It's a hard life, being hardware. That's what your home's doorknobs, drawer pulls, heat registers, and railings might tell you if they could. Those chipped layers of paint on kitchen cupboard hinges tell a history of home decorating.
Some people don’t give their home’s hardware much thought, but it’s an expression of style, and like everything, it goes through fashion phases. Instead of replacement, consider rejuvenation. Here a few experts offer advice on when to take your project to a professional, and a few tips on handling a small project at home.
THE POWER OF POWDER COATING
The baked-on finish of powder coating can give new life to old fixtures. The process uses electrostatic charges to adhere plastic resins to the metal. It will outlast paint, never has drips or streaks, costs less, and is a “greener” choice, since it doesn’t involve solvents or hazardous waste disposal.
Available in any color, plus special textures and finishes such as “hammertones” and “rivers,” powder coating can create the look of metal. “Veined powders” come in gold, silver and copper.
Re-plating of metal used to be common, but now, because of environmental hazards, fewer facilities exist. Powder coating is a smart option, and one best left in the hands of professionals.
“It’s one way to renew your old treasured items. Around here there are a lot of old houses where people heat their homes with cast iron radiators. We redo a lot of them. Powder is hard, weather resistant, can be used on any metal,” said Gregg Taylor, owner of Powder Coating Systems of Tacoma.
Michael Fast, president and CEO of MRF Construction, knows hardware and old houses well. He’s worked on many of Tacoma’s historic homes, including his own, built in 1905.
“We remodeled the kitchen and bathrooms to update them, but all the original hardware and woodwork was intact so we left that,” he said. “You can go back to the original finish and it’s usually beautiful. But if it’s not, it can be sandblasted and re-coated.”
Powder Coating Systems refinished the outside of his antique claw foot tub.
“Bright brass has gone by the wayside,” Fast said. “That was very ’80s and ’90s. Brushed stainless is very popular in contemporary houses now, and oiled bronze.” It’s worth exploring the looks powder coating can create, instead of replacing or re-plating.
Businesses that offer powder coating will sandblast items for you and professional furniture refinishers can do stripping. Or maybe you’d rather take a more conservative approach, like Tacoma homeowner Kurt Soucek.
A PASSION FOR PATINA
Soucek learned about decorative hardware when he took a job in the building salvage industry.
“Although I already had an interest, I really started to understand what I was dealing with and to research the history of it,” Soucek said.
He looks for interesting pieces at antique and thrift stores, and architectural salvage businesses, like Second Use Building Materials, where he works. “You can tell the era of something,” Soucek said. “The earlier things are heavier and better built. By 1900 to 1910 you start to get stuff that is just stamped brass or steel with brass plating, rather than cast.”
When he isn’t at his job, Soucek puts in time on the Craftsman Foursquare style house he and his partner are restoring. A small assortment of antique doorknobs, escutcheons, hinges, and drawer pulls sit on the kitchen counter. He paid less than $20 for the escutcheon at a salvage store. A reproduction would run about $80.
He holds up an ornate hinge from the last half of the 19th century, hefty solid brass, with the rich patina of age.
“Some people look at this stuff and just think of it as hardware, but it’s jewelry for your home. There’s a lot of attention to detail on something like this,” Soucek said. Even the back side is decorated.
BLACK TEA TO THE RESCUE
So you want to restore something yourself. What do you use? Soucek recommends something almost every household already has in its cupboards - black tea.
“To remove paint, boil water with black tea bags and soak small pieces of hardware in that overnight,” Soucek said.
He designates an old pan for this job, one that won’t ever be used again for cooking. Beyond boiling the water, don’t do any of this in your kitchen or where children could be exposed to lead in paint, which is commonly found in old hardware, and dangerous if inhaled or absorbed. When working with lead paint, always clean up using safe practices.
Find lead safety information at www.hud.gov/offices/lead/healthyhomes/lead.cfm.
“Go over the hardware with an old toothbrush, a popsicle stick, or a plastic scraper. You’ll probably have to do it more than once. Don’t use steel wool. The patina is very important.” He likes an aged and unpolished look and avoids any kind of abrasion. “Just putting it in boiling water is extremely helpful because of the expansion and contraction of the metal.” Remember to wear hand, face and breathing protection whenever working with old paint.
If you’re thinking of using a heat gun to strip old hardware, one expert urges homeowners to use extreme caution. “If you’re going to strip old painted hardware, use a chemical stripper versus a heat gun,” Fast cautions. “The heat gun vaporizes the lead in the paint and you breathe it. That’s very hazardous.” So are the caustic chemicals. “Wear about three layers of gloves. You need eye protection too.”
Let your home’s hardware reflect your personality, and have some fun. Soucek spent a year and a half searching for enough matching drawer pulls to do his kitchen. What were they? Old window sash lifts, perfect for his simple Craftsman look. And that fancy door hinge? “Even though it was pre-Craftsman style, it’s small enough that I’m putting it in here,” he said, “because I love it.”
Make them shine again
The following items are great candidates for restoring with powder coating, according to Gregg Taylor, owner of Powder Coating Systems of Tacoma:
Claw foot bathtub outsides
Door knobs and hinges
Stamped metal ceiling panels
Ornamental metal shelving/bakers racks
Gutters and down spouts