Refurbishing Door Hardware
by Damien Andrews
Few things in our homes endure the abusive, thankless life of door hardware. Of course proper maintenance of your passage sets and locksets will extend the service life of your door knobs, handles, etc. – and make them function better during their terms of service. And when one of your passage sets or locksets actually fails mechanically, well, you're probably much better off buying a new one than trying to tear down the item and repair it. Also, the finishes applied to door knob hardware, even the less costly varieties, stands up very well to the daily rigors of its job.
The door hardware that doesn't seem to hold up very well is the hinges. I'm not talking about the function now, I'm talking about the appearance. The hinge will work just fine for many years longer than the door will last. But the look of the hinges wanes. The metamorphosis that turns bright, shiny hinges into dark-blotched eyesores take anywhere from a couple of years to several years – depending on the quality of the hinge, the material the hinge is made of, the finish applied to the hinge, and the atmospheric conditions the hinge is employed in.
With a decent standard grade hinge costing around $15, and a high quality architectural grade door hinge costing from $25 up, worn and unsightly hinges are often left in service. It's easy to see why. Most doors have three hinge sets on them, so replacement costs begin at around $45 per door. That's a steep price to pay for something that rarely attracts attention, save for when the house is up for sale or a set of hinges squeaks.
The hinges that look the worst the fastest are the ones that support doors in damp or wet places, such as bathrooms, basements, etc. Corrosion, tarnish and rust prosper in moist environs, and the door hinges reveal it.
If you're wondering how come your brass hinges rust, it's because they are almost surely not brass – they are steel that has been finished to appear like brass. There are brass hinges available, but because of the cost they are rarely used. To ascertain if your hinges are steel, simply try to attach a magnet to one of them. If the magnet sticks, they're steel hinges. If the magnet fails to hold, the hinges are either brass or stainless steel – though stainless steel will very slightly hold the magnet. Stainless steel contains less iron than regular steel, and iron is what magnets are attracted to.
If you do happen to have brass hinges, you're in luck – on a couple of levels. Solid brass hinges are customarily of excellent quality, and are not as subject to the forces of nature. To clean them, use any quality brass cleaner/polish. If the corrosion is serious, use some #4 or #8 steel wool in combination with the brass cleaner/polish you select. They'll buff up as good as new in no time at all.
If you have steel door hinges, then you'll have to contribute a tad more elbow grease – as well as time and a couple of inexpensive supplies. But it's an easy process, and the results are eminently rewarding.
Suggested safety equipment:
Leather work gloves
Chemical resistant rubber gloves
Step #1 – Remove the door and then remove all of the hinges form both the door and the jamb.
Step #2 – Pour 1½" – 2" of quality paint remover into the bottom of a plastic coffee can, or a cut down 1-gallon milk jug.
Step #3 – Place one entire set of hinges into the paint remover and leave it there for the time prescribed by the manufacturer.
Step #4 – Remove the first hinge set from the paint remover and place the second set in. Take the first set and rinse it with running water, scrubbing it with either a steel wire brush or a very stiff nylon brush. Dry off when finished. Repeat this process until all three or four sets of hinges are stripped to bare metal, adding paint remover as/if necessary.
Step #5 – Lastly, drop the screws and hinge pins into the paint remover and when they're ready, then rinse them off and pat dry them.
Step #6 – Take a piece of fine emery cloth or sand paper and lightly sand the hinges, being sure there is no remnant rust and that all the surfaces are roughed up for painting. This can also be done with a wire brush, or a combination of the two. Drag the screw heads across the sand paper once or twice, too – as well as the tops of the hinge pins. The screw heads will show, so we want them looking good.
Step #7 – using a quality bare metal spray paint primer, prime the hinges, tops of the hinge pins and the screw heads. NOTES:
• I use a paint box for this process. Just get an old cardboard box form the trash dump at the local market – something about 12" square or so. Tape the flaps open and you've got a great temporary, throw-away paint box. It will not only keep the area almost free from overspray, it will also help coat the object being painted inside the box.
• Holding the hinges for painting is almost as hard as holding the screws. To remedy this problem, hold the hinges with small magnets (available at any hardware store). Stick the magnet to the backside of the hinge – where the wood of the door or the door jamb will be covering it. Now you have a 'handle' that's easy to grab and hold while rotating the hinge for full painting inside the paint box.
• For the screws, I took a piece of scrap 1" x 6" lumber and drilled the right number of holes that were just larger in diameter than the threads, but smaller than the heads. I did the same for the hinge pins. Drop the screws and hinge pins into the holes – all of them. Hold the board inside the box for painting. If you don't have a board laying around for this duty, you can also use stiff cardboard.
Step #8 – Check primer paint work. If a second coat is called for, now's the time. If you have rough spots, hit them lightly with 300 or better emery cloth and then recoat. Check your parts again after the second coat dries, and repeat this step as necessary.
Step #9 – Apply a light coat of the quality metal paint you've selected to the hinges, pins and screws. These paints are available in myriad colors, including some metallics that match factory finishes for door hinges.
Step #10 – Recoat all your screws, hinge pins and hinges as needed, I like to use three or four light coats to ensure a drip-less finish that will last for many years. I've been doing this to door hinges for a couple of decades, and in my experience, if quality paint is used, the hinges will remain in service and look good for longer than the factory finishes allow. Recoat as many times as necessary.
Step #11 – Make sure the paint is COMPLETELY DRY and then reinstall it, and the door.
Step # 12 – Practice graciously accepting compliments on the appearance of your work.
Based on my experience, one can of quality spray primer paint will do about a dozen hinges, and their screws. The finishing paint will do about nine hinges, along with their screws.
If you want to buy and install some high quality, solid brass hinges, do an Internet search on "architectural grade solid brass hinge." If you have hinges in a high moisture area and you want them to perform better, do an Internet search for "architectural grade stainless steel hinge."
While your hinge pins are removed, lightly emery cloth the shafts to make them smoother. Then before replacing them, apply a VERY small amount of white lithium grease to the shaft.
If the hinges are in a high visibility location, or you just want them to look extra nice, after your final color paint coat, spray them with a quality clear lacquer – in the sheen/shine of your choice.