Small Home Gazette, Winter 2014
Answers to Your Toughest Bungalow Questions: door hardware maintenance
A. Old houses are full of ornamental as well as utilitarian hardware. That hardware is one of the first things to be disturbed when demolition or renovation work begins. Window pulls, doorknobs, strike plates, escutcheons, backplates and hinges are removed and tossed into an empty coffee can.
When original hardware is replaced with period reproductions or modern styles, it is usually because the homeowner wanted new and shiny and not all that “junk” in the coffee can. But with some exceptions, hardware can be returned to just-like-the-original condition and often for less cost than replacing with new.
In older homes, hardware is often brass or steel but can also be solid copper with plates in chrome, nickel and silver. If the piece is rusted, assume it is steel. If it has been painted or is tarnished, try the magnet test—if it is attracted to the hardware, it is steel; if not, could be brass. (See end of article for online tips about cleaning hardware or stripping painted hardware.)
There are three reasons to refinish hardware (polishing or re-plating) instead of replacing it.
1. Fit. For example, hinges and locksets are mortised into place—wood in the door and the door frame is cut away so the hardware fits, allowing the door to close without obstruction. Because of the mortising, it could be difficult to find and to fit replacements. Installing new hardware could require complex cutting and shimming. Also, replacement hinges may not cover the old screw holes or fill the entire mortised opening.
2. Quality. You’ve heard this before—they just don’t make hardware the way they used to. New hardware is often made of thin-gauge steel. And it can be difficult to locate the classic, finely done designs made in quality materials.
3. Cost. Re-plating or even polishing hardware can be less expensive than replacing it, especially if you are considering reproduction hardware. And while it may be cheaper to buy new hardware at a big box store, increased installation costs may push up the total tab.
One of our board members recently had hardware for a bathroom door re-chromed. At a cost of $100, two door hinges, a strike plate, door knob, backplate and latch hardware were redone. And everything was easy to reattach.
A final note: Patinas are films that have developed on the surface of antique metals over a period of time. Modern production methods have made it possible to create the film in a short period of time. Examples are un-lacquered brass which is raw brass that is polished and left un-lacquered to naturally darken with time and oil rubbed bronze, a chemically darkened surface designed to simulate aged bronze.
Arts & Crafts metals often began with an antique, dark look as opposed to a bright, shiny finish. If your hardware has the original, dark look (and is not painted), consider yourself blessed.
Here are some websites to learn more about restoring old hardware and some local companies that can do the work.
- How to Refurbish Hardware
- How to Strip Paint From Hardware
- Stripping Paint Off Hardware Without Harsh Chemicals
- AAA Metal Finishing
432 Front Ave., St. Paul
- J & D Plating
2124 Gilbert Ave., St. Paul
- JR Custom Plating
39374 Grand Ave., North Branch