Before and After #3 - Cleaning Vintage Brass Quickly to a High Polish

Welcome to our ongoing series “Before and After” where GSaleHunter shares techniques used to change victims of Vintage neglect into Photo Studio WebStars. There are many basic types of materials and finishes, each requiring the ability to clean without damaging. Today’s example is a refugee umbrella stand we picked at a great price because it was heavily tarnished, and hiding in a dark Estate basement.

As a Team with four eyes …ok with bifocals, make that eight eyes, nothing escapes the GSaleHunters! This umbrella stand is a true simple beauty, solid brass with a classic Greek Scalloped Column design. Uncovering hidden beauty for the least investment of time and money is what this blog is all about! Seeing potential in lost Art is what GSaleHunter is all about.

Ok here is the bottom in all it's Farm Fresh Glory.

Clearly this served much duty with wet umbrellas and the thought of ever polishing was too daunting. That is best in our case as this may be it's first polishing! Close inspection promises to uncover some pitting (rusty looking spots?) ..ya never know ...until.

Today’s technique saves me a lot of time and money because you could use a whole can of Brasso (and your afternoon!) trying to shine up this beast. As I mentioned in a previous Blog, Bar Keeper’s Friend (BKF) is my Number One restoration tool, and perfect for large jobs like this tall brass umbrella stand. Not only does it make fast work of large jobs, the immediate results are a high polish. Since I use so much it’s easy to pick up a couple cans on Amazon.

If you used a more abrasive method, like steel wool or household cleanser, it might quickly remove the tarnish but the result would be a brushed finish, not a polished one. During any restoration, removing as little material as possible is key. Too often we see the cumulative results of a Century of polishing. Lost material equals loss of detail (and Value!), so we always carefully consider polishing any Vintage metals …a future blog.

The oxalic acid component of BKF helps to chemically remove the tarnish, and it’s naturally less-than-abrasive level of grit can deliver fine polishing all in one step. This equals some serious time/money savings, while removing the least amount of material. A few tablespoons of BKF is also much cheaper than a pint of liquid brass polish. Less time, more shine, for less money? That's a Win Win Win!

As mentioned before I use a damp non-abrasive cellulose sponge (Blue non-stick pan scrubby type for this) with dish liquid and the powder-type BKF. The soap acts like a carrier/lubricant to manage the powderyness while maximizing BKF’s cutting power. I had to flip over to the scrubby side this time for a little extra polishing power to start.

This is a big job, requiring long-term contact with BKF and skin exposure to all the metallic residue being scrubbed away, so it is time to put on some gloves to protect your hands. Always read and follow Manufacturer Instructions. Use an old sponge because you will likely be tossing after polishing something this large. I’ll skip over any post-scrub detailing part …who knows how bad it is underneath (heavy pitting?), so let’s find out how clean we can get this with just BKF and Elbow Grease.

One thing about the laying on of hands... you quickly become intimate. Curiosity was answered immediately when the hand-hammered skill used to create this piece become no longer obscured. Impressive piece of metalworking, using a technique too labor intensive for dating as Mid Century when "hand hammering" was almost exclusively done by machine. There was pitting, but it was all very surface and surrendered to the powers of BKF. I can't stop staring at this thing. This was a miraculous transition!  ...wait for it.

Here is the bottom. I took it easy as I was hoping for some Maker's mark to reveal. I resisted the urge to get rid of all the heaviest corrosion. I'll do that under magnification later, I mean you don't want to polish the ID away. Now my curiosity is where this Rockstar was forged! Remember this is only BKF and dish liquid, and took about 25 minutes.


I have already spent time trying to research a similar umbrella stand online. So far this qualifies as a One-of-a-Kind, and I suspect Antiquity status. The quality of the metal and the hand working ...I may have to feature it on my neighboring blog "Researching Vintage". I must know more! Hopefully, I won't have learned too late that polishing was a mistake (signed Paul Revere ;-P), but it produced such an awesome result ...ok here it is (I didn't do the inside in these pics).



ok since I can't stop staring myself, here's the morning light shot

 We get great deals by having an eye for items like this that may have ended up melted down at Salvage. I enjoy the Reveal a little too much perhaps, but I hope you agree this was stellar ..well, I mean it's just an umbrella stand, but maybe my favorite "Before and After". Apologies for doing two blogs on ONE tip, but Bar Keeper's Friend is a very versatile tool ...cleaned my stainless steel sink shiny bright too after finishing this task! My next blog I promise to share my best secret yet!

Check back often, join our Social Media on InstagramTwitter and Facebook, and sign up with your email to get our newest Tips and Tricks and the next episode of "Before and After"  See our other Blog "Researching Vintage" to learn how we prep and research incoming new treasures. Thanks for stopping by!


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  • GSaleHunter on

    Hey Kenneth,

    Yeah you wouldn’t want to use BKF on Silver, but your brass urn is likely inlaid with “white brass”. Sometimes mistakenly referred to as “Coin Silver” etc, it’s just an alloy very close to brass with a higher percentage of nickel making it very close to silver in appearance. You probably have already polished your urn ;-) I bet it looks great. The “Dish Liquid”? It’s just something I like. One, it helps the powder to stick to round stuff like urns, but it also seems to lubricate the overall polishing process. With only the dampness in a sponge it still allows the BKF to ‘cut’ without losing any effectiveness. Uh surely the inspiration for the Liquid BKF …which I don’t think works as well on heavier jobs

  • GSaleHunter on

    Hiyas Pat,

    Thanks for stopping by! I have a couple more “Before and After” in the pipeline, but Holiday Season is a busy time. You can add your email to our list by just signing up above or checking back for new Products and Blog posts.


  • PAt SVetlecich on

    I’m not on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, how can I get your Before and After?

  • Kenneth Willis on

    I bought oxalic acid at True Value hardware in the 60’s and used it on some rusty chrome wheels. it shined them up and made them look great. Then I put a lot of wax on them to prevent it from coming back for a while..

  • Kenneth Willis on

    Looks beautiful , Bought some of that stuff and am going to try it on a brass urn that i have with silver inlay. Does it matter what kind of dish soap ?

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