Ideas From Ed: The Stripper and the Wire Wheel

Ed is a do-it-yourselfer who is happy to share some of his ideas and experiences in this monthly column.

Sometimes, it’s a little thing that catches the attention of folks checking your restoration work, and often your part of that takes surprisingly little effort.  For example, door hinges are often painted over when a door is painted, when originally they may have been brass or nicely-plated steel.  It’s easier to paint them than to remove the door, remove the hinges, and replace everything after painting (but please do so if you can!).  If you’re unlucky enough to be dealing with those that are already painted, here’s what you might do.

Example of Painted Hinge

Get yourself a container of a less-dramatic paint stripper (3M Safest Stripper is an example).  Those take a bit longer to work, but have no odor and some don’t even require you to wear gloves, so you can work with them indoors easily.  Remove the door hardware (including the screws), place everything in the bottom of a plastic bucket, and liberally brush the stripper on.  Then go and enjoy a nice dinner or watch some TV (or take on another restoration project!).  The safe strippers take longer to work than the more toxic ones, so don’t rush things.  By the way, I also suggest running a razor knife around each hinge prior to removal to break the bond of paint, so you’re less likely to do damage to the door when you remove things.

You should also have a stationary motor with an arbor on it, or a “grinding wheel”, but with a BRASS wire brush installed.  After the old paint has bubbled up on the hinges, scrape away what you can with a putty knife.  Try to get into all the beveled edges of the screw holes if you can.  When you have the bulk of the old paint off (it should almost “fall off” and requires little effort if you’ve applied enough stripper and given it enough time), wash the hardware in soapy water and dry.  Put on some safety glasses and fire up the buffing wheel.  Them with a firm grip on each piece, let the brass wheel do the remainder of the work as you gently push the piece into the spinning wires.  It will get into the nooks and crannies that you couldn’t.  If the hinge is solid brass or is steel, you can buff to your heart’s content.  If it’s plated with brass or chrome, you’ll be limited in what you can do, because you can buff through the decorative surface and expose the less-desirable substrate below if you buff too long or too hard.

Typical Wire Wheel Setup

When you’re satisfied with how things look, wash them again in more soapy water, as it’s important to get all the stripper off of everything before going to the next step.  Wrap the hinge pin stems, if you’ve removed them, with masking tape, then stick them into an egg carton or something to hold them upright.  Set everything onto a large sheet of newspaper, then spray 2 coats of a clear protective finish on.  (That part should be done outdoors if possible.)

When dry, apply some lube to the pins, re-assemble it all, and re-install.  Then sit back and enjoy how such a little thing makes a dramatic difference in a door’s appearance.   You can do the same procedure on knobs, locks, handles, and other small metal items, too!

Example of Previously Painted HingeExample of Previously Painted Hinge