By Joshua Farnsworth
In this article, and the above video, I show my method for using a household cleaning chemical to make new hardware look like antique hardware. I transform inexpensive, zinc-coated hinges, hardware, and screws from your hardware store into beautiful, historical antique hardware for these wooden dovetail chests. And I use toilet bowl cleaner to do it!
I recently made these 4 dovetail chests for some very important clients…my kids!
And I wanted these chests to have a very traditional look, which includes hardware that looks like antique hardware. But antique hardware can be hard to find, and reproduction hardware can be expensive.
So before I show you how to install hinges on these dovetail boxes (see how to install hinges here), I want to show you my quick and simple method for giving a great antique look to inexpensive zinc hinges and screws from a hardware store.
Strip zinc from hardware to make antique hardware
On these chests I decided to use inexpensive zinc covered butt hinges from my local hardware store. You can find zinc-covered butt hinges here if you can’t find them at your hardware store. These are 2-inch wide hinges that I used for this project:
I realize that these hinges don’t have the tight tolerance that I might use on a higher-end piece of furniture (like the cupboard pictured below), but I really don’t notice any functional difference on a larger chest like this.
And these hinges are just as good as the hinges that I’ve seen on a lot of antique pieces of furniture. And you know antique hinges have lasted a very long time. After I take the hinges out of the bag, the first thing I do is throw the Philips head screws aside.
I prefer to use slotted wood screws, because they give a more historical look to my furniture. If you have a hard time finding zinc-coated slotted wood screws in your local hardware stores, like I do, then you can click here to find the online specialty store where I buy mine. This is pretty much the only place I’ve found that sells small quantities of any size of slotted screws, at reasonable prices. I buy bags of 100 for very common sizes that I use a lot, like these:
Then I put the hinges and screws into a small glass jar where I’ll strip the zinc coating. In this case I’m also throwing in a hasp (a locking hinge for the lid), which I’ll talk about installing in the third video of this series.
Then I cover all of the zinc-covered hardware with “The Works” toilet bowl cleaner. I find that this works better and faster than any other chemical for stripping zinc, and a whole bottle will usually cost you under $2 at a local grocery store (I buy mine at Big Lots). It also strips rust. You can see here how the zinc coating is getting stripped right away:
But be careful because this stuff is potent. I’d recommend wearing rubber gloves and safety glasses in case you get any splashes. If you’re concerned about using toilet bowl cleaner, then you can also use white vinegar.
Vinegar takes 2-3 days to get the same results that I get in a couple of hours with the toilet bowl cleaner.
After an hour I check a hinge and a screw to see if the zinc is removed. Sometimes it takes a little longer.
After I’m confident that the zinc is removed, I put the jar in the kitchen sink and run water into the jar for a minute or two to wash away the cleaner.
The hardware won’t start rusting until I take it out of the water, so I wait to remove it until I’ve got a couple of old bath towels and a bottle of mineral oil in place. I quickly transfer the hardware to a first towel, and dry it off as best as I can.
Then I add a bunch of inexpensive mineral oil to the hardware, to ensure that it won’t rust. I’ve seen rust form after just a couple of minutes, so I work quickly.
Before I use the hardware I’ll wipe excess oil off so it doesn’t get my furniture messy.
So here is a picture of the before and after. Looks pretty good huh?
In the next video and article I’ll show how I add these traditional-looking hinges and screws onto these dovetail chests. You can see that here. If you have questions or want to share some of your own tips, please leave a comment below. See the products used in the section below: