How To Strip Hardware

Reclaim the fine details on old hardware with these 5 easy steps for stripping off decades’ worth of paint buildup.

Many old pieces of hardware—whether hooks, hinges, or escutcheons—are adorned in the kind of delicate detailing that would turn their modern, big-box counterparts green with envy. But after decades of being “freshened up” by yet another coat of paint, even the most elaborate hardware will lose many of its fine-tuned details. To bring them back, you’ll need to remove the old layers of paint weighing them down. Follow these steps to get the job done.

Step 1
Most of the Eastlake-style patterning on this Victorian-era handrail support has disappeared beneath paint buildup. To remove the paint, assemble the following tools: paint stripper, paintbrush, wire or heavy-duty nylon brush, nylon scrubbing pad, pick, paint tray, and mineral spirits.

Step 2
Wearing protective rubber gloves (latex won’t hold up), use the paintbrush to liberally apply the stripping agent. Next, set the pieces on newspaper or cardboard and let them sit for at least one hour, and up to 24 hours for pieces with excessive paint buildup. Always work in a well-ventilated room, and if you suspect your hardware harbors lead paint, follow lead-safe practices.

Step 3
When the paint begins to pucker, it’s ready to be worked off. Use the wire or nylon brush to scrub away the paint; dipping both hardware and brush into mineral spirits (in the paint tray) helps expedite removal. After the bulky buildup dissipates, dip the scrubbing pad in the mineral spirits and rub it over the surface several times. (If paint remains, you may need to apply the stripper and repeat the process a second time.)

Step 4
Use the pick (or another sharp object) to clean out small crevices in the finer details. Work in small sections until you’ve scraped away all the paint to uncover the most delicate patterns.

Step 5
With all of the original details now visible, the finished, stripped hook appears good as new. It’s ready to be carefully painted again (a single time), or left alone and reinstalled, taking its proper place as a supporting old-house player.

Tags: Andy Olenick Hardware OHJ June/July 2012 OHJ Staff Old-House Journal paint removal & stripping

By Andy Olenick

Andy Olenick is a Rochester-based photographer and author of several books documenting New York's rich architectural heritage, including Historic New York: Architectural Journeys in the Empire State, Classic Buffalo: A Heritage of Distinguished Architecture, and Erie Canal Legacy: Architectural Treasures of the Empire State.

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