Over time many original period features, such as cast-iron fireplaces, have been painted over. This was often because they were no longer in use and their black colour was considered too dark for modern, light interiors. Rather than decorate to match their ornate style, many people preferred just to ‘blank them out’ with a heavy layer of paint.
A restored and working fireplace is very attractive and nowadays can add substantially to the value of your home. Many homes still have small cast-iron fireplaces in the bedroom – called ‘registers’ – which were moulded from a single piece of cast iron. When cast-iron fireplaces are stripped of layers of paint, and then sealed with iron paste, they are a silvery graphite colour, which catches the light beautifully.
We tend to think of cast iron as a very hard material: in fact it’s quite soft, porous and very easily scratched, so any stripper applied to the surface must be neutralized with water as soon as it has been removed. Whenever possible, dismantle the item and work on it outdoors.
1 Ready for restoration
An old cast-iron fireplace can be restored to its former glory by stripping away the layers of paint to reveal the intricate decorative details. Use an appropriate chemical stripper: because cast iron scratches easily, a blanket stripper is a good way to remove the old paint.
Once all the old layers of paint have been removed, it’s a good idea to treat the cast iron with a rust converter, which also acts as a rust inhibitor, stopping new rust forming. The iron paste or polish is simply applied with a brush or soft cloth and then buffed to a brilliant sheen to catch and reflect the light.
- It’s much easier to strip large items, such as fireplaces, outdoors, laid flat on the ground. If a fireplace is still fitted, take care to protect the surrounding areas by covering walls and floors with dustsheets and newspapers.
- Black lead makes an attractive finish on cast iron. Use a soft cloth to spread it across the surface then work it into patterned areas with a toothbrush. When you have finished, buff to a shine with a soft, clean cloth – an old ‘T’-shirt is ideal.
- Always wear heavy-duty gloves when you strip cast iron:the stripper is extremely caustic and can cause skin irritation.
- If you have to strip and paint metal indoors, good ventilation is essential. When using a spray gun, goggles and a respirator should be used.
- Note that spray paint is highly flammable. Don’t leave spray guns unattended if there are children and animals in the house.