Touch Up a Gold Bar Cart…Or Not

Not everything works, ya know?

Take this bar cart.

From a distance, it looks fantastic. In fact, up close it looks pretty darn good. But really really close-up? It’s got a few imperfections.

If I didn’t already have a bar that I love, I’d be all over keeping this, at which point I would probably refinish the handles at the very least. Since I do, this bar cart is up in my Etsy store
Before I put anything up on Etsy, I spend a fair bit of time cleaning, fixing and generally prettying up my items. This cart was no exception. I cleaned the glass with Windex, I wiped off the frame with general purpose cleaner and a microfiber cloth and I treated the wood handle with my usual 50-50 mix of mineral oil and mineral spirits. The idea is to get off the surface grunge so I can see what I’m working with.

In this case, since it does have a few little scratches here and there, I thought I’d take the opportunity to try out a few things I’ve seen online, but that I didn’t have any personal experience with.

The first thing I did was flip the cart on its back so I could get to the underside. Any time you’re trying out a product on vintage piece, you always, always want to try it somewhere inconspicuous first in case it all goes horrifically wrong.

Before Brasso

The Brasso came first. Brasso is just brass polish. It’s like silver polish in that it shines up whatever is already there. You’re not adding anything, you’re just cleaning off tarnish. To use it, I put a dime-sized dab on an old t-shirt, rubbed it onto the cart, let it sit for a few minutes and then buffed it off.

After Brasso

Frankly, it’s not obvious, but I did see a difference here. The Brasso got a little more of the grunge off than my microfiber cloth and general purpose cleaner did. However, it wasn’t enough of a difference that I thought it made the whole thing look measurably better. I did finish going over the rest of the piece and got what I would call maybe a 5% improvement.

So I tried the next thing, Rub N Buff. If you follow a lot of design & DIY blogs, you’ll have seen this stuff before. Basically, it’s a tiny tube of colored paste wax. It smells like paste wax. It applies like paste wax. It’s just got gold powder in it so that it turns things gold.

Because I had never used it before and the instructions on the package are honestly not that helpful, I turned to Our Fifth House for a little tutorial. She recommends applying it with a finger and using a cloth to buff it once it dries. Here’s your Captain Careful Alert: wash your hands immediately after applying because this stuff is kinda toxic. Don’t eat or drink while applying and use in a well-ventilated area (just like paste wax).

After Rub N Buff

Frankly, in a photo, this looks pretty great. However, in person it was totally one-dimensional. It looked more like flat paint than the glossy, shiny, shimmery goodness I was hoping for. Boo.

I considered applying regular paste wax over the top and buffing as usual. I considered a coat of clear gloss enamel. I considered adding more Rub N Buff.

But in the end, I just took it off with mineral spirits. The problem wasn’t that it wasn’t shiny enough. The problem was that because it’s a colored wax, there just wasn’t enough depth to the finish. No amount of additional coating was going to fix that because it’s opaque. Plus I worried that putting spray enamel over wax might just create an alligatored finish and then my only recourse would be to strip the whole thing and spray paint it and it’s not in bad enough condition for that.

Finally, I tried a Krylon paint pen. These things work a lot like a stain pen for wood finish touch-ups. If you’ve been reading for a really long time, you might remember that I used one of those on my Broyhill Brasilia dresser rejuvenation for the places where the veneer was gouged. You basically push the tip against some paper to start the flow of paint, then draw on whatever you want colored.

It was pretty obvious when I got the paint flow started that this wasn’t going to be a good solution either. The color had too much of a yellow undertone and the cart has a little bit of a copper undertone and, like the Rub N Buff, it was too opaque and lacked depth. Because I was afraid if I put it on the cart that I wouldn’t be able to get it off, I scrapped this plan before it even really started.

So here’s my conclusion: sometimes good enough is good enough. This bar cart wasn’t in such bad shape that it needs to be spray painted, which would have been the logical next step. And based on my experience with Brasso, Rub N Buff and the Krylon paint pen, it’s not possible to do touch-ups. The color palette is too limited and there is nothing I found that has enough depth to make me happy. So I just left it alone. It’s still pretty. It’s still gold. It will still find a happy home with someone who has a desperate need for a gold bar cart in their lives.

So tell me: are there any products I missed? Something else I should try? Let me know in the comments!
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0 thoughts on “Touch Up a Gold Bar Cart…Or Not

  1. I have an 80s brass tea cart that is not nearly as nice as yours. It's oxidized and not looking as great as it used to. Because it's pretty plain and wasn't expensive to begin with, I've considered spray painting it a fun color.

    For an old cart like yours, though, with all that great detail, I would just leave it. Sometimes showing your age is a good thing.

  2. I'm so glad you like it even with its bumps and bruises! I think it's quite charming myself, but I always like to spruce a bit where I can…just not this time!

    Thanks for stopping by!

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