How to Burnish Brass

What You'll Need
Commercial antiquing solution or ammonia
Non-toxic method: table salt and white vinegar
Piece of plywood
Rubber gloves
Ceramic or plastic bowl
Bucket with a tight fitting lid (ammonia method only)
Clean water

To burnish means to polish something or to make that something shine. Another name for burnishing is antiquing. Brass is one of many metals that can be burnished. There is lacquered brass and un-lacquered brass however only the un-lacquered brass can be burnished. There is also brass plating that is a brass covering another type of metal. Brass plated metal can also be burnished but keep in mind that the final coloring that you will get may not be the result that is expected.

There are a number of methods that can be used to achieve the burnished effect – using chemicals, ammonia or a non-toxic method. Depending upon the brass that you will be burnishing, you will either dip it in a solution or wipe the solution on to the brass.

Step 1:  Preparations

Gather together all your supplies and tools. Make sure you have access to clean water. Always make sure that you work in a well-ventilated room as the fumes can be toxic.

For the best results, you should clean the brass so that you start with brass that is free of dirt, grime and debris.

Step 2: Antiquing the Brass

Put on the rubber gloves and prepare the solution of your choice.

The chemical method is a commercial antiquing solution that you buy. It should be mixed in a ceramic or plastic bowl according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The mixture is usually one part of the antiquing solution to ten parts of water. If you will be dipping the brass into the solution, make sure the bowl is large enough that the items can be entirely submersed. When you dip brass items, you will need to stir or shake the bowl a little so that all the air bubbles are removed and the solution is applied evenly. If you do not do this step, you may end up with bright spots. Take the pieces out of the solution once the color has changed to your satisfaction. Dry it immediately and completely. If any wet spots are left to dry, the solution will continue to antique the brass and you will end up with spots that are darker.

If you need to wipe the solution on, the process will be done much the same way. You will cover the brass with the solution using a sponge or cloth, let it sit until you have the desired effect, and then dry it thoroughly.

The ammonia method involves using the fumes to burnish the brass. You will need a plastic bucket or bowl with a tight lid. Cut the plywood to make a shelf that will sit inside the bucket approximately two to three inches from the bottom. Secure it so that it is level and will not tip. Measure one cup of ammonia into the bucket. Place the items to be burnished on the shelf. Put the lid on tight and let the ammonia fumes do the work. Check on the process often and remove when the pieces have reached the desired effect. Keep in mind that after the items are removed from the bucket, the brass will continue to darken a little more.

If your preference is to burnish the brass with the non-toxic method, you will need to make a mixture of two tablespoons of table salt and one cup of white vinegar. Stir the solution and dip or wipe the solution on the brass. Let it sit overnight. In the morning, rinse the brass and then dry it. The process may need to be repeated a few times to get the antiquing effect that you want.

Step 3: Finishing

You have the choice of leaving the brass as it looks when you have finished the burnishing effect or you can apply a coat of wax.