The Secret to Making Any Farmhouse Mirror Look Expensive with Oil Rubbed Bronze

If you love the warm, aged look of oil rubbed bronze but don’t want to splurge on a high-end bronze mirror, there’s good news. With just a few simple steps and inexpensive supplies, you can easily transform any basic farmhouse-style mirror into a showstopping statement piece with a rich, rub-bronze finish.

Oil rubbed bronze has an antiqued Old World appearance that immediately elevates the look of traditional farmhouse decor. The secret behind this luxurious finish lies in the hand-application process, where oils are vigorously buffed into the metal surface to create subtle variations in tone and sheen. The result is a mirror that looks like a priceless antique passed down through generations.

oil rubbed bronze farmhouse mirror

What Exactly is Oil Rubbed Bronze?

Oil rubbed bronze refers to a unique metal finishing process that produces a rich, warm brown coloration. It is called a “living finish” because it continues to evolve and develop patina over time with handling and exposure to air.

The oil rubbed effect is achieved by wiping or rubbing oil onto raw metal surfaces like iron, steel, copper or bronze using steel wool or abrasive pads. The oils penetrate and react with the metal substrate to create a darkened surface layer. The more vigorously the oils are hand-buffed, the more pronounced the highlights and shadows become.

Why Oil Rubbed Bronze is Ideal for Farmhouse Style

The burnished brown color and antiqued, variegated appearance of oil rubbed bronze make it perfectly suited for vintage-inspired farmhouse decor. The finish has depth and dimension that immediately reads as “well-loved and well-worn.” Its distressed, heirloom quality gives new decorative pieces an authentic, aged feel that fits right into rural, industrial and rustic styles.

Over time, oil rubbed bronze will continue to gracefully age, developing a unique patina and wear pattern based on use and environmental conditions. This natural evolution only enhances the traditional farmhouse aesthetic. The subtle shine and luster of a bronzed mirror can give a high-contrast pop of light to balance out the muted tones of worn wood, textiles and painted surfaces often found in these cozy, casual spaces.

Transforming a Basic Mirror into an Oil Rubbed Bronze Showpiece

Almost any basic metal mirror can be refinished to take on the eye-catching oil rubbed bronze look. As long as the frame is made from raw metals like iron, steel, aluminum or solid wood, the rub-finishing technique can work beautifully. Even mirrors with existing surface paint or lacquer can be prepared for a bronzed upgrade. Here’s an overview of everything you’ll need to DIY the oil rubbed bronze process at home:

Gather Your Bronzing Supplies

  • Metal mirror with raw iron, steel, copper or bronze frame
  • Oil finish like tung, boiled linseed or paste wax
  • Buffing materials – steel wool (grades 0000 to 3), abrasive pads
  • Soft polishing cloths and/or cheesecloth
  • Disposable glovers and protective eyewear
  • Painters tape and plastic drop cloths
  • Tack cloth
  • Paper towels or clean rags
  • Q-tips
  • Optional:
    • Security screwdriver (if taking mirror apart)
    • Wood filler, primer
    • Clear sealer, furniture wax or lacquer

Prepare the Mirror Surface

Before applying any finish, it’s crucial to start with proper surface preparation:

  1. Disassemble mirror if needed to access backside of frame
  2. Thoroughly clean frame front, back and edges to remove any dirt, debris and oils
  3. Lightly sand surface with fine grit sandpaper to expose bare metal
  4. Carefully wipe away all sanding residue with tack cloth
  5. Apply painter’s tape masking off mirror glass, nearby walls, floors, etc.

Once these steps are complete, you’ll have a neutral metal palette ready to accept the special oil rubbed bronze finish.

Achieving the Oil Rubbed Bronze Effect

With all your materials gathered and the mirror surface prepped, you can move onto the fun part – applying the dynamic oil rubbed bronze finish! The rewarding transformation will happen in just 5 simple stages:

  1. Apply Oil Finish

    Liberally apply your preferred oil finishing product (tung oil works wonderfully) directly onto the cleaned metal surface using a clean lint-free rag or paper towel. Ensure the oil penetrates into every crevice and corner, covering evenly. Allow to sit for roughly 5-10 minutes.

  2. Buff the Oil Coating

    Vigorously buff off the oil residue using steel wool in a circular rubbing motion. Grade 0000 or 000 wool generally works best for achieving subtle highlights without scratching the metal. Buff until the oils are nearly removed from the surface.

  3. Apply Another Coat of Oil

    Reapply a fresh coat of oil finish directly over the buffed area. Allow to penetrate for another 5 minutes before buffing again with steel wool. The second thin application helps push the oil into the micro grooves in the metal to build up rich bronze tones.

  4. Repeat Oil and Buffing Process

    Continue reapplying thin oil coats and vigorously buffing for at least 4 to 6 rounds. Often between 8-10 coats are needed to fully achieve an opaque, even bronze coloring. Pay special attention to hard-to-reach edges and details.

  5. Seal and Protect the Finish

    Once your desired level of rubbed bronze patina develops, seal and protect the finish by applying a thin topcoat of furniture wax, lacquer or varnish using a soft cloth. Carefully remove any remaining masking and reattach mirror hardware like hangers and clips.

  6. Tips for Displaying Your Bronzed Farmhouse Mirror

    One of the best qualities of an oil rubbed bronze finish is that it remains alive and continues to mature even after sealing. To enhance the timeworn farmhouse aesthetic:

    • Allow the brown patina to further develop for several weeks before handling frequently or cleaning
    • Periodically buff gently with 0000 steel wool to maintain or boost rub highlights
    • Consider occasionally applying furniture wax to nourish the surface and prevent oxidation
    • Hang in an area that will reflect ample natural or accent lighting
    • Pair with complementary oil-rubbed bronze fixtures like sconces, drawer pulls or picture frames

    Troubleshooting Tricky Bronzing Issues

    While an oil rubbed bronze finish may look straightforward, first attempts don’t always go flawlessly. Here’s how to troubleshoot a few common challenges:

    Splotchy, Uneven Application

    If color appears uneven after buffing, simply focus on rubbing additional coats of oil onto lighter spots using small circular motions to build up tone. Adding more thin layers tends to even out splotchiness.

    Excess Oil Transfer

    If oils rub off onto nearby surfaces during buffing, dab up any shiny pools using a paper towel then go over area gently with a Q-tip soaked in mineral spirits to cut residue. Rinse with clean water and dry thoroughly.

    If fine scratches appear from over-buffing, smoothen by rubbing surface with #0000 or #00000 steel wool using long straight motions instead of circles. Follow with a polishing paste wax to fill scrapes.

    While mimicking the high-end look of artisan oil rubbed bronze takes some trial and error, the process is very manageable. With a few materials from the hardware store and some elbow grease, you can warm up any affordable farmhouse mirror with this specially hand-finished, antique-inspired patina.

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