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Vinegar to the rescue

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I love the shop-tip columns in many woodworking magazines, and have made use of more than I can count. A recent tip, however, has literally changed the way I work.

As regular readers know, I enjoy reproducing 19th-century furniture and other items related to the Civil War. For period-correct authenticity I can’t use modern fasteners or materials – no Phillips-head or pocket screws, no aluminum rivets, no plywood, etc. Even simple steel hardware like washers and butt hinges that are otherwise period-correct can’t be used because of their chrome-shiny zinc coating. As a result I usually have to send away for uncoated screws and other hardware. These are always more expensive, but worth it for visual authenticity.

I saw a shop tip last week in one of the magazines that almost knocked me over: That shiny zinc coating on screws, washers, hinges and other hardware can be quickly removed by simply soaking them overnight in a jar of ordinary vinegar. Could it really be that easy?

In a word, yes. Now, instead of paying a premium for this hardware (and waiting a week or more for it to arrive), I can just toss a handful of shiny screws, washers or hinges into a jar of cheap store-brand vinegar and the next day my plain-steel hardware is ready to use. I had no idea that ordinary vinegar dissolves zinc so easily, with no toxic materials to get rid of later.

I’ll still have to special-order some hardware (like slotted flat-head steel screws, for example, which are near impossible to find). But this simple method of removing the coating from other locally available steel hardware will save me a lot of time and money.

Till next time,


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