Brass Hardware: Polishing and Faking It

February 5, 2012

One thing is undeniable in the DIY and design world, brass hardware is back and lately I’m totally loving it on furniture. As a child of the 80’s I admit shiny lacquered brass fixtures still don’t appeal to me, but I am drawn to the golden glow of real or antiqued brass with its warmer patina.

In the past two weeks, I’ve fixed up two pieces, one dresser and one campaign desk, and both had brass hardware I wanted to reuse.  One set of hardware was real brass, the other brass plate, and both needed a good polish.

Over the last year, I’ve also narrowed down two great substitutes for faking the patina with other hardware that you want to give a golden glow.  If you’re curious how to tell the difference between real brass and brass plate, how to polish unlacquered brass, or how to fake the look of antique brass hardware, here’s how I do it.

brass hardware polished and fake


Real brass is an alloy of copper and zinc and if it’s not lacquered, will tarnish with exposure to air over time.  There are two methods I use to bring back the mellow antiqued patina, one is Brasso if I have it on hand and the other is natural lemon juice and salt paste mixture.

tarnished brass hardware


But first, before you polish, you should know whether your hardware is real brass or brass plate.  Here’s the simple way to tell the difference.  Take a household magnet and see if it will stick to the piece, if it won’t that means the hardware is real brass, like these campaign pulls.

real brass campaign pulls

However, if the magnet picks up the hardware, then it’s brass plated (with steel or iron as its base).

brass plate and magnet


Good old fashioned Brasso works well for cleaning off the tarnish, and I usually soak for about 20 to 30 minutes.

brasso soak


With real brass, I use a rag or extra fine steel wool to remove the tarnish.

tarnish coming off


You can also use a mixture of salt and lemon juice as a natural polish, use approximately ¼ cup of salt per squeeze of ½ lemon to make a paste.

lemon salt mixture


fine steel wool and lemon polish


Either one works great on either brass plate or real brass, just be sure to use a soft rag or soft toothbrush with brass plate and not steel wool, it can scratch the thin brass plating.

brasso and lemon salt polish comparison

Lemon juice is acidic, so be sure to fully rinse and buff your brass hardware, and I’ve read that using a little olive oil on top will prolong the periods between polishing.

I find brass plated hardware is more stubborn for some reason and usually takes repeat soaks to bring it back to life but it can be done.

brass plated pulls


But if your brass plate doesn’t come back to life because it’s too corroded or you want to give it the patina of unlacquered brass, there are two products that will do just that.

krylon gold leaf and rub n buff


Rub N’ Buff is a waxy metallic finish that comes in several golden shades such as Gold Leaf (depicted), but also look for Antique Gold and European Gold.  Krylon’s ‘Gold Leaf’ is the best metallic gold spray paint I’ve found to date to mimic brass or give you a warm golden glow on your hardware.

faux brass products


As you can see, both the Rub n’ Buff and Gold Leaf spray paint are pretty darn close to the real thing!

brass furniture hardware


What about you?  Have you noticed the popularity of brass hardware on furniture lately?  Are you liking its resurgence?  Know any other natural formulas or products that are great for cleaning brass?  Do share!



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