Brass Black. Like the name suggests, this solution literally turns the brass black, but a quick rinse under cold water and a soft scrub with steel wool will scale it back. I allowed the Brass Black to sit on the unlacquered brass for maybe 15 seconds before rinsing it with water, at which point, I’d rub off the excessive black areas with steel wool. If I took off too much, I’d rub on a little more, rinse, remove. Rub, rinse, remove. I repeated those three steps until we were both satisfied with the look!

We’re so happy with how this window turned out, and luckily, this is the only window in Tree House with eye hooks – ha! The remaining casement windows in the home have the original latches, so they’ll likely get a quick boil to remove paint, followed up with a rub down with Brasso or Barkeeper’s Friend. (Or Coke?!) We’ve got a whole home of windows and doors to go!

Have you tried any of these methods? If so, which of them worked for you? Or maybe you’ve tried another with good success?

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  • Teresa5.18.18 - 6:40 AM

    I am still bewildered when I see painted hinges and knobs on doors. Dedicating a cheap crockpot has worked best for me.ReplyCancel

    • Stacy | Blake Hill House5.18.18 - 7:10 AM

      Ugh! Me too. Removing paint from hinges, latches, and knobs is a part of every single renovation and restoration project that we tackle here. It feels like nothing metal was spared throughout the years.

      I keep an old crockpot around for the same purpose. The crockpot is helpful because it does not require babysitting like a pot of boiling water does.ReplyCancel

      • Kim5.18.18 - 9:30 AM

        We wouldn’t have thought to use a Crockpot! How long do you leave the hardware in there?ReplyCancel

        • Stacy | Blake Hill House5.18.18 - 9:54 AM

          If I am going to be home and ready to work, I put the crockpot on high. It takes 2 hours or so. If I know I’m going to be busy and not get to it right away, I’ll set it on low and expect to get to it in 4-6 hours. I add a squirt of dish soap to the water before I load the hardware. It’s not really an exact science. There is plenty of wiggle room.

          I wrote a full tutorial about restoring antique hardware on my blog. I’m happy to post the link if you like, but it is not my intention to hijack your blog. :)ReplyCancel

  • Sarah5.18.18 - 10:32 AM

    Have you ever tried this method with polished brass door knobs? Would you recommend going straight to the acetone and skipping the boiling step?

    We have a lovely 1950s bungalow with the most perfectly aged door knobs and hinges, except for the bathroom and our exterior doors which were updated to polished brass at some point. I’ve also been wanting to add some new unlaquered brass in but was wondering how long it would take to age and blend in more. Thanks for the post!ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.21.18 - 9:49 AM

      We haven’t done this with polished brass, sorry! I will say that we have unlacquered brass pulls in our kitchen, and they started to patina maybe 6 months after installing them, only in the areas where we touch them the most. I’d plan on at least 6 months-year before you see some dullness/patina/discoloration taking place.ReplyCancel

  • Sheila5.18.18 - 2:40 PM

    Our 1875 house still has all the original doors and windows with original hardware. Of course, the hardware was painted over (and every window painted shut!). As we move through the restoration we put the hardware in a glass container with crystal Draino and water. The water heats up and the paint comes off easily after an overnight soak. We used to do this with lye, but you can’t get that anymore.ReplyCancel

  • Jessica Dee5.18.18 - 3:27 PM

    The doorbells in our 1925 bungalow were not working when we moved in so instead of opening the walls to fix them, we added mechanical brass doorbells to each door. We ordered them in unlacquered brass and I aged them with vinegar vapor. It was simple and worked well. It looks much more natural than the “antique brass” version.ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.21.18 - 9:47 AM

      We wondered about the vinegar trick! Good to know.ReplyCancel

  • Ryan5.18.18 - 4:41 PM

    We have the same latches on our windows in the house and the height/proportion looks very much the same. I love them but they get washed a lot less often than they would if they only had a single pane of glass.
    I use the boil method to get paint off all of our hardware (all painted) including the hinges and latch on the original carriage doors on the garage. Those also required an angle grinder to remove the rust (there was a lot of rust, some sections were actually broken off because of it) and then were sprayed black with Rustoleum to try to prevent future rust problems.

    The one time I was surprised after removing the paint was an antique pan style light fixture that was covered in wall paint. After I got all the paint off I found out the fixture was a mix of brass and copper! I learned why after reading a section in an old Rejuvenation catalog where they talked about trying to reproduce a vintage light and failing to get it to work in brass. Turns out brass is more brittle than copper and to get the extreme curve in the fixture it had to be made in copper (but could be brass coated after). I don’t know if my fixture originally had a brass coating that I removed with the paint (I had also used vinegar which might have done that) or if it was painted originally. Both metals have patina’d now and look complementary so it wasn’t a total disappointment.ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.21.18 - 9:47 AM

      That actually sounds so cool! Thank you for teaching us something new. ;)ReplyCancel

  • Jen5.18.18 - 11:19 PM

    This isn’t about removing paint, but I cleaned up a completely rusted out brass window latch with Bar Keeper’s friend and steel wool. I was sure the latch was unsalvageable, but this method worked wonderfully to take the rust off and left me with a nicely patina’ed latch.ReplyCancel

  • Vanessa5.19.18 - 9:09 PM

    I think it would also work to de-lacquer and then just let it age. Wouldn’t it end up naturally darker after about a year? That would save purchasing another specialty product. The windows do look wonderful and really reflect a lot of hard work.ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.21.18 - 9:57 AM

      Yes, I would say 6 months to a year to start to see some changes in the finish.ReplyCancel

  • Hannah @ AndThenWeTried5.21.18 - 12:08 PM

    When painting our kitchen cabinets, I stripped the original hinges which had been stained and sealed along with the wood cabinets. I went with the boiling method too, but I used dish soap and water and let everything soak for 8 hours. Much more time on the stove but it worked like a charm! (there are before and afters of the hinges here )ReplyCancel

  • Patricia O'Dell9.6.21 - 4:17 PM

    Wanted to let you know this was a huge help – four years after you posted! I was waiting on backordered unlacquered brass hardware from Rejuvenation when I ordered the lacquered brass and planned to take it to a metal refinisher here to remove the lacquer. Thanks to you I saved a ton of money and time – thanks!ReplyCancel

    • star12.30.21 - 9:58 PM

      Did you use acetone? ReplyCancel

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