If you’ve spent any time at all thinking about updating your kitchen you’ve no doubt heard the phrase “oil-rubbed bronze” thrown around with gusto. What is the big deal about this stuff, anyway?
The way some interior designers talk about “ORB” (OMG!), you’d think these kitchen knobs and pulls and other hardware were rubbed with magical oil by holy men in the lost city of Bronzia. Behold, the elegance borne of furious and mystical rubbing!
Yeah. Unfortunately, the real story isn’t quite as exciting …
Bronze vs. Brass
ORB is, by and large, a reference to a type of finish rather than a type of metal. If you have actual bronze hardware – congratulations! Hopefully, they’ve developed a rich patina and you’ve chanced upon an easy way to maintain them while still being able to open your drawers.
Real bronze is an alloy made of copper and tin whereas a lot of “bronze” kitchen hardware today is made of coated zinc or brass (a copper and zinc alloy). The differences are negligible in everyday application, so the point is this: ORB is a finish first, and not necessarily a specific type of metal.
So, why should you care? Well, since ORB is a finish it means that finish may vary – sometimes a great deal. It may also mean that it will oxidize differently depending on the metal’s composition and the type of process used to achieve and protect the finish. In other words, the natural state of ORB hardware is often a state of change, especially when it comes to color.
For example, ORB made of brass or real bronze without a lacquer coating will have a “living finish” because the copper will oxidize and change color over time thanks to the air and the natural oils on your hands. Lacquered finishes, however, will retain their original finish if the lacquer is not removed by abrasive cleaners or polish.
Make sure you know the type of metal that was used to make your ORB hardware. Possible metals are brass and zinc, but it could also be actual bronze or pewter.
If the hardware has copper in it and you’re not interested in having a living finish then you’ll need to apply a protective coating if there isn’t one present. Once they’re all lacquered up, keep in mind that abrasive cleansers or cloths will remove the coating and you’ll alter the finish.
For those of you with brass or real bronze hardware who are maintaining a living finish you can coat the fixtures periodically in beeswax to help slow the oxidation process once you achieve the finish you like best.
BONUS: DIY ORB!
You’ve probably already clued in to the fact that if you have brass hardware then you already have “oil-rubbed bronze” – even if it doesn’t look like it. So, how do you turn your brass into ORB? First, don your rubber gloves …
- 1. Remove Lacquer
If you know your hardware is brass and not electroplate (you may have to consult the Interwebs), first use lacquer thinner and fine steel wool to remove the glossy finish.
- 2. Apply Bronzing Solution
There are several brand-name solutions like Liver of Sulfur or Rub n’ Buff that will give you the ORB look. Just rub the solution on the newly stripped hardware in a well-ventilated area.
- 3. Reseal
Once dry, spray the hardware with a protective clear gloss to seal in the Old-World flavor.