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How To: Restore Old Hardware

By The Craftsman on Apr 12, 2012

Rusted and painted window sash pulleys circa 1892

After a century of paint jobs and humidity a lot of your home's hardware can loose its original luster. It's a small detail in a historic house, but properly restored hardware on windows, doors, and elsewhere gives a house that extra oomph that adds to the overall vintage feel of the home (whether people consciously realize it or not!) But these pieces can be easily revived and put back into service with just a elbow grease by following the steps below.


Step 1 Prep

Any house built before 1978 may contain lead paint so take extra precaution when disturbing painted surfaces especially around windows and doors. For a small task like this some basic precautions will do, but for larger projects follow the rules laid out by the EPA's Renovate Right Program. Keep children and pets away from the room. Wear a N100 or P100 mask to prevent inhaling any lead paint. *This is not a typical dust mask it must read N100 or P100! Make sure to clean up thoroughly with a wet cloth and a vacuum to make sure there are no remaining paint chips or dust.

Step 2 Remove the Hardware 

The screws holding most of this hardware likely haven't moved in quite a few decades so they can be easily stripped if you're not careful. Using your flat head screw driver carefully scrape any paint from the screw head and groove. I like to add a little Liquid Wrench or WD-40 to coax the particularly troublesome screws out. Save all the screws too! They'll need to be cleaned just like the rest of the hardware.

Step 3 Rust/Paint Removal

There are two ways to go depending on how you want your hardware to look. Make sure you clean up not only the hardware but also the screws that will hold it in place.

  • Boiling off the Paint - You can let you hardware soak in a simmering pot of water and baking soda for an hour or two and then wipe off the paint with your fingers or some 0000 Steel Wool. This method will maintain the aged patina of your hardware the best. This method is not a great solution if your problem is mainly rust.
  • Wire Wheel - I prefer to use a wire wheel on a bench top grinder. The grinder cost me $40 and the wheel was another $10 and it is the fastest way to remove decades of built up paint, rust and grime. Wear safety glasses, gloves and your mask and once the wire wheel is spinning just hold the hardware up to it and work all around till the surface is cleaned to your desired level. Hold on tight and be careful you don't have a piece fly out of your hand and across the room.

Step 4 Lubricate and Protect

After restoration! (You can now notice the patent dates on the pulleys dating to Sept. 1887)

Once you have everything cleaned up you'll need to lubricate the moving parts. Use one of the earlier lubricants mentioned or some spray graphite. And to protect the metal from rusting (bare metal will rust quickly once exposed to air!) You can use a spray urethane or varnish to protect the surface. I prefer an old-school method that I know some folks will disagree with, but it works fine for me. After cleaning I like to give the hardware a good soak in Boiled Linseed Oil. If you use this method you need to wipe the hardware down very well otherwise you'll have a gummed up piece of hardware once it dries. Every couple years they will need to be rubbed down with some more oil to prevent rust, but you won't have a coat of finish to get scratched and then re-apply.

Now that you know how, take a weekend and finish the whole house, conquer a room at a time, or hire a professional to do the work for you. Either way, saving the original antique hardware is a worthwhile task that will retain the character of your home and function much longer than anything you can pick up at the local hardware store.

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