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Metal Hardware Maintenance

 

ceaseless concerns for furniture caretakers.
There are lots of metal hardware being used in our daily life, including handles, brackets, hinges and escutcheons attached, usually with nails, to the outer surface of a piece. The metal in hardware might be brass, silver, gold-plated bronze, depending upon the style, date and country of origin. Contemporary hardware attachments sometimes have a clear lacquer finish that gives them a shiny appearance. Antique hardware is also sometimes coated by restorers and conservators to eliminate the need for constant polishing. There is currently a lot of debate in the conservation field as to whether metal hardware should be lacquered or polished. Neither is an option is there is evidence of an original varnish or if abrasive polishing would remove some other original surface treatment.
Furniture hardware may become dirty and tarnished with use and exposure to the atmosphere. In such cases, polishing it can be justified. However, even this step is sometimes a poorly informed one. One common example of the damage is created by polishing hardware supposed to be brass, when it is really gilded bronze that is simply dirty. Polishing removes the gold, damaging the surface of a beautiful sculptural element.
If you choose to polish, remove the hardware from the piece, noting the exact location of each screw and nut. Polishing the hardware while on the piece damages the surrounding finish and also allows polishes to run beneath the hardware that can further damage both the metal hardware and the finish.
Clean hardware carefully with a 50/50 mix of acetone and alcohol to remove any dirt and oil residue, scrubbing the piece with a soft bristle brush. After drying, the surface can be polished with a fine, lint-free cloth of felt block charged with a very fine abrasive, such as calcium carbonate or jeweler's micro polish, in an alcohol or mineral spirits slurry. Commercial polishes can contribute to the deterioration of the hardware, as they frequently contain harsh cleaners that corrode the metal.
If the hardware cannot be removed safely from the furniture it can be polished and coated on the object provided the following precautions are scrupulously followed. First, the surface of the wood and varnish must be completely protected. Acetate sheets, such as those found in office supply stores, can be notched and slid under the hardware from both sides to form an overlapping barrier. Without this precaution, attempts to polish the hardware will likely end in disaster.
Since this hardware cannot be doused with the acetone and alcohol mixture, cleaning must be done by dipping swabs in the solution, then rubbing the metal surface with the swab. Polishing must also be done more carefully, perhaps on a smaller scale.
After polishing, remove all residues. The surface of the hardware that has been removed from the furniture can be easily coated with a transparent resin before the hardware is replaced on the piece. Particular care must be used in applying any coating when the hardware cannot be removed, to make sure that no protective varnish for the hardware gets on the furniture piece itself.
In this way, metal hardware can be maintained perfectly.

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