Antique Furniture Hardware Restoration

Make refurbishing your antique furniture hardware easier with these tips.

Restoring furniture is a big pain! It's time-consuming, hard work and the noxious fumes from the stripping agents make the whole affair thoroughly unpleasant. So the last thing I want to deal with is hardware! Often, dealing with the hardware may seem like a more daunting task than the actual refinishing of the furniture itself.

Some antique furniture pieces have brass, chrome, and stainless steel hardware. Yet others have glass or even plastic hardware. Maybe you are restoring an old door or cabinets. Whatever the case may be, the tips provided will hopefully make your restoration project come along more productively.

Types of hardware you may come across and ways to restore them:

1. Brass: If it's tarnished, you can polish it up using salt and half a lemon. You may also choose to dip a rag in lemon juice and rub it into some salt on top of the brass. Doing this can make it shine like gold; all it takes is a bit of elbow grease. If you don't care about toxicity, you can always use an over-the-counter tarnish remover specifically made for brass that can readily be found at most supermarkets in the housekeeping section. If the brass has been painted, it can safely be soaked in a stripping agent and rubbed over with a low-grade steel wool without damage, but it will be heavily tarnished from its chemical reaction to the stripping agent. You can continue with the above-mentioned lemon solution or the store-bought tarnish remover. If you choose to use the chemical tarnish remover, make sure the hardware is thoroughly rinsed of all stripping residue to prevent a possible chemical reaction.

2. Stainless steel: It may say it's stainless, but that still doesn't keep it from getting rust spots. This is a rather easy fix. Spray it with WD-40, and rub it with a fine-grade steel wool. This also can be stripped. If it is painted as brass, just follow with steel wool afterwards to remove all paint/stripping residue, and apply WD-40 as needed.

3. Chrome: Chrome can be tricky sometimes; it can mimic stainless steel, except chrome is much lighter and is more of a metal finish, sort of like what gold plate is to jewelry. So no stripping agents allowed, or you will be left with a dull grey metal. The best way I know of to polish up chrome is by using aluminum foil. Fold it over a couple of times, and rub it on the tarnished area. It will make the chrome look like new. This method will even remove rust spots. Now if your chrome has flaked, you can touch it up with a chrome spray paint which can be found at most automotive stores.

4. Plastics: Believe it or not, a lot of furniture and cabinetry back in the day had plastic knobs or pulls. Most of the time, the plastics used were celluloid and bakelite. Under no circumstances should any chemicals be used on plastic unless they were specifically made for plastic. Bakelite can be polished up nicely with automotive wax, and the same goes for celluloid. To figure out which type of plastic you have, just rub it until your finger feels hot, and quickly bring it up to your nose and smell to see if it has a pungent, chemical smell. If it does, then it is most likely bakelite. Figuring out which plastic you have can sometimes be very effective in determining the age of a piece. For example; celluloid was very popular in the "˜20's and "˜30's.

5. Glass: This be stripped, but nothing abrasive should be used to remove the paint. Use a damp sponge and repeat the stripping and wiping process until the paint is removed. Rotary tools with a buffer attachment come in handy for a task like this. With glass, we want to be gentle and avoid etching the surface as much as possible.

Hopefully this article has shed some light on the "other" part of furniture restoration that so often seems overlooked. After all, what is our furniture without its hardware? It's almost like wearing a coat without buttons.

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