I have a wonderful wrought iron gate in the Spanish wall that defines my front patio. Once every two to three years, I break out the equipment and go through the process of removing any rust spots and repainting it. Afterwards, it looks stunning. In a short while however, the Texas sun does a number on the paint.
I began to wonder if there was another way. Here’s what I found.
First, My Method:
There is no paint in the world that will correct rust. A metal brush, gloves, eye protection and steel wool are needed. Sometimes, machines with “grinders” are wonderful for removing rust from large sections of metal- other times the same grinders will ruin smaller pieces, such as fencing. Manual labor is required.
Naval jelly and other chemical rust removers should be used with extreme caution. I don’t use them on my fence-ever.
First, using the metal brushes and wearing the proper safety gear, I brush the entire gate. Every speck of rust is scrubbed off the metal. The old paint is removed with it- that’s okay. Next is the steel wool- this helps smooth out the metal, remove tiny bits of rust the brush couldn’t get to and helps smooth out any brush marks.
The entire gate is then wiped down carefully with tack cloth. This is discarded because it’s full of metal bits- not what I want in my washing machine.
Now I paint. I first apply a coat of Rust-Oleum primer. This company produces primers advertised to cover and stop rust, but remove the rust first. Any microscopic hole or crack in the paint and the mixture of oxygen/moisture will allow the rust to continue.
After the primer dries, I paint with Rust-Oleum paint made for metal. I usually put on one coat, which is why I wind up painting so often.
Here’s another way:
According to iron fabricator Carrie Wallace of Huntington, WV, painting wrought iron by hand lasts longer than spray. Thicker coats will last longer.
She recommends automotive epoxy paint that requires the addition of a hardener. Depending on the supplier, she states the cost can run approximately $100 a gallon, but worth it. The paint hardens in about six hours, so if the area is large, mix and use in small amounts. She also recommends a sprayer and respirator as essential tools for this paint.
Although she does not mention removing any rust first, make that your first step. Her shop begins with a black epoxy primer. The sun will fade this primer eventually, giving your fence that “old- iron look.”
Following this method, she states the paint job should last approximately ten years without any signs of rust. This of course, does not take into account anything hitting the fence such as lawn equipment, toys or sports equipment or debris in a storm.
For Historical Iron Fences and Gates:
Materials Conservator Jason Church shows a video with detailed steps in the preservation of historical iron fences.
Although he does use certain chemicals, he explains the need, steps to use and safety equipment required. He also explains the difference between cast and wrought iron- something that does make a difference in preservation.
With the sheer amount of detail, I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide how much work they want to do themselves, or call a professional. One thing I would recommend: If you decide to call a “pro,” found in the phone book, ask specifically about their knowledge of historic iron. Learn from this video and website first. If the phone listing company says something that doesn’t sound right, move on to another company.
He does recommend oil based primers and paint for iron. One interesting note is that he points out something many people don’t usually associate with iron fencing- color. Not all iron fencing was painted black. White, green and other colors were used.
I think that this year, my gate isn’t going to keep it’s solid-black look. With additional elbow grease, several coats of primer and a “go-slow-do-it-right” philosophy, my gate is going to be white with the oak leaves/acorn design painted in different colors. At least that’s what I’m thinking now.
Source: Carrie Wallace, “Repainting a rusty wrought iron fence,” Finishing.com website, no date given
Source: Jason Church, Iron Fence Repair Video (2007-03), National Center for Preserving Technology and Training website, 22 September, 2007