Creating a Happy, Colorful, Handmade Home & life on the shores of lake superior

June 29, 2016

How to Remove Lacquer From Brass to Reveal a Brushed Finish: An Experiment

Remove Lacquer From Brass with Acetone

I am going to finally let you in on a secret: my Mom and I have been hard at work, giving her kitchen a budget-friendly makeover!  I'm sharing a little project from the makeover - how to remove lacquer from old brass and reveal a brushed gold finish - but there will be a ton of inexpensive DIY projects to share soon.  Get ready for: Painted cabinets! Repaired and refinished laminate counters! The tulip table finding a home after 6 years!  Something with gold tweed!  So much peel and stick tile...

But right now everything's drying, curing, in transit, or some sort of limbo.  I'll have more photos soon, but for now here's a sneak peek of our brass knob refurbishing experiment.

My Mom's cabinetry had the original brass knobs from the 1980s.  They are solid and she likes the shape but, after 30 years, she was tired of the lacquered finish.  From wear and use, some of the brass had started to develop a gorgeous patina that matched that of the original brass door knobs that were installed by my Great-Grandfather in the 1950s:

1950s Brass Door Knob

Infuriatingly, some of the kitchen knobs were still very glossy 80s brass and looked brand new My Mom hated the unintentionally mismatched look of old brass/new brass.

Brass Knobs

She loved how my brass knobs looked after I sanded them for painting, so we tried to achieve a similar brushed brass look with less elbow grease.  Here's what we did - and what products we used - to turn lacquered brass knobs into brushed gold.  The difference is so striking!
 
Supplies: 

How to Remove Lacquer From Brass and Reveal a Brushed Gold Finish:

First we soaked the knobs in an old metal baking pan filled with acetone for a couple of hours:

How to Age Brass Knobs
Clean Brass Knobs with Acetone
How to Turn Lacquered Brass into Brushed

Then, wearing rubber gloves and working outside (a face mask isn't a bad idea), we gave the brass knobs a good, thorough scrub with a scouring pad.

DIY Brushed Brass Knobs

The glossy finish - and years of grime - came off with a bit of coaxing, leaving behind a really, really gorgeous brushed brass finish, that's lighter and brighter than the formerly yellowy brass.

We successfully turned lacquered brass into brushed!

Best of all, they are all uniformly brushed, with some minimal patina, here and there - much better than the former mix of brassy new and totally worn out.  Plus, it's a fresh change for my Mom, who is thrilled with the results.  It's like getting all new knobs for a couple of bucks!

Remove Shine and Wear from Brass Knobs

Now the plan is to let them age naturally and develop a more even patina.  Should they turn out weird, we'll just strip them down again and create a faux patina, or apply a clear coat to bring back some shine and protect against wear.

Right now we both loved the brushed, but not too perfect look - they look like they've been here for years and suit the age of the house.

DIY Brushed Brass Cabinet Knobs
Turn Shiny Brass into Brushed Gold
Clean Gold Knobs with Acetone

We're looking forward to seeing this experiment take shape.  For now, Mom loves the brushed brass as a fresh alternative to the formerly glossy lacquered look - plus they look stellar with the newly painted (spoiler alert) fog grey cabinetry!

How to remove lacquer from brass for a softer brushed finish

I'm so excited to share some more updates as we check items off our to-to list.  This kitchen makeover is making me really weepy and goofy, and I wanted to explain why!

The Back Story to The Budget-Friendly Makeover of Mom's Kitchen

For years, my parents' 1980s kitchen has needed an update.  At first, it just needed a little tweak here or there, but every budget-friendly solution I proposed (Paint the floors! We should try concrete coated counters! Let's paint the cabinets!) was squashed.  In Mom's defense, many of these suggestions were proposed years ago, when I was into budget-friendly makeovers in the townhouse, but not design on a dime.  In the townhouse kitchen we had good bones to work with, but we still dropped about $1000 on new counters and tile.  We updated the whole upstairs pretty extensively, with all new bathrooms, hardwood flooring, and brand new ceiling fans.  Mom wasn't convinced a really budget-friendly spruce could look good. 

Then she saw me work some magic in the lakehouse - especially the temporary bathroom spruce, which was all achieved with paint!  She started to see the value in a cheap little makeover to tide her over while she saved for a renovation.  But by this point, I was less confident because her kitchen had seen more wear and was looking rough.  I told her to just continue putting away money for a renovation and not divert any funds to quick fixes.

Life, however, had other plans for my parents.  The last few years have been really difficult for them - I don't want to go into detail because it's just too sad.  But they've both put on a brave face and continued to be the giving, kind-hearted people they've always been, putting themselves last while continuing to help others even when they have nothing left to give.  This last year was an especially trying one for all of us and, if I'm being honest, at times I've found it difficult to make peace with what happened last spring.  But I've found refuge in my beautiful home.  I'm so grateful we found this place because I feel safe and at peace here; I'm happy when I'm at home. 

