How to restore a cast iron fireplace – part 1

It’s probably about time I blogged about our fireplace. There’s a fair bit to say before the reveal, so I’ll split this into parts.

When we bought this house we had no idea we had a stunning original period feature just waiting to be restored.

Original estate agent picture

Original estate agent picture

In fact, it was several months in that we finally clocked that the fireplace that we thought was wooden was cold to the touch, and therefore metal.

Dumb, huh? But seriously – would you have expected that this was an original Edwardian cast iron beauty?

fireplacebefore

Mmmmmmm, sexy.

Ok, ok, you’d have realised sooner, smartypants. In our defence, when we first moved in we spent very little time in this room (the old dining room destined to be our sitting room). And besides, we were totally distracted by the ugly old fire and green tile hearth – circa 1980 public toilets.

However, within 5 minutes of clocking it was indeed metal we excitedly found the Nitromors and several coats, an hour and a room full of toxic stink we managed this:

Cast iron fireplace nitromors

What the Nitromors revealed

Cast iron, with beautiful detailing lost under layers of paint. And there began my absolute obsession with restoring this poor darling to its original splendour. And boy, was that some challenge.

It was clear that Nitromors wasn’t going to cut it – not when you look at the size of the fireplace (it’s 1.5m wide by x 1.2m high if you’re wondering) and not when we considered the vast amount of detail on My Love.

Yes, I am calling it My Love, for it was. For 4 months a day would not pass without me spending quality time with My Love. Even when – ironically – we had no heating in the depths of winter, I wrapped up in scarf and hat and My Love got attention. We spent hours and hours together, quietly and methodically strengthening our bond. He gave me a terrible repetitive sprain injury (insert your own mucky undertones here) that sent me to my workplace physio. And yet I continued, hour upon hour on my knees in front of him (yep, go on again). Anyway……

peelaway1Google is a wonderful thing and after much research it seemed that the wonder product I needed was: PeelAway1. (I have since discovered this wonderful post on the process which I so wish I had seen before I had started on ours!) PeelAway is used by the National Trust, so if it’s good enough for them…..

Armed with the instructions on my reassuringly large tub of PeelAway, some rubber gloves and a massive amount of enthusiasm – in I went, concentrating on the central bit of the fire surround.

I assumed that the more of this stuff I used, the better – right? So I happily squidged on huge amounts, smoothed it with the supplied spatula, put the paper on top (endearingly, the manufacturers call this a “blanket”) and waited. No toxic stink whatsoever – a good start.

I waited 24hours, and tugged at the paper expecting it all to come away in one go. To, erm, “peel away” in fact.

Nope, there was a lot of gungy mess and unexpected liquid. So after cleaning, scraping and moaning I had this:

Peel Away 1 on cast iron

Not quite peeled away

Peelaway1 first use on period cast iron fireplace

Let’s take a closer look

What this had revealed was just how many layers of paint there were to get through and – oh! – check out those colours! There was a particularly striking blue, a green and a burgundy. Apparently, the fashion for painting your fireplace in hideous colours was particularly prevalent in the 1960s, so we were looking at at least 50 odd years of paint.

And what paint it was – God only knows what they put in paint back then (oh yeah, lead) – but it was strong stuff made to last. Oh My Love, what had they done to you?

So, next time I used a little less of the PeelAway gunk, tucked in My Love with a new blanket and, this time, waited 48hours. A little improvement, but not much – though all the green paint had gone. (I neglected to take a photo at this stage – sorry) So I went ahead, more gunk, more tucking in and another 48hours.

After more messy cleaning, I got this:

Cast iron fire detail painted

Oh, hello there fine detail!

I tried Nitromors again on these stubborn bits, but nope, it wasn’t shifting it and was instead just doing terrible things to my asthma.

So there was just one thing for it: wire wool, wire brushes, tiny chisels, elbow grease and stubborn perseverance. And you wonder why I got an RSI.

To be continued….

Read on to part 2

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10 Comments

Filed under Fireplace

10 responses to “How to restore a cast iron fireplace – part 1

  1. I admire your perseverence! I bet your Love looks fabulous by now! Love all the colors … what the hell were people thinking?? Reminds me of the layers on my kitchen cabinets. I was also intrigued by the black stuff the folks in the other post used to polish up their fireplace. So beautiful! Good for you for taking the time and effort to preserve this treasure.

  2. Wow! This is going to be stunning! I kinda liked it in the multi color stage..sorta gave it a patina of sorts, but it would’ve lost the details….beautiful details! I cannot wait to see how this turns out!!!!
    Smiles!
    Terry

  3. Why would anyone cover up such beautiful detail! I’m sure the grand reveal is going to be stunning!

  4. Jo

    I used Peel Away stripper years ago on my fireplace since it was covered with burgundy semigloss (same as the front door) and I wanted everything white. It took me a long time and I was working on wood. After we paint the living room we’ll repaint the woodwork including our fireplace which is no where near as gorgeous as yours. Stick with it, you’re doing a great job. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

  5. Wow, that is some seriously hard graft! But will be so worth it – it looks like an absolutely stunning feature! xxx

  6. Wow look at the detail! It’s beautiful. Can’t believe someone painted over it! Looking forward for the reveal 🙂 xx

  7. Wow – so excited to see what this ends up looking like! Great to discover a fellow UK blogger. I really need to have a delve through your past posts – I’m so hoping my next home is a period one.

  8. Pingback: How to restore a cast iron fireplace – part 2 | Making a house our home

  9. Pingback: How to restore a cast iron fireplace – part 3, the reveal! | Making a house our home

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