How to Make Brass Look Old
Shiny, new, gleaming brass looks great on a fire engine, not so great on your doorknobs, drawer pulls or wall sconces. The patina of age enriches the look of brass so it's not so, well, brassy.
You can antique that new hardware or the lucky-find flea market chandelier in an afternoon with a few chemicals and a bit of scrubbing. Chemicals is the key word for this project – plan a well-ventilated work space and protect yourself from the fumes.
Remove the brass item from its furniture or wall mounting and set it on a protected surface in a well-ventilated area. Wipe off any dust and try the magnet test to be sure you are faux aging real brass and not destroying a brass plate finish. Just hold a magnet near the piece – if the magnet sticks, you don't have solid brass.
Strip any lacquer or other coating from the brass by brushing paint stripper all over the piece. Use gloves and goggles during this to protect yourself from the fumes and the harsh chemicals. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for allowing the stripper to dissolve the finish. You may have to wait an hour or more – a good reason to do all your brass faux finishing at the same time.
Wipe off all the stripper with a clean, damp rag. Examine the piece in strong light to check for any missed spots, as those will resist the metal darkener.
Sand the piece all over with fine steel wool. This leaves light scratches in the brass but you want that so the final darkener ages the piece unevenly, as if it is naturally distressed. Don't aim for deep scratches or an especially rough finish – your final effect should look aged, not damaged.
Pop those goggles and gloves back on, if needed, and apply the darkening liquid with the foam applicator. Patina liquid for brass comes in brown, green, brownish-black and black finishes. Choose the one closest to the finish you want – the color of the brass will begin to transform the piece almost immediately.
Wipe the solution off with a clean, damp rag. The gently distressed and darker brass piece will blend comfortably with antiques and traditional, primitive or eclectic decor.
Things You Will Need
- Paint stripper
- Small paintbrush
- Clean rags
- Steel wool
- Brass, bronze and copper darkener
- Foam applicator
- Protective gloves and goggles
If your brass item is attached to wires or anything that could be damaged by the stripper or patina, tape or wrap the parts requiring protection from the aging process.
Keep your work area off-limits to pets and small children – yours or the neighbors' – and dispose of the leftover stripper and cleaning rags responsibly.
Wear your goggles and gloves to protect yourself from chemical splatters. Wear old clothes or cover yourself with a work apron.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .