Q: I’m in the process of changing the brass-finished door hardware in my home to brushed nickel. I’ve replaced the handles but would like to refinish the hinges, which are steel underneath. Can I remove the brass finish? Should I paint them, and if so, what kind of paint should I use?
A: Painting should work, without any need to remove the existing finish, and you have a choice of spray paint or brush-on.
Replacing your hinges with ones that have a brushed nickel finish wouldn’t be terribly expensive. Hinges with a square edge are about $3 apiece at Home Depot. But with two or three hinges per door, the cost can add up. And if the replacement hinges don’t have screw holes in the exact same spots, or if the size varies even a little, replacing the hinges could lead to lots of extra work, such as plugging the old screw holes and drilling new ones, or chiseling bigger mortises or patching ones that are oversize. So painting might indeed be a better option, and not just because of the cost.
Painting door hardware isn’t a reliably long-lasting solution for high-touch areas, such as doorknobs, but people generally keep their fingers away from hinges. And paint does stick to hinges, as can be seen in any house where people weren’t careful when repainting. Metallic-effect paint won’t look the same as actual brushed nickel, but it will be close — probably good enough. Brass hinges coupled with brushed nickel handles looks jarring, but if all the hardware is about the same color, it’s unlikely anyone will carefully inspect the finish on the hinges.
Spray paint may seem the best option. It goes on fast, covers well and dries quickly. Among the options are Rust-Oleum All Surface Metallic Satin Nickel Spray Paint and Primer in One (about $7 a can at Home Depot) and Krylon ColorMaster Brushed Metallic spray paint in nickel (about $7.50 at Michaels). Spray paint requires special shipping (ground transportation only), so in this era of coronavirus shutdowns, you may need to find a store that provides local delivery or curbside pickup, or that allows in-store shopping.
A single can should cover 15 square feet, which translates to about 15 dozen hinges with one coat or half that with two. Either way, it’s enough for a palace. However, unless you take down all the doors in your house and paint all the hinges at once, you’ll get less coverage, because you’ll need to clean the nozzle after each painting session. The cleaning process — tipping the can upside down and spraying onto paper or cardboard until the spray is clear -— wastes paint, but not as much as if you didn’t do it. A can with a clogged nozzle is hazardous waste, unless you have a spare tip from another spray can. Partially used cans of spray paint cannot be put out with the regular trash.
If you want to paint hinges for only a few doors at a time and avoid the mess and air-quality issues of spray paint, get brush-on metallic paint, such as Modern Masters Nickel Water-Based Satin Metallic Interior/Exterior Paint. A six-ounce bottle, which covers up to 18 square feet, costs about $12 at Home Depot. This is a semi-opaque paint, though, so you will probably need three coats. A bonding primer, such as Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3, is recommended; it’s $11 a quart at Home Depot.
Even though you do not need to strip the existing brass finish for spray or brush-on paint, the paint will stick better if you first scuff up the surface with fine-grit sandpaper. Wipe or rinse off the residue and let the metal dry. Set up a way to elevate the hinges — perhaps by setting them on the tips of nails driven through a scrap piece of wood. Don’t paint hinges directly on paper or cardboard, or the paint will glue them down. You can cut or pull them loose, of course, but the painted edges will look messy. Before you paint, mask off the shafts of the pins with painter’s tape so you paint only the top and bottom of each piece and not the surface that needs to slide smoothly as the door opens and closes.
If you plan to spray, rig up a way to contain overspray. Work outdoors if possible because of the fumes. A large cardboard box open on one side makes a good temporary spray booth. Wear goggles, and consider putting on disposable gloves so you don’t get spray paint on your trigger finger. Especially if you are working indoors, wear a half-face mask with organic-vapor cartridges.
Read the label before painting. Pay particular attention to instructions for agitating spray paint and waiting the required time between coats. Whether you use spray or brush-on paint, applying a second coat too soon creates problems.
One last tip: Replace the screws when you reinstall the hinges. Bright brass screw heads would ruin the switch-over.