In this section we give advice on identifying, handling and how to clean, polish and protect the various metals that period house owners usually meet. These include iron, brass and lead, as well as metals used in decorative objects such as silver, nickel and pewter.

Most metals are harmful in excess quantities; avoid air-borne dust, wash your clothing and wash your hands. Lead is the most hazardous and is often hidden, for example in paint and we provide more advice here.

Stripping Paint from Metal

Before attempting to strip paint from metal objects, or polishing it, make sure that you know what the metal is, and whether it is lacquered or plated, rather than solid; it is easy to damage these surfaces. You will tend to lose an attractive patina that is itself a protective layer.

Soldering Metal

Some metals, such as brass and copper, can be mended with solder. You will need a fairly powerful soldering iron for heavy wire or anything larger - a 15-25w iron will not work. A good option is a butane gas torch - look for one with a soldering tip.

The general principles of soldering are:

  • Consider creating a jig to hold the parts to be soldered; for example if you are adding an earth wire to an old brass light-switch cover, place the cover in a padded vice, and position the wire in place by with a clamp.
  • Clean the metal with wire wool (this also gives a key for the solder).
  • Heat and apply either the flux and separate solder, or a solder with flux in a core.
  • While the solder is still molten, bring the parts together, hold still and remove the heat.
  • Keep the soldered item still until the solder has cooled and set.