How To: Restoring the finish on a brass door lock, replacing old window panes

August 31, 2011

Q. The brass on our entrance door lock set seems to have a lacquer finish that was affected by temperature extremes and chipped off. Is there a way to clean the metal to restore the look of shiny brass? We have tried Brasso and similar products without success.

— Silver Spring

A. Your diagnosis is probably correct: The brass has a lacquer coating that’s coming off, allowing the underlying brass to tarnish and look dirty in comparison with places where the brass is still coated and shiny. The solution is to remove the lacquer. You can then let all of the brass darken evenly, or you can have the pieces polished and recoated with lacquer for a like-new appearance.

Front-door hardware is typically solid brass, not plated, which means that it’s possible to strip the lacquer yourself if you want to go with an aged look. Spray-on oven cleaner may work; if not, try lacquer thinner or, as a last resort, methylene chloride-based paint stripper. Be sure to follow safety precautions on the label and dispose of any leftover solvent as hazardous waste.


The brass on our entrance door lockset seems to have a lacquer finish that was affected by temperature extremes and chipped off. (Gail Terrier)

If you want a shiny look or just want someone else to do the stripping and waste disposal, take the parts to a company that specializes in refinishing metal. Two options are Metro Plating & Polishing in Kensington (301-493-4009 or 800-938-5811; www.metroplating.com) and Chevy Chase Plating & Polishing in Rockville (301-230 7686; www.chevychaseplating.com). Both typically have a turnaround time of several weeks but offer a same-day rush service for front-door hardware. Be aware that the total cost could run as high as $100 or so.

Q. I have a Colonial brick home built in 1939. The attic windows are shaped like quarters of a pie. A couple of panes have fallen out. I was astonished at the cost of replacing the entire windows, even though the replacements would not even open up, as the originals do. Is there a cost-effective solution, perhaps going to a glass shop to have someone make small panes of glass that I could caulk in?

— Chevy Chase

Sure, replace just the glass. Vintage windows might need more upkeep than new ones, but at least they can be repaired, which isn’t true of new ones.

You can hire a window-repair company or do the work yourself, assuming you are reasonably handy. For detailed procedures, the best reference book is “Working Windows,” by Terry Meany (Lyons Press, 2008).

Because there’s a good chance the window paint contains lead, be sure to read up on lead-safe work procedures before you begin. One resource is “Lead Paint Safety: A Field Guide for Painting, Home Maintenance, and Renovation Work,” published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (www.hud.gov/offices/lead/training/LBPguide.pdf). If you hire a contractor, make sure the person is certified for work on lead-based paint.

Remove the windows so you can do the work on a workbench, not a ladder. You’ll need to scrape out any remaining glazing compound, along with the tiny metal pieces, called points, that once helped secure the glass. If the glazing compound is hard and difficult to pry loose, soften it with an infrared paint stripper or a heat gun. Set the gun below 1,100 degrees so lead won’t become airborne, and keep the gun moving so you don’t singe the paint or frame.

Once the frame is clear and clean, make a cardboard template for the glass and take it to a glass shop for replacement panes. To install the glass, follow directions on the glazing compound you buy. Oil-based formulas are the traditional choice. They last well but can’t be painted until they skin over, which usually takes at least a couple of weeks. Water-based products may not last as long but can be painted the same day.

If you discover that the windows need more than new glass — if the wooden frames are deteriorating, for example — companies that specialize in restoration of windows include Renew Restoration in Owings (301-855-1913; www.renew
restoration.com
), the Color Alchemist Company of Painters in Arlington County (202-679-5525; www.coloralchemist.com) and AVSmoot (202-636-1091; www.avsmoot.com) in the District.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo .

The Checklist: Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in August, like upgrading your locks.

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