Most of our hardware is made of either brass or steel. Both of these metals provide enormous opportunity to the metal finisher because they both corrode readily. It is the careful manipulation of this corrosion that can result in so much pleasing variety of color and texture.
If left untreated brass will tarnish through a series of reds, greens and browns down to a green black. This process can take a matter of weeks or years depending on the prevailing atmosphere. If the brass is handled the colors will vary because the acids, salts and oils contained in the moisture of our hands alter the chemical nature of the oxides. Handling also burnishes the surface leaving variegated effects of tone and shine. The job of the metal finisher is often to replicate the effects of time and use. The results of this labor are often so stylized as to verge on the grotesque. In the Technical Guides area of this web-site you will find instructions for achieving a relatively convincing antique effect either by dipping or fuming.
Steel provides fewer options for the finisher than brass but also thankfully fewer ways to produce genuinely ugly results. Steel can be made black with relative ease either chemically or by heating and dipping in oil. The rusted finish which is so popular at the moment can be created with acids. Check the Technical Guide area for these instructions.
Both brass and steel can accept plated finishes. While plated steel is generally found at the economy end of the market, plated brass does not imply any compromise of quality. Before the days of durable lacquer, brass required constant polishing to keep up a smart appearance. With the advent of electo-plating this century a layer of tarnish resistant nickel could be deposited on the surface of the brass. Nickel is a silver colored metal with a slightly warm hue. This nickel surface would protect the brass and only required the occasional wiping to keep up a new like appearance. Nickel does actually darken with time and though harder than brass it is not as hard as chrome. Chrome is an extremely hard metal and does not tarnish, it is plated over a layer of nickel and is characterized by a cool hue. With the end of WW2 and the growth of suburban living the demand for carefree convenience dictated the use of chrome plating on all exposed domestic metalwork.
Even with the development of almost indestructible lacquers both nickel and chrome remain popular. Though nickel lacks a little of the durability of chrome it is enjoyed for its warmth and nostalgic aura. For durability and low maintenance chrome still has no equal.
All metals can be lacquered. In most cases it will only be necessary to lacquer metals that are prone to corrosion and even then it is not always desirable. All lacquers eventually break down and the more durable the lacquer the uglier the result and the harder it is to repair. Instructions for lacquering can be found on the How To Lacquer Metals page.
Larger American manufacturers attempt to conform to finish standards defined by ANSI. These are the US finishes, eg US10, US15, US26 etc. With luck a knob described as US10B from one manufacturer will closely match a US10B hinge from another. This cannot be relied upon however. The finishes relevant to us are as follows:
US3: Polished and lacquered brass. This is a reflective polish coated with a clearcoat lacquer that will prevent tarnish for many years. These lacquers are carefully applied and should be invisible.
US3A: Same as above but without the lacquer coat (any finish designation ending in "A" means unlacquered). This is an excellent finish for anyone with an inclination towards occasional polishing. Nothing looks as good as hand-polished hardware and time will only add to its beauty. This finish will also reward the patient with an authentic antique finish if left to age naturally. Finally this is the best starting point for custom finishes of any kind.
US4: Satin brass. An abrasive wheel of pot scrubber like material leaves a dull surface on the brass. With lacquer a "satin" like depth is realized. Without lacquer this is a good starting point for a less lustrous antique finish.
US5: This is the familiar highly stylized antique finish you will find on brass fittings at the local home center.
US10B: Commonly called "Oil Rubbed Bronze". Depending on the manufacturer this finish will be dark brown to near black and non glossy. US10B is a very popular finish at the moment.
US14: Polished nickel plate. Usually left unlacquered. Aside from being an attractive finish in its own right, this finish can be the starting point for some dark pewter like finishes when treated with antiquing solutions.
US15: Satin nickel. Depending on the manufacturer this can range from a course almost sanded finish to one as fine as the finish on a camera. Currently one of the most popular finishes for kitchen and bathroom.
US19: Satin black. Some manufacturers produce this finish with oxidizers, others with paint. An oxide finish will age more gracefully paint.
US26: Polished chrome, just like the bumpers on your (old) car.
US26D: Satin chrome. Generally a fine brushed surface.
European manufacturers don't appear to conform to standards of any kind. This is both good and bad. We all like more choice and with every manufacturer developing proprietary finishes we are presented with plenty of variety. Sometimes we have to be creative to come up with matched sets of hardware but there is usually a solution to be found.
Finishes Available from Whitechapel Ltd.
Most brass fittings in our catalog are available in polished or antique finish. The polished finish is reflective and usually protected with a durable lacquer clear coat. We offer two different antique finishes and most items are available in either one or the other. Both are attractive yet quite distinctive. First is a highlighted golden brown patina. Unlike the typical stylized antique finishes, this finish is full of character and because it is not lacquered it fairly quickly takes on the look of a genuine antique. The second is a fumed finish. This finish tends towards a verdi-gris with green browns and occasional bluish inclusions. This finish is easily replicated by fuming in ammonia.
In our catalog we list the finishes available for each item, some come in only one finish, others up to four finishes. These are the standard finishes. Beyond these are countless variations that can be achieved with the instructions provided in the Technical Guides area.