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Old 04-18-2001
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Re-finishing Brass

I am looking for a solution regarding the tarnished brass hatches on my boat. Once polished, the brass shines beautifully, but maintaining this finish is more work than I am prepared to do on an ongoing basis. What do you suggest?

Tom Wood responds:

Welcome to the world of brass. Nothing looks more nautical and "shippy" than bright brass and bronze fittings, especially if they are surrounded by a sea of highly varnished teak. Now, let's talk about the maintenance! If your goal is to have a museum-quality boat, keep polishing—if the goal is to do more sailing and less work, then a coating over the brass is a good idea.

The choices are:

    1. Clear-coating. Lacquer is the method of choice and it is widely available in spray cans. Its life is very limited—less than a few months in the tropics if there is a lot of salt spray. I would not recommend varnish or epoxy because they lack the flexibility and/or UV inhibitors to deal with metal. A clear polyurethane might be worth a try.
    2. Paint. Yes, brass and bronze can be painted, using the same directions for painting most metals—sanding, etching, and priming first. When you are finished, the parts are indistinguishable from painted aluminum.
    3. Plating with other metal. Hard-coat chrome would be the avenue of choice here, using a copper underlayment for adhesion. There are many levels of quality in chrome plating and you want the very best for the marine environment. 
    4. Let it go a nice, nautical green. This is easy, low cost, and it makes you look like an old salt.



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