Before I show you how to remove lacquer from brass, to reveal a beautiful brushed finish, I am going to let you in on a little secret: my Mom and I have been hard at work, giving her kitchen a budget-friendly makeover! (UPDATE: check out the finished budget-friendly kitchen makeover right here). Today’s brass refinishing experiment is a little project from this kitchen makeover, 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! And sooo 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 and our tutorial for how to remove lacquer from brass.
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 shiny 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:
Infuriatingly, however, 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.
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 how to remove lacquer from brass to reveal a brushed finish.
Supplies for Removing Lacquer from Brass:
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:
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.
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 knobs. Plus, it’s a fresh change for my Mom, who is thrilled with the results. It’s like getting all new brushed brass knobs for a couple of bucks!
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 – now that we know how to remove lacquer from brass we feel confident in just letting this age and continue this experiment.
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.
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!
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 Mom’s 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 Mom. The last few years have been really difficult for her – I don’t want to go into detail because it’s just too sad. But she’s put on a brave face and continued to be the giving, kind-hearted person she’s always been, putting herself last while continuing to help others even when she has 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 a tragedy that happened in our family 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 Mom, on the other hand, hasn’t been able to find that kind of peace in her home and that has made me really sad for her. 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.
UPDATE: see the finished, budget-friendly kitchen makeover here. We’re SO proud of our handiwork!