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How To: Restore Old Hardware

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.


See below for links to the tools and supplies I mention in this post.

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, and 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 until 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 so you won’t have a piece fly out of your hand and across the room.

Once you have cleaned them up, you may have found that you’ve removed too much of the patina on the metal and now they just look too shiny. Or possibly, you have a few pieces that needed replacements that don’t look the right color. You can give them a quick soak in my hardware aging solution called The Patinator to give them that old look again.

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 www.AustinHistorical.com

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27 thoughts on “How To: Restore Old Hardware

  1. Hello,
    I’m restoring original press-fit steel sash pulleys (with the teeth) and hoped to use the Penetrol. I called Flood and was told that it would need to be re-coated about every six months (which is impossible when parts are inside the window apparatus) and I’d have to remove it before painting over it. I’ve been told the boiled linseed oil is better for cast iron.
    I’d planned on spray-painting after the rust came off.
    Any suggestions?
    Does anyone know differently about painting over Penetrol?


  2. I have cleaned all the hardware for my 1950s doors. I’m wondering if I should reuse the original screws or just replace them? They are a little rusty and i cant seem to wire brush it off. Any suggestions on type of screw to use if i should replace them? I’m wanting to use some Perma blue to age the hinges so I’d like tge screws to be dark too so im not wanting new silver screws.

  3. I cleaned my window pulleys. They went from a beautiful bronze shade to stainless steel. I believe they were coated in linseed after talking to a few old heads, but i can not figure out how to revisit them. If i let them sit in linseed, the insides may gum up with too much excess. Do you know how and or have any advice on how to redo them with linseed? Thank you for your time.

  4. I’m restoring all the windows and door hardware in our 1924 house. I’ve had great success of the boiling in baking soda water to get all those years of paint off.
    But the sash pulleys rust easily afterwards. I soak them in vinegar and the still re-rust.
    Is this when I should do a light coating of boiled linseed oil? If we choose to paint these one day, can I paint on top of the boiled linseed oil application?

        1. The oil would have to be wiped off before painting… BUT…— if you’re expending the time, toil and effort to strip the paint off — then why not leave the beautiful patina visible?

          In regards to hardware, which is intended to not be painted, the new paint will congeal over time. As a result, the hinges will become difficult to open and close (even a single layer of paint will impair functionality).

          Enjoy the new beauty and life you’ve brought to them, sans paint!

  5. Scott, I have “Crock Potted” my 1927 door hardware the “This Old House” way with water turned to medium and 1/4 cup of laundry detergent. I tried to use a tooth brush to no avail. It has been painted over probably MANY times over the last 90+ years. What should I do now to get it off? I am so glad it’s all original, but I need to do this REALLY soon. Thanks, Robin

  6. Scott,

    I’ve used the boil technique with great success everywhere in my house (door knobs, hinges, etc.), so I tried it again when I got to the hardware on a pair of built in cabinets. After 2 hours, the black hardware was turning silver and the water was black, so I pulled everything out and dried it off.

    I’m pretty sure that the hardware is original to my 1927 craftsman bungalow, but I’m not sure what I should do. Should I continue to remove the black and re-paint the hardware?

    Let me know if I can provide more information or pictures.

  7. I came across your article when googling a question that I’m finding very difficult to get an answer to… I removed some hardware from a dresser (no known year) and boiled them in a mixture of vinegar and water… I left one of the handles sitting in the pot overnight by accident and found the next morning it had these clumps of white “cuddled cheese” looking substance all over it and now I’m worried that even though the hardware wasn’t painted (at least not obviously, they were a dark bronze color before boiling and were a shiny brass underneath) that they may have contained lead and my daughter was around them all weekend! The dresser did not scream antique (it is in very good shape) but I have no idea if it was produced prior to 1978 and again if the hardware even had paint in it, or I just removed years of “dinginess”… please help! (Btw the only identifying marks on the furniture is an old discolored piece of paper staples to the back with these words typed (or VERY old computer?) on them: UNIQUE FURNITURE MAKERS and an item #)

  8. Hi! We are repurposing an old window for decorative purposes. We are concerned about lead in the paint. The window had several layers of paint on it we have sanded most of it off do we need to sand all of it off? And should we seal it with anything before we repaint it? Going for a distressed look

    1. Love that you are repurposing an old window and commend you for getting the loose, dry paint off before you use the window elsewhere. Just be very careful when you sand lead paint. It’s best mist the dry paint and wet sand to keep the dust from flying around. I agree with Scott that a good layer of paint or varnish will coat the remaining, likely soaked-into-the-grain lead paint.

  9. I have successfully used ammonia to get rid of paint on metal (e g brass). I soak door hinges, doorknob parts,etc. in a small bowl of ammonia. Works like a charm! Usually takes 3 soaks and it all has just fallen away.

    But, I will also try vinegar (white, I assume).

    LOVE your blog – site! We’ve been fixing up our 1928 bungalow for years, step by step. Your advice to save your Windows is gold-I plan to buy your book.

    Thank god we fought back the Pella and other window salesmen and declined to put in their inferior (and extremely expensive) replacements.

    BYW many Habitat for Humanity Restores and Historic Preservation community warehouses sell old sashes for a song.

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

    1. I did this and yes, the vinegar worked great! But after I rinsed them and let them dry, they re-rusted. Is this when I should use the boiled linseed oil? Can you paint hardware after applying boiled linseed oil?

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

    1. 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. 😉

  13. 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.

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