A friend of mine recently inquired how I clean clients’ tarnished brass hardware on restored furniture. This gave me the bright idea to list the steps of the process I take. As an important side note, cleaning hardware on antiques can be a contentious topic depending on who you speak with. Some clientele and antique dealers appreciate the depth of a patina that has built up on metal pulls and hinges over time via oxidation in conjunction with oils and dirt. Antique dealers use the oxidation as a visual clue to determine: approximate age, if the piece has been previously restored, or if the hardware is original to the piece.
That being said, always asks a client for permission before you clean any hardware.
Tools you will need: maroon abrasive pads from the hardware store, a variable speed buffing wheel from home depot, three dedicated hard stitched wheels from Enco, tripoli buffing compound, and white diamond buffing compound from Enco, and a wire brush to clean and condition the wheel.
Step 1: Completely remove the hardware from the piece and pick a test spot. You want to test a tiny unseen area of the piece to determine if it’s solid brass or plated brass. If it’s plated, it might be a good idea to leave the hardware alone because the process involves micro abrasion and you can scratch through the thin layer of plating. If it’s solid brass you will abrade the piece with finer and finer abrasives called compounds. These compounds include: Tripoli, white diamond, and Jewelers rouge, in this order.
Step 2: Use a maroon Scuff pad to scrape the surface and loosen heavy dirt and tarnish.
Step 3: Buff the hardware with a dedicated buffing wheel loaded with Tripoli compound. Buy three wheels and dedicate one wheel to one compound.
Step 4: Wipe down the piece with a rag and buff with white diamond. I’ve found that I only need to complete these three steps to create a brilliant shine, however you can proceed to use jewelers’ rouge on a third dedicated buffing wheel.
Step 5: You can top coat the brass with a metal specific lacquer for protection, or leave it alone to develop color over time.
Important safety notes:
Wear safety glasses when buffing because the wheel can grab metal hardware and fling it across the room. Wear a respirator if you will be buffing for several hours because the compounds are finely ground heavy metals that are not healthy to inhale or ingest. Hardware gets very hot if you buff too aggressively, so take care not to build up heat or you can burn your fingers. Conduct this procedure in a workshop or garage because it creates quite a mess.
Hope this helps explain the process.