That’s right… I just quoted Yoda from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Well, Yoda said “nine hundred years” not “122” but still… the point is made. Our houses are old! You buy this Victorian built in the late 1800’s or even a brick Colonial built in the 1920’s or 30’s… and the first thing you want to do is start making it look … grand again. Some go about doing that by just gutting the entire place and starting with a clean slate. That is absolutely fine. Did you take the time to stop and look around at what the house has to give you before you do that gut rehab? The homes hardware is the first place I always start.
Our 1891 Oak Park Victorian had drawers built in the closets when we bought the home in 2000. We are only the 3rd owner of this very old home so much was left in original condition or… painted over. The drawers in the closets were made of very inferior grade pine. They were falling apart just looking at them! But we immediately took note of the drawer pulls and saved all we could find. (photo above of original drawer pulls as we found them in 2000)
Then, in 2005 when we decided to renovate our kitchen we knew exactly what pulls were going to go the Amish cabinets. The pulls are not made of any special metal no fancy brass or pewter. They are most likely pot metal. Pot metal was an inexpensive melding of whatever metals were available at the time. The metal had a low melting point so it was easy to form. Here is how the pulls turned out.
After removing any paint with a chemical stripper I usually put the hardware on a 6″ bench grinder fitted with a wire wheel. This takes off any remaining tarnish especially on the solid brass. Now, purists would not like this method of restoration. That’s OK… I am not a purist.
You have to be careful when grinding the hardware. You do NOT want to use the wire wheel on the grinder for things covered in years of paint. You must remove the paint with a liquid or gel stripper solution first. Grinding the paint off creates paint dust and the paint could contain lead. Unfortunately, the same goes for the pot metal. The pot metal is an unknown mixture of metals and could contain small quantities of lead. You need to wear proper eye protection and a dust/particle mask. Some people may think it a good idea to use some form of leather glove while using the grinder. I do NOT do this as I found the gloves can get caught by the wire wheel and get pulled into the grinder. And always after grinding or stripping to the finish you like… coat the hardware in a few layers of clear lacquer before re-installing.