It’s so easy to disregard things like hinges and door hardware in an old home. Most of it has been unconcernedly painted over the years, or humidity has rusted it thus hiding its original design and appeal. With a little patience and effort, these painted, antique hardware can be revitalized and will give your historic home that extra touch of character.
Removing your old door hardware requires some care. If your house was built before the 1970s, it likely contains lead-based paint. To protect yourself and others in your home from this dust you need to wear gloves, an N100 mask or respirator, safety glasses and be sure to have a wet rag and vacuum on hand for cleanup. Make sure kids and pets aren't around during this process, they are very vulnerable to the ill effects of lead poisoning. It’s always a good idea to refer to the EPA’s guidelines when working around lead-based paint.
Hardware prior to 1936 will have been secured with slotted screws. To be accurate, you will want to to replace any Phillips head screws with slotted ones. Most hardware stores carry a variety of slotted screws, but you will find more vintage ones at your local architectural salvage store. The screws in your old hardware probably haven’t been turned in quite some time. Using the edge of a flat head screwdriver or razor blade carefully scrape any debris from the screw slot to open it up so you get a good bite with your screwdriver. Sometimes a spritz of WD40 or cutting oil will help release a seized screw. I do not recommend using a drill to back-out or drive-in old slotted screws. You need more finesse here than torquing power. The drill will only increase the likelihood of stripping your screw slot and make the task of removing the screw all the more difficult. You will want to save the old screws and restore them as well, so try to keep each piece of hardware and its screws together.
Once the hardware and screws have been removed and you’ve cleaned up any paint dust or chips it’s time to bring these gems back to life. We preferred to boil the hardware in water with baking soda for an hour or two to loosen the years of paint on them. We did this outside using a hot plate and/or the grill, as well as an old stainless-steel pot we got from a thrifty store. Do not boil hardware inside the house or using pots and utensils that you plan to cook with later; it gets pretty smelly and gross!! If the hardware was brass and was just heavily tarnished, then we coated it in a paste made with vinegar, salt and flour for a short time. Some people use tomato paste or ketchup! Either way, it’s a mild acid that does the trick. If you’re not up for creating your own mixture then there are several products you can find at your local hardware store that will get the job done such as Brasso®. If you are boiling hinges be sure you carefully fold them back and forth which will help loosen up the dried paint around the pin. You may even find that you can then remove the pin giving you three smaller pieces which will make things easier to deal with in the next step.
Using tongs and heat resistant gloves, remove the hardware from the boiling water. Place it on some newspaper and scrub it with a still nylon or brass bristled brush. The key here is to contain the shedded paint for proper disposal. If there is still paint on the item, drop it back in the pot for a longer soak. Once scrubbed be sure to dry the item with a towel, especially cast iron as it will quickly rust.
Tip – if you are planning to restore a rim lock make sure you take several photos of the inner working parts before and as you disassemble it so you have something to reference when you put it back together.
We found that even after boiling the hardware in a solution, we still had some residue that had to be physically removed. In this case you may want to use a bench grinder with a brass wheel for the task. The brass wheel is a little gentler than a steel one and preferred if you don’t know the material of your hardware. Keep in mind that polished brass hardware will get marred by a grinding wheel, so I don’t recommend grinding brass. Instead continue repeated baths in the acid and use a toothbrush and soft cloth. Always be sure you wear safety glasses and gloves during this process, and make sure you keep a firm grip on your hardware when using a bench grinder or you will send a piece of metal sailing across the room. Vice grips are a great choice, especially when you are cleaning the small screws on the grinder.
Once everything is cleaned up you need to seal and protect the raw metal. If it is brass, copper, or bronze then polish it with a good sealer such as one from Everbrite®. If cast iron, you could paint it. I preferred the patina of the original cast iron, so I clear coated some pieces using an automotive product that was recommended to me called “Diamond Clear” by Eastwood®. On other pieces I used a matte, Rustoleum® spray paint (black was most common in the old days), however, paint can chip away on hardware with moving parts like hinges and sash pulleys. For these a great option might be a linseed oil bath, but you will need to re-oil the piece every few years to keep it protected. For the screws you can use any of the methods mentioned above; to make it easy you can embed the screw tips in a cardboard box and coat several screw heads at once.
I really think you will be quite satisfied when you restore your old hardware. It makes for a great side project and helps with the value of your historic home. If you are nervous about the restoration process, you can always pick up some cheap, old hardware at an antique shop to practice on. We also invite you to email us with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.