How To: Restore Old Hardware

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!)

You can restore old hardware easily and put them back into service with just a little elbow grease.

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 your hardware soak in a simmering pot of water and baking soda for an hour or two and then wipe off the paint pretty easily with 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. This method will likely remove any old patina though. Stick with boiling it off if the aged appearance matters to you.Also hold 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.

For more tips and advice you can always contact us on our website at

Get the latest posts emailed to you!

by Scott Sidler

I'm a historic preservationist and licensed contractor. I help old house lovers understand & restore their homes so they can enjoy the history and character that surrounds them more everyday! When not working, writing or teaching about old houses I spend most of my time fixing up my own 1929 bungalow with my wife Delores and sons Charley and Jude.


  1. Ian Funk on said:

    Hi Scott,

    Greetings from Seattle. I had a double/double 6 over one window built out of VG fir to replace an old 60’s fogged up and nasty aluminum window in my home. It matches the one on the other gable end of my craftsman farmhouse and is what was there historically. I could see the original from a late 1930’s county photo. I bought some old pulleys to give to the sash/window maker which thankfully weren’t covered in paint. They were a bit squeaky and although I was hesitant at first decided to give them a bath in some boiled linseed oil. I stopped by the shop today and saw the finished frame and sashes. He and I were both in awe at both the quietness and smoothness of the pulleys/sash operation. He said he had never heard them that quiet before. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Andrea on said:

    How about on press-fit sash pulleys? The pulley’s are held in place without screws by little “teeth.” I recently took a class and they said, leave them alone because if you take them out, you’ll destroy them. Mine are coated in paint, and I’d love to find a way to clean them up if I can. Thanks!

  3. Restoring old hardware is a tough task and you have done it fantatically i like it your products.

  4. Cindy Bonem on said:

    To remove rust and old paint easily, soak the rusty hard wear in vinegar for few hours then gently brush the rust away. My husband and I couldn’t beleave how well this worked.

  5. And be careful how and where you dump the lead-poisoned water. It only takes a few grains or tiny chips to poison a developing child and cause irreversible damage. Check out: for lots more info and a new documentary coming out soon.

  6. Ashley Aceto on said:

    Do I need to worry about lead paint during the boiling process? Will the water vapor produced be toxic to breathe?

    • Nothing to worry about there. Lead vaporizes around 900 degrees Fahrenheit and boiling water is 220 degrees. Plus when removing the wet sloppy paint mess you won’t have any airborne dust particles to worry about either. I just wouldn’t plan on eating out of that pot anymore. 😉

  7. jack on said:

    i`ve got a lot of steel details in my garage – i`d like to make use of all of them. thank u for ur site, i don`t spare i visit it.

Leave a Reply

(Don't worry, we won't publish your email address.)