Category Archives: Fireplace

How to restore a cast iron fireplace – part 3, the reveal!

Stubborn AND scary

Stubborn AND scary

Parts 1 and 2 of this tale may have had you crying – why didn’t you just get it blasted?

Well, we did consider it. But actually, the metal isn’t in the best of shapes in places – My Love has dimples – so, blasting it ran the risk of these worsening. There was also the cost to consider.

There’s also the fact that I am exceedingly stubborn. If I start something, I finish it.

And finish it I did. The (perfect) timing of finishing getting all the paint off meant we could get a fire installed before the plasterer turned up.

Choosing an actual fire was a pretty dull process which I won’t bore you with. But after many hours of research and show-room wanderings we went with a Gazco and a vented flue (cheaper and more effective than sorting the chimney out. And, no, we didn’t consider a wood burner, we’re way too lazy……)

So, when the gas man turned up with his pneumatic drill, here’s the moment the bricks came tumbling out:


There was a lot of dust…..

We later returned from work to find the fire in place. Hurrah!

With the fire installed the plastering could start. The filthy dirty messy plasterer. Now, he was actually (shock horror!) pretty good at covering the fireplace as we nagged him constantly. But we then neglected to put the dehumidifier in that room whilst the plaster dried. So days later when we took off the covers:

Rust on a cast iron period fireplace

Rust central

Yep, that baby can RUST. Unprotected, it can rust up in just a couple of days like a good’un. I won’t lie, this reduced me to tears. Actual real big ploppy tears.

But I pulled myself together and began mournfully scrubbing My Love with my wire brush and wire wool. Scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing. To little avail:

Rust on a cast iron period fireplace

Oh! My Love!

(True facts:

  • Constant rust dust in the air tastes just like blood.
  • Your bogeys will go an interesting maroon colour.)

And then one day on a chance visit to Screw Fix my glorious hubbie came home with these:

wire brush drill bits

This is quite possibly the best thing he has EVER bought me (and he’s bought me Tiffanys diamonds…..)

You pop one of these little darlings on a drill and away you go! You gotta be careful not to overdo it or press too hard so’s not to damage the metal but gradually you can not only get rid of the rust and any pesky paint chips but also bring up a beautiful sheen to the metal.

It still took HOURS, so don’t be fooled, but it was exceedingly satisfying.

And then finally, we were ready for the last stage. And, strangely, the quickest.

All you do is smear on grate polish (which costs just a couple of quid) and then buff it off:

cast iron fireplace black grate polish

Dot it on….

Period cast iron fireplace black grate polish

Rub it in….

Period cast iron fireplace black grate polish


At the bottom of the fireplace I hadn’t bothered to remove all the rust, knowing this would be covered up by the carpet. But I thought I’d give the grate polish a go and see how it fared. Result: pretty good!

Period cast iron fireplace black grate polish

Hiding the rust

Period cast iron fireplace black grate polish

The end.

And, that was it. Done. My long-running affair finally over.

Thanks for sticking with these blog posts but I hope they’ve been interesting and – importantly – may one day be of use to someone else.

Oh, you want to see the finished thing in all its glory? I thought you’d never ask! Go on then, take a peek!



Filed under Fireplace

How to restore a cast iron fireplace – part 2

So, we left off with the beginning of elbow grease on the central part of the fireplace. This got me to this stage:

cast iron paint chips

So nearly there

Do you see the tiny chips of paint? To the right of the pic and in amongst the detail? These were the bane of my life! From a distance it was looking great but get up close to My Love and these remained, needing careful chipping off bit by bit. I knew if I didn’t do it meticulously then at the final stage the grate polish wouldn’t cover them.

So, slowly, I continued. I was determined to get the middle bit perfect, to spur me on as I faced the rest of the challenge. And finally after copious buffing, I got this:

cast iron fireplace detail

What a beauty!

Now, if that wouldn’t spur me on, nothing would!!

After all this detailing I thought I’d treat myself to a nice flat surface and thus turned attention to the top of the mantle.

On went the gunk:

Paint stripping on cast iron with peelaway

Smoothing on the PeelAway with the spatuala

It was covered with the special paper, air bubbles ironed out and then left for 48hours. Here it is being peeled away:

Peelaway on cast iron fireplace

In action!

D’ya see all the liquid? That’s what made this such a messy job. I have no idea how someone would manage if the rest of the room didn’t need renovating cos me and my trusty scrubbing brush got it EVERYWHERE.

You see, by the time you get the gunk off you then need to get rid of the liquid and, supposedly, neutralise it – though I never did as I figured I has yet more buffing to do which would get rid of any residue.

It turned out that the paint came off the top super easy:

Just one application!

Just one application!

I realised there were only a couple of layers of paint here (no gharish mutli-colours) and that’s why the PeelAway was so incredibly effective here.

I think someone had in the past decided to strip the paint – hence the thin layers. There’s also (sad) evidence of some rough chiseling on the edge of the mantelpiece. I guess they realised what a mammoth job it was and couldn’t face all the detailing so they just repainted the top and then another couple of coats on the rest of it to make my RSI so much worse….

I carried on down the fireplace and realised that the longer you left the gunk on for, the better the results. So, I tackled a new bit of detailing and left it for 72hours:

You can really see how it worked on the paint layers and, whilst a lot of mess remained, it was worth leaving it on for the extra time. Patience is a virtue and all that.

You can also see the eventual mess it was leaving behind:


It was clear there was going to be a mega wire scrubbing job ahead and little point doing it as I went along so I concentrated on getting all the paint off first.

There was something strangely compelling about watching the changes over the 72hours of leaving the gunk on:

Peelaway stripper cast iron period fireplace paint

Peelaway stripper cast iron period fireplace paint

Peelaway stripper cast iron period fireplace paint

Peelaway stripper cast iron period fireplace paint

Now, there is something worth mentioning. PeelAway is pretty friendly stuff. It doesn’t actually have a smell at all and seems fairly innocuous. But then remember what it is capable of. If I got a bit on my skin then within 15 minutes I’d soon begin to feel the prickly burn – but a quick wash off and it was fine.

So, be warned!

You do not want to be this

You do not want people making assumptions

And, do not, whatever you do, decide to wear vinyl gloves when your index fingernail could do with trimming. Because said nail will split the glove, but you’re too busy scrubbing away for an hour before you even notice.

And it’s that smell you’ll notice first. You know, the wretched smell of burning hair? Or burning nail as it turns out. So, you curiously scrape your nail and layers come off like butter, until you panic and plunge it into icey water to stop the burning process. And then you have a repellent yellow nail for WEEKS that you cannot paint over with nail varnish for fear of making the whole thing fall off. So instead your skanky nail suggests you smoke 40+ woodbines a day. Yeah, that. Don’t do that people.

Still, inch by inch I was making my way across the fire place. Across My Love.

Cast iron period fireplace get paint off

Inch by

Cast iron period fireplace get paint off

Inch by inch

Cast iron period fireplace get paint off

Inch by inch by inch

Will we make it? Will we get to the end, buff it up, install a working fire, smear it in grate polish and happily rejoice? There’s only one way to find out……tune in next time for the final installment!

(You’re on the edge of your seat. Go on, admit it.)

Read on to part 3


Filed under Fireplace

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?


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


Filed under Fireplace