How To: Finish a table in chrome or brushed steel

March 7, 2012

Q. We own two small glass-topped coffee tables with brass bases that have been stored away for years. We would like to duplicate them in either chrome or brushed steel, but we haven’t been able to find ones that are similar. Is there a way to have the metal dipped to change the look?

Washington

A. Two places that do chrome plating are Chevy Chase Plating & Polishing in Rockville (301-230-7686, www.chevychaseplating.com) and Metro Plating and Polishing in Kensington (301-493-4009 or 800-938-5811, www.metroplating.com). However, whether this is the best approach depends on how big the base is and how much you’re willing to spend. Richard Sisson at Chevy Chase Plating explained that because Washington is a “paper town” where industrial-scale equipment isn’t in much demand, a large piece probably cannot be plated nearby. However, if the parts can be disassembled, he could do it. He estimated that plating the base for something about the size of a coffee table would cost $400 to $600.

For about a third of that cost, Sisson suggested, you could have the base powder-coated. That’s a process where the finish goes on as tiny dry particles that are temporarily given a slight positive electrical charge. They stick to the metal because it’s simultaneously given a slight negative charge. Then the finish is baked on, which makes it very durable. One company that offers this service is Extreme Powder Coating in Lorton (703-339-8233, www.extremepowdercoating.com).

Or, for about $25, you could paint the base yourself. Paint and hardware stores stock an amazing array of spray paints these days, including silvery metallic paints that might give you a close-enough look of chrome. For a brushed steel look, experiment by painting pieces of pipe with brush-on, water-based metallic paints, such as those made by Modern Masters. (The company’s Web site lists numerous suppliers in the area.)

If you’re testing on galvanized pipe, wipe the surface first with vinegar, rinse and let dry. Brush on a primer suitable for slick surfaces, such as Bulls Eye 1-2-3 from Zinsser. Then apply an opaque metallic paint. Or, for more of a brushed-steel look, paint matte black paint over the primer, let dry, then add a coat or two of gray, semi-opaque metallic paint. When the paint is dry, buff with super-fine steel wool to add the brushed look. If you like the look, do the same thing on the brass but skip the vinegar wipe.

If you do decide to paint and discover rust where the brass plating wore through, treat the rust spots first with a primer that chemically alters rust and creates a stable base for paint. Bondo, Mar-Hyde and Rust-Oleum make primer that deals with rust.

Reader feedback: Removing a sticky finish on wood

A reader in Falls Church responds to the Feb. 8 How To column, which answered a question about cleaning an old, sticky table:

I hate to be a pest, but your article reminds me of the old saying that, to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you go to a company that specializes in refinishing, you are going to get advice to strip. Maybe you know what happens next: It is dip-stripped, all the character of the old finish is removed, the wood gets gouged by the stripper person, joints are loosened and sometimes the new finish is shiny lacquer over gray wood.

I have restored a lot of non-historic furniture in the last 40 years. Here is what I would do to the piece, using materials you can find at a paint or hardware store.

First mix a pint of liquid that’s one-third turpentine, one-third white vinegar and one-third boiled linseed oil. Buy a pound box of powdered pumice. Make a pad with a piece of soft cotton cloth, such as a T-shirt, pour some liquid in one shallow dish and some pumice in another. Dip the pad in the liquid, then the pumice, and rub the tabletop with the grain. A slurry of slop will quickly appear as the cleaner and pumice remove the old dirt, grime, wax and oils. Wipe that up with another rag, and buff with a clean rag like a towel. You can use very fine steel wool instead of the pumice if you are careful, but a better substitute is a fine grade of plastic “scrubbie” like you use to clean dishes.

After buffing, let the surface dry a day or so, and buff again. Then, for further protection, wax the table with a hard carnauba-type paste wax.

Huber’s response: Old-time methods do work and can have gorgeous results. But these ingredients aren’t the safest things out there. Work with good ventilation, make sure nothing in the area might produce a spark, and protect your hands by wearing heavy-duty gloves resistant to turpentine. If the label isn’t clear, call the glove manufacturer to check, as turpentine passes through many common glove materials. Also, be very careful to hang all of the cloths and scrub pads outside to dry completely before you dispose of them. A pile of rags soaked in linseed oil can spontaneously combust, causing your house to burn down.

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