You may think that brass plating is something that you need to outsource, but believe it or not there are ways you can brass plate hardware right in your own home. It requires a couple simple tools and you can take steel hardware and add a thin layer of protective brass to the surface.
These DIY techniques don’t provide the same professional results as commercial brass plating, but they are not terribly difficult and can get you a very good result that resists corrosion.
What is Brass Plating?
Steel rusts. It’s a fact of life and there is really little you can do about it. I have tried clear coating it which provides some protection, but it’s usually not sufficient in the long run. Brass plating can take inexpensive steel hardware and coat it with a protective layer of brass to help beautify and cut down on the rusting.
Brass plating is typically done using chemicals and electricity to deposit a thin layer of brass onto the surface via positive and negative charging the brass anodes and the steel hardware. This can result in a fairly thick layer of brass which provides more protection, but there are also DIY versions of brass plating that I’ll show you below. There’s are two ways that I have successfully brass plated hardware to various extents.
Preparing the Hardware
You have to have perfectly clean hardware before you attempt to plate anything. These simple steps will get you where you need to be so you’re ready to try your hand at brass plating.
Step 1 Clean the Hardware
Clean off any layers of old paint by soaking the hardware in a crock pot for 4-6 hours with some dish soap and brush the softened paint off the surface with simple wire brush. I outline the process in detail in this post.
Step 2 Rough Polishing
Then bring the paint free hardware over to a steel wire wheel on a bench grinder, these grinders can be purchased at most hardware store for under $100 or you can use a version that chucks right into your drill. Use the wire wheel to clean off any rust or tarnish from the surface. Make sure it is completely clean before you proceed to the next step.
Option #1 Wire Wheel
The simplest way to brass plate a piece of small hardware is by attaching a solid brass wire wheel to a bench grinder. Install the fine grade brass wire wheel on one side and a coarse steel wire wheel on the other and you are ready to go.
The same process you did with the steel wire wheel now needs to be repeated on the brass wire wheel. The brass is softer and finer and has a lower melting point than steel 1,710ºF for brass vs. 2,400ºF. The friction from the spinning wire wheel generates enough heat that a small amount of brass is deposited on the surface of the steel hardware.
I have found that the smaller handheld wire wheels that chuck into the drill do not generate enough speed and therefore heat to leave any brass residue so stick with the bench grinder which really works much more effectively.
Make sure you use a solid brass wire wheel like in the tools list above because many options are simply brass coated steel wheels. It must be solid brass.
When you’re finished you’ll be left with a brassier color to the steel. It’s not a full covering of brass, but the appearance is nicer and the corrosion resistance has been increased over bare steel in my experience.
Option #2 Propane Torch
For my fire loving friends there is a second way you can brass plate some hardware that doesn’t involve using a wire wheel. For this you’ll need a propane torch and a brass wire brush. The process involves carefully heating the hardware and brushing it with the brass brush at the same time. Similar to soldering, the heat from the torch softens the brush and allows you to deposit brass on the surface of the metal.
Avoid using a brush with a plastic handle or you’ll end up with a plastic plated piece of metal. I prefer the wood handle wire brushes like the one in the tool list above since there is no risk of melted plastic screwing up your work.
Once the hardware has cooled, you’re left with a brass plated piece of steel that will better resist corrosion and look pretty snazzy. Not too shabby.
Hopefully, this gives you some options for doing your own brass plating. Try it out and let me know what you think in the comments below.
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I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.