Make Historical Wood Screws Using Toilet Bowl Cleaner

//Make Historical Wood Screws Using Toilet Bowl Cleaner

Several years ago I was surprised to learn how much money a popular online screw retailer was selling historical-style slotted screws for. The shipping cost was terrible too. But nevertheless, my friends were buying wood screws from this company because the slotted screws looked so good on historical-style furniture and hardware. So after a little research I discovered that I could find regular zinc slotted screws at a small hardware store in my town (surprisingly big box stores like Lowes don’t sell them) and strip the zinc coating off to get inexpensive historical screws for my furniture.

Zinc plated slotted screws sitting on a piece of wood

I first experimented with stripping the shiny zinc coating off the screws with my blow torch and also in a fire. Both methods mostly stripped the zinc coating, but hard residue remained and the color was strange and inconsistent. It also took an extremely long time to strip just one wood screw of the zinc coating. Finally I tried “The Works” toilet bowl cleaner that was recommended to me. I was shocked at how much better this last method worked. The zinc was stripped in just a few minutes and I was left with very clean and consistently colored wood screws.

Pouring the works toilet bowl cleaner into a glass jar to strip zinc plating from slotted screws to get historical wood screws

I found a two pack of this toilet bowl cleaner at my local grocery store for just a couple dollars, so the cost really is negligible. I think it’s sold nationally, but if you can’t find it in your local store, Amazon also carries it (here). So over the past several years I’ve bought a bunch of different sizes of slotted wood screws (so I can have them on hand) and I just strip the zinc coating in bulk. It’s best to not mix similar sizes, as it may be difficult to tell them apart. You can easily recycle old (but clean) glass jam jars or pasta jars and use multiple jars for different sizes. Here’s my quick three step process:


Pouring the works toilet bowl cleaner into a glass jar to strip zinc plating from slotted screws to get historical wood screws

I drop the screws into a glass jar and pour enough of the toilet bowl cleaner to cover the screws. Make sure you use protective gloves to prevent a chemical burn on your skin. Use protective glasses if you think you might make a splash.

Pouring the works toilet bowl cleaner into a glass jar to strip zinc plating from slotted screws to get historical wood screws

You’ll immediately see the screws bubbling, which means the toilet cleaner is going to work dissolving the zinc coating.


It’s easier to rinse the screws in a ceramic sink (toilet bowl cleaner doesn’t hurt ceramic toilets, so it should be fine on ceramic sinks), but I’m not sure what toilet bowl cleaner does to a stainless steel sink, so try this outside. After about 5 minutes you can use a garden hose to flood the glass jar until the chemical is gone and only water and the screws remain in the jar. Don’t use high water pressure or the chemical may get sprayed all over you.

A hose spraying water into a glass jar to dilute toilet bowl cleaner that was stripping wood screws

You can see how nicely all the shiny zinc coating was stripped off of the wood screws:

Historical slotted wood screws that were just stripped of zinc coating


The one minor downside of using wood screws without zinc plating is that they will now be susceptible to rust. So quickly dry the screws and pour a little mineral oil on them. Then you can drop them into a little plastic or paper bag, and they’ll be ready for you when you want to add hardware to your pieces of furniture! Just make sure you label the bag with the size of screws.

Pouring mineral oil on recently stripped wood screws to prevent rust

Here’s what they look like on some nice hinges that I ordered from Lee Valley:

slotted wood screws clocked in antique style desk hinge

slotted wood screws clocked in antique style desk hinge


About the Author:

Joshua loves mixing his passion for traditional hand tool woodworking with his ability to teach in a simple manner. He lives on a small farm in Earlysville, Virginia with his wife and four children, and builds furniture in his workshop / woodworking school.

Leave a Reply

14 Comments on "Make Historical Wood Screws Using Toilet Bowl Cleaner"

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
William Brown

I use ‘gun black’ to age my slot screws. Got the idea from Glen Huey.

warren Black

Great solution Josh,
I look forward to your e-mails nd videos. KEEP IT UP!

Wilson E. Stevens

I like and use the product “The Works” for removing rust too. It works on rust just as well os on the zink screws.


But – pretty please – don’t dispose of the toilet cleaner in the grass. This is really nasty stuff and should go in a drain connected to wastewater disposal ;-)

Bradley Johnson

You may want to consider using the more traditionally shaped “wood screw”; they are readily available and their tapered, non-threaded upper shank matches the older style better. And they are available in sizes such as 8/10/12 in various lengths; theses different sized heads can be selected to match the hardware holes more perfectly. Early 20th century (and older) screws can also be found in country junk shops, or salvaged from hopelessly trashed old furniture; I keep a couple of sorted drawers of different sizes that I have reclaimed.

Bill R.

I’ve successfully striped off the zinc from screws with just household white vinegar. Just soak the screws over night and all the inc is gone. It’s cheap and it works.


Just a thought, but maybe you could take a Q-tip and apply a very small dab of Rub ‘n Buff to the head of the screw to get the look you want. Just don’t buff. They have several colors that might work alone or blended like Pewter, Spanish Copper, or European Gold. If it worked you could keep the corrosion protection.


for iron screws that rust, do what the longrifle builders did… blue them with a torch or put them in heat till cherry red and quench. never rust again and the look authentic


joshua you quench in water is good. the screw turns blue and that’t all you have to do. sometimes i use a little wax to getr it in place.
you can see Gary Brumfield’s rifle with blued screws at address below.

Wood and Shop in your inbox?

Subscribe to get Joshua's free traditional woodworking videos, articles & news:

You have Successfully Subscribed!