Chris Schwarz's Blog

Adding Age to Brass

Getting all the bits of hardware to match on a project is a critical detail for me. I go to great lengths to ensure the hinges, pulls and other assorted metal bits look like they came from the same family.

For example, for the blanket chest on the cover of the Summer 2008 issue I wanted to get the brown steel stays to match the black iron chest hinges. I ended up painting the steel stays black, then lacquering them and rubbing them out until they looked like the powdery black iron.

This might seem excessive, but every time anyone (even my kids) opens the chest for the first time, they comment on the cool hardware. It’s definitely worth it.

One of the biggest problems with getting your hardware to match is dealing with shiny brass. I really dislike the way it looks for some reason. So I usually end up aging all the brass bits until they look like they have seen about 100 years of use.

Here’s how I do it. First I strip any lacquer off the hinges. I’ll pour a little bit of lacquer thinner into a Mason jar, drop the hardware in and shake the jar for a few minutes. Usually the thinner gets a little tinge of color (sometimes green).

I discard the thinner, dry off the hinges and clean out the jar. Then I drop the hardware back into the jar and add a tablespoon of liquid gun blue (I use Perma Blue made by Birchwood Casey). I shake it around until the brasses and screws are colored. Then I pour the gun blue back into the bottle and pour cold tap water into the jar.

After rinsing the hardware, I’ll dry it off and let it sit out awhile. The instructions say you should allow the stuff to cure overnight. I haven’t had any problems installing the hardware almost immediately.

I really like the color that gun blue imparts. It’s always consistent, never streaky and doesn’t look like a dye job.

There are other ways to go about this process. You could install the hinges and wait 100 years. You could use ammonia, which is the process Senior Editor Robert W. Lang uses. And I’m sure there are even more out there. If you have a favorite one that you think is even easier, post a comment below.

- Christopher Schwarz

7 thoughts on “Adding Age to Brass

  1. J.C.

    As a "gun guy" I’ve used just about everything including urine [don't ask whose] to change the color of metal. Birchwood Casey’s Plum Brown is fantastic for patinating the iron of old planes. For brass, I use plain old lye followed by a burnishing with steel wool. Lye gives me some variation in color which I find appealing, i.e. purple, green and of course dark brown. Afterward, I coat it with lacquer. Done.

    always,
    J.C.

  2. Christopher Schwarz

    Alan,

    Some projects call for brass, not steel.

    I prefer Perma Blue because it is safer and faster than aqueous ammonia. And safer than torching it. And Perma Blue is cheap. A $7 bottle lasts me years.

    Chris

  3. Alan

    Why not use steel brackets in the case where you would paint them with Perma Blue?

    I like the idea of fuming it, or even applying peanut oil and heating it, that seems to work ok for brass. Just seems like an added expense to buy brass and apply Perma Blue.

  4. Brian Williams

    Chris-

    Your bluing solution will last longer if you don’t add the solution you already used back into the little jar. One other option is to use browning solutions or Oxpho Blue from Brownell’s (check out their website). The browning solutions give you a rust-colored patina; they’ve always seemed to work better for me. One caveat in association with one of the replies above- on steel, after you either blue or brown, you should put a good coat of paste wax on the metal and then buff it out. This helps reduce the long-term oxidation and HELPS keep the rust spots from showing up on the hardware.

    Brian

  5. Michael Berg

    I have used Gun Blue, and Super Blue quite a bit. I have found that the steel pieces that I have done 15 years ago have rusted a bit because I did not protect the surface good enough after "Bluing". Gun Bluing on steel is basically a thin layer of rust, but black instead of blue. On brass you are in luck because there is no rust, but it will continue to develop a patina. Multiple applications will get you less blotchy results and darker color. Lacquering or a wax finish will help prevent the air from continuing to change the patina.
    If you really want to make a patina stick, sand blast the parts then immediately soak in the solution. The metal practically becomes a sponge.

  6. Keith Smith

    For brass and copper items I use regular old lemon juice, clean the parts of any coating, cover with lemon juice, and overnight you get the aged look. Great thing about it is no special chemicals involved, I just grab the plastic yellow leomon out of the fridge.

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