My parents, on the other hand - especially my Mom - haven't been able to find that kind of peace in their home and that has made me really sad for them.  With a major, to-the-studs reno planned for the kitchen "someday," but not today, I teamed up with Pfister  and Rust-Oleum to give my Mom's kitchen a cheery look she can love right now.  We didn't want to tear anything out, because that's the kind of domino effect that just escalates into a major project.  Instead, Mom and I have logged long hours working with what we have, trying to create something that will look good for a couple of years.

I'm especially antsy for the final "before" and "after" - I'm amazed already at how much fresher and brighter her kitchen looks! 
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22 comments

  1. Such a simple change but it looks so good! Can't wait to see the full reveal.
    This post was also touching, I hope your family finds strength and hope. Hugs.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words, Vin. I think once my parents' home becomes a place they can relax and unwind, they might start to feel hopeful about the future. We take for granted what a privilege it is to have a safe space to call home. It really does make me feel happy to be in my home - I'm so lucky for that! I am excited to share more about the room. The blush pink walls are making everyone smile!

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  2. I love this post. I am just sitting down tonight with some Rub n' Buff to see if I can make my kitchen handles/hinges match my new Champagne Bronze faucet. If I can't do that, I might use your above method.

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    1. Oooo, that's exciting!! I hope they turn out great! I love Rub n' Buff - I used it on some vintage hardware to get a brushed silver look:

      http://www.danslelakehouse.com/2014/10/rubbing-and-buffing-vintage-hardware.html

      I'd love to hear how they turn out - and if they wear well! My pulls aren't used very much, so they still look new.

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  3. The treatment worked great- those knobs look much better.
    I hope your mom loves her new kitchen refresh. It's true how much it can affect how you feel. My home is a sanctuary for me, for sure. A good organizing project does wonders for me- I can feel overwhelmed by disorder. I'm not naturally organized and some friends find it funny that I would makes such an effort, but order brings me peace. I have lots of spots that need organizing, it's not like my whole house is sorted, but key areas, like my kitchen, are key to my well-being.
    I hope that your parents find some comfort from sprucing up their place, too.

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    1. What you say about organizing is so true! My Mom and I both feel overwhelmed by disorder too. I find it calms my mind to get things orderly and I need to keep at it for my mental health! It's interesting the role our homes play in our happiness and well being.

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  4. This is wonderful, Tanya! I love how you tackle risky projects- this one really paid off. You motivate me to put a little effort into my dated kitchen. Wishing you and your family the best during these difficult times and good on you for helping your parents through them using your special talents.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Noelle. I am really excited to finish the space for my Mom - even with the stove and fridge still pulled out, paint curing, and the kitchen table shoved in her living room, and the counter top unusable while it cures, she looked around and said, "I'm so thrilled!". She was beaming!

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  5. I'm really looking forward to seeing more!

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    1. I'm so thrilled you're excited about this makeover! We still have some work to do but I'm already loving the transformation. We're just waiting on some paint to cure and some items to be shipped, but it won't be long. Oh yeah, I have to get my butt over there and make my Mom a painting, too... Yikes!

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  6. This came at just the right time! I just bought a bunch of those same knobs from a thrift store and wasn't quite sure how to get them to look current. I've heard of using CitriStrip to get the shellac off but your method looks so good I'll have to try it.

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    1. CitriStrip might work just as well, I've never tried it! It was funny because we happened to need some acetone for a boat project so Hubby and I both had "acetone" on our shopping list. It was a convenient item for us to buy, lol. Hope your knobs turn out great - I'd love to see when you're done!

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  7. They look much better! We're still waiting on a final "after" of your bathroom! :o)

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    1. I know! A shower curtain really held me up. Lol. Of all things. I just have to attach the liner, give it a deep clean and then I can share some pictures. I feel guilty every time I'm in there, enjoying my aqua sinks, haha.

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    2. Thought ya forgot all about us while you moved onto another reno project *sniff sniff*

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  8. Thanks for great guide. It helps me a lots. Hope to see more tips on your blog in the future.

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  9. The knobs look shiny new again. Totally love this makeover.

    I really like how you take notice and spend time on even tiny little things like this. Reading your blog, it makes me thing twice if I really put effort in keeping my house.

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    1. Awww, don't feel bad! I could publish a post of all of the many things I let slide, lol. I am detail oriented when it comes to things that look good, but there are definitely areas in my home where I'm not putting in as much effort - I swear!

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  10. It looks amazing! The knobs turned out new and shiny. I'm too lazy to do this for my house. Thanks for your helpful tips. I will give it a try.

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