How to further polish brass plated hinges
August 13, 2014 5:27 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way (if any) to keep cleaning these brass plated hinges?

I’m refinishing an old Stanley toolbox (my great grandfathers as it were) and I’m trying to polish the hinges. Well, I tried a pre packaged polishing cloth and didn’t quite understand brass plating. . .so I wore through the brass plating on two hinges before I realized I should stop. I read a lot online. . came up the next step as: soak in acid. I had been recently been reading about cleaning/restoring hand planes (I also have two of those that came with the toolbox), I tried to use a Citric acid soak to clean them. I put them in a bath of 1 TB Citric acid powder to 1 quart of water. . waited about 2 hours, and a lot more grime did come off (scrubbed with a microfiber cloth). But they still are pretty tarnished (I think) Attached is what they look like now. Questions:

1) Is this as good as it is going to get? Is that pitting on the brass plating that is just not going to come off? I don’t mind, I just want to know I should stop trying.
2) The two that I did NOT wear through the plating on have more of a copper appearance now on one half of the hinge, any idea why?
3) I’m guessing they were sprayed with lacquer at some point as there are some big inconsistencies and places where it seems some finish is pooled a bit on corners. Ideas on taking this off?

Any other suggestions in general? Left up to me the next step is a bath in Brasso with a VERY light wipe off.
posted by patrad to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
They're steel hinges, and I am wondering whether they're really brass plated, or perhaps just coated with a brass-colored spray finish of some sort.

The pitting is actually rust, and even if you remove it you'll just have specks of exposed steel that will rust again. I'd bet that lacquer thinner would take off the lacquer finish easily.

I wouldn't count on them getting much better unless you want to sink serious money into the project. Full restoration would mean buffing and re-plating, which would be labor intensive for somebody.
posted by jon1270 at 5:45 AM on August 13, 2014

Response by poster: How thick is brass plating usually? The two on the left are the ones where I wore through it polishing/buffing. Yeah, so you think the rust is through the plating? Makes sense. They are from a toolbox around 1915-1933. Not sure if that would help determine if they were sprayed or plated.
posted by patrad at 6:07 AM on August 13, 2014

I don't know how thick it is in dimensional terms, but it's obviously pretty thin. They can't be polished up the way solid brass hinges can; it's difficult to do more than a light cleaning. Sometimes people just buff off all of the brass finish and then apply a clear lacquer or maybe tung oil to resist rust, and let them look like the steel they really are.
posted by jon1270 at 6:11 AM on August 13, 2014

Response by poster: If I took it all down to steel, would there be a good way to get a nice sheen/gloss on it?
posted by patrad at 6:47 AM on August 13, 2014

patrad: "How thick is brass plating usually?"

Surprisingly thick; a few thou to 10's of thou is common. Older stuff is usually thicker. But brass is pretty soft to begin with, so wears easily.

Personally I'd agree with jon1270 and say take them all down, buff them, and oil them - but if you really want a brass finish, you can get small brass brush-electroplating kits for reasonably cheap (sub-$50), or reasonably safe immersion plating kits for under $200 (e.g. from Caswell plating)

As always the key is prepping a good surface … no, better than that … no, even better than that; think "bloody fantastic!" - and taking your time to get a good finish. Especially with the brush-plating kits, since unless you have the patience of Job you'll never get more than the thinnest of coats on anything but the smallest pieces.

But if you do go that route and want a bright brass finish I'll say pull the hinges apart, prep them well (including polishing and cleaning), plate them until it really starts to haze up (it's hard to describe, but there's a definite turning point) while giving extra attention to the corners & edges, buff them very gently (with a clean soft cloth not a polishing cloth, and by hand not dremel) while avoiding the corners & edges, then lacquer them to protect the finish.
posted by Pinback at 7:05 AM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

DON'T. Don't mess with them any further. Just put them back on. The patina on them is testament to their age, and part of the beauty and history of the thing. It is an honest finish that only comes with time, and can't be truly faked. The only thing that should ever be removed is destructive rust... everything else, just leave as is. Don't erase the history of this box.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 7:14 AM on August 13, 2014

Response by poster: Yes I'm thinking now I'm just going to apply some Tung Oil for further protection and leave it at that. Thanks all!
posted by patrad at 7:43 AM on August 13, 2014

I don't know that I'd put plain tung oil on them. On a metal surface I'm not sure it'd ever cure, you'll just end up with a sticky surface. Something that cures to a hard finish like lacquer probably makes more sense, or something that doesn't cure but isn't sticky, like a light coating of buffed machine oil.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:09 AM on August 13, 2014

Well, maybe ignore me on that - the usage directions for the tung oil I have say it goes OK on metal. Maybe I'm thinking of linseed oil that just gets tacky.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:11 AM on August 13, 2014

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