By Linda Babiak
Vintage homes have many challenges; one is what to do about the 100-year-old painted hardware. In a way it is easier to throw it away and buy something new, but in doing so you lose something valuable as well as a significant part of your home’s vintage fabric. While painted hardware looks bad and seems hopeless, it really is not. With some time and cost, your vintage hardware can look as good as the day it was installed: beautiful and a credit to your home’s history.
There are reasons to salvage old hardware. Possibly the most important is for the integrity and period authenticity of your home. Another reason is that the quality of old hardware is much higher than something you buy today, unless you invest in high end, expensive hardware, like Baldwin. Antique hardware is usually made of better metals and is more substantial, a reason it has lasted 100 years. Some vintage hardware is not easily replaceable; there aren’t modern versions of certain pieces.
How to go about the task of restoring your hardware? It’s probably best to do it when you are planning to repaint your trim. I did mine as a hobby working a bit at a time over several years. Start with putting a small dab of a good quality paint stripper on each screw (I use Jasco). Let it sit and reapply until the paint is soft; clean the screw slot with the tip of your screwdriver or a razor blade and carefully remove the screw (save old screws, as many sizes are not easy to find). Using a chisel, carefully remove the hardware.
There are two ways to refinish the hardware and screws. One is to bring them, paint and all, to a metal refinisher like Antique Metal Finishing on Newport Avenue. The other solution is to do it yourself: strip the paint off using paint stripper, clean and spray them with a clear lacquer. The professional refinishing costs more but gives a new restored result; the do-it-yourself method frequently gives a satisfactory result; I’ve done both.
For broken or missing hardware, B&B Hardware has a vintage selection; EBay is also a good resource. If you have vintage mortise locks that are broken, don’t discard them! Tom Barnes at B&B has demonstrated at our BHCA meetings that most can be repaired or vintage replacements found.
Restoring vintage hardware does take work, but I can tell you from personal experience that restoring your beautiful old hardware spruces up a tired look and people will marvel at the beauty of it. I made a hobby of restoring mine and have restored every piece of old hardware in my 1920’s home with amazing results.