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Fixing Up a Fireplace Fender

Here in Chicago, we are preparing for Thanksgiving and hope you are as well. Today I’d like to highlight a fireplace fender we recently refinished just in time to not want to use a fireplace.

With the number of wood-burning fireplaces dwindling and modernized designs, fireplace fenders are becoming rarer. But because most fenders were produced early-to-mid 20th century they are typically made of solid brass, and are therefore extremely durable. One such fender was brought in to our factory recently.

As you can see, it was fairly heavily tarnished, with the worst of the oxidation on the left side.

This refinishing job was a breeze. So what makes this job easy where another job may not be? Two reasons:

1.) It’s made of brass. When copper and copper alloys tarnish, a thin layer of oxidized metal is formed, known as a passivation layer. This layer essentially seals the item from further corrosion, unlike iron oxidation-aka rust-which will progressively consume all the iron in an item over time. Because of that layer, the underlying metal has not been oxidized, and the tarnish can be stripped to expose it. A polish and a layer of bake-on lacquer later, and it’s ready to go. The lacquer in this case acts as a transparent passivation layer, showing the beautiful finish while staving off oxidation.

So what can go wrong? Well, newer items tend not to be made of solid brass or bronze. We have run in to several items recently made of less expensive white metal or pot metal with painted-on or plated finishes that emulate brass or bronze. These items are all challenging, since white metal has a low melting point, and the friction from polishing can make parts partially melt and fall apart. Even if a polish is succesful, and the resulting look is never going to be the same as what came out of the factory. Most of these faux finishes are proprietary and can’t be directly replicated.

2.) It comes apart easily.

The construction of this fender is such that once a few screws are removed, the entire piece can be broken down in to individual parts. All the knobs come off the base, all the tubes between knobs come off, and each part is polished separately before being reassembled.

If an item doesn’t come apart, say it’s welded or riveted together, you run in to two problems. First, unless it’s small it will be unwieldy to handle and polish on our lathes. Secondly, it is difficult to get in to nooks and crevasses, which means more time and expense.

So how did the fender turn out? Take a look!

It’s gorgeous and ready for re-installation. And when the weather turns colder, it will hopefully host the first of many, many fires over the next many, many years.

If you’ve got a questions or comment, feel free to comment below, or send us an email.

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