I’m not a big fan of shiny hardware. Whether it’s steel or brass, mirror polished just isn’t my style. So, most of the time, I don’t use hardware as it comes right out of the package if it is shiny and bright. Even hand forged hardware can be a bit much in some cases if it has been filed bright. I know I’m not alone in my opinion either. Take for example the hardware for the current project I’m finishing up.
This hardware was hand forged by a very talented young blacksmith. As is necessary and traditional with hand forged hardware, there is always some work required with a file after the forging is done. The process of filing the hinges to clean them up and smooth them out, however, leaves areas of very bright metal on an otherwise black forged item. This isn’t a big deal in most cases as the brightly filed areas will develop a patina with time and use. However, if you want to speed things up a bit, as my client did in this case, you can help the process along with some simple ingredients from your kitchen.
There are literally dozens of formulas for solutions that will age steel and brass and add some “instant” patina. You can use things like gun bluing solution, some toilet bowl cleaners, citric acid (typically used by home brewers and folks that can and preserve their own food), and muriatic (i.e. hydrochloric) acid from the hardware store. Most of these products will work a little faster than my tried and true solution, but those that work quickly are quite caustic and nasty to work with, and many of these products are simply not readily available everywhere. However, the ingredients for the solution I use can be found in any grocery store, and, when I’m done with my aging solution, I can just dump it down the kitchen drain. The same cannot be said for most of the other products.
To age hardware, I use nothing more than a tablespoon or two of regular table salt dissolved in white vinegar. The process is super simple. Mix up the solution in a container that will fit your hardware. Dunk the hardware into the solution, take it out, and let it air dry for a few hours. If your hardware is zinc coated, you will need to soak it in the solution until the zinc coating has dissolved before removing it and letting it dry. If your hardware is coated with lacquer (applied by the manufacturer to keep it shiny and new looking), you will need to remove the lacquer using lacquer thinner or by abrading prior to soaking in the salt and vinegar solution.
The salt and vinegar solution air drying on the hardware will speed oxidation on the surface of the metal. This oxidation will result in darkening of steel, as well as the appearance of brown/red rust on the surface. Brass will just darken and age as it does not rust. Once dried, the hardware can be used as is for a well aged look. If the rust on the steel hardware is a bit too much patina for you, you can rub some oil into the metal. This will remove some of the surface rust but leave behind the darkened metal oxidation giving the hardware an aged but well cared for look. This is my personal preference in most cases.
One more note. When I started using this method years ago, I used only the vinegar and did not add salt to the mixture (see video below). However, several years ago I started adding the salt to the mixture and, to me at least, the results got more consistent and even compared to using the vinegar alone. I encourage you to try it both ways for yourself and see what works best for you.