How (Not) to Rub’n’Buff Raised Letters or Numbers

Rub N Buff on Raised Numbers

Thrifted Mantel Clock Made Over

So, when I told you about my thrifted mantel clock makeover, I may have left out one little thing. I had a little mini-fail right in the middle of the project. I’ve never used Rub’N’Buff before, and when painting the little raised numbers on the clock face, it all went wrong. Not once, but twice!!!

First of all, if you’re asking, “What the heck is Rub’N’Buff, Angela,” then let me explain. Rub’N’Buff is this magical stuff that can make metal things look like differently colored metal things. Like a lot of people, I first saw it on Trading Spaces when the ever-fabulous Genevieve Gorder made a brass light fixture look like pewter. When she was done, the light didn’t look painted, it just looked like it had always been pewter! It was amazing.

Since it’s easy to use and comes in a convenient tube and dries almost immediately, people use it for all sorts of things. For example, Cindy from My Romantic Home uses it for lots of projects, including this amazing mirror:

So, let me tell you what I learned (the hard way) about how NOT to Rub’N’Buff something detailed like this, and then Mr. Magpie will show you (and me) what actually works.

First I got myself some Ebony Rub’N’Buff (i.e. black). Okay, actually Mr. Magpie got for me. He ordered the Rub’N’Buff from, since the local craft store only had gold, and we wanted black.

Ebony Rub N Buff

Since most people say to apply the stuff with a fingertip, that’s what I decided to try. With a glove since I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get it off my hands afterwards!

Dab of Rub N Buff

Just use the fingertip to apply….

Applying Rub N Buff with Fingertip


Total Mess with Rub N Buff

Total fail! My huge finger just smeared the Rub’N’Buff everywhere, and then when I tried to wipe it off it just stained everything. What a mess!! I had to re-prime and re-spray that section to fix it. Sigh.

So, I’m thinking, well, I need something smaller, like a cotton swab!

Using Cotton Swab for Rub N Buff

Just get a little on there, and then dab it on the number…

Applying Straight Rub N Buff with Cotton Swab


Messy Edges on Raised Number

Fail again! Granted, not a huge mess, but look at it! It looks terrible, all frayed around the edges.

This is when I called Mr. Magpie, who has actual art training. This is what he showed me. (Please forgive his perma-dirty hands — he does most of the heavy lifting around here).

First, get a TINY TINY amount of Rub N Buff on a cotton swab.

Picking Up Tiny Dab of Rub N Buff with Cotton Swab

Next, rub most of that off on a scrab bit of cloth or paper — in this case, the leftover packaging.

Rubbing Off Excess Rub N Buff on Scrap Cardboard

Finally, gently (gently!) swipe over the raised surface, one…

Applying Rub N Buff With Dried Cotton Swab


Applying Rub N Buff With Dried Cotton Swab


Applying Rub N Buff With Dried Cotton Swab

It’s like magic!

And that. my friends, is how you do that!

Finished Mantel Clock Makeover

What about you? Have you used Rub’N’Buff for any projects? What did you do with it and what did you think?

~Angela :-)

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  1. I am impressed! You have done such lovely job with the old clock! It looks great!

    • Thank you so much, Hulda! I really wasn’t sure how it would turn out, so I’m glad it worked. Thanks for visiting! ~Angela~

  2. The clock looks beautiful and amazing!!! Kudos to you for your perseverance, and hooray Mr. Magpie for helping to get this messy, wonderful project done!!!

  3. I SO love your ideas!! I really DO need to do more decorating for the fall. I feel inspired after reading your post :)

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