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Homework: How to paint wrought iron

Repainting wrought-iron fences and railings can be done

Repainting wrought-iron fences and railings can be done as long as the painter carefully cleans away previous paint and rust, experts say. Credit: iStock / Indars Grasbergs

How many homes on Long Island do you think have traditional and durable wrought-iron porch railings, decorative porch supports or majestic wrought-iron fencing? My guess is thousands.

Wrought iron is one of those materials of old that's proven itself. In almost all cases, it's a high-quality steel with few impurities in it. That's why it doesn't turn to rust powder in just a few years.

Most wrought iron I've seen has stood the test of time. With just a little care on your part, you can preserve it.

Degree of Difficulty: Two Hammers out of Five

Step one: Gather the following supplies: metal priming paint and gloss metal paint, lead-paint-approved dust mask. Get out all of your normal painting tools: paint scraper, wire brush, assorted small paint brushes, paint-cleaning tools, dropcloths. You may want to consider using a power drill equipped with a wire wheel if you have lots of rusty spots to prepare.

Step two: Paint is simply a colored glue. Any paint chemist will confirm this. All glues bond more securely to surfaces that are clean, dust-free, rust-free, free of oil, etc. If the object you're painting is in good condition and you purchase a high-quality paint and matching primer, you can expect to get 10 or more years out of a paint job.

Step three: The most common problem with wrought iron is peeling paint with rust under the paint. Scrape off as much of the paint as you can. Use a wire brush or a power tool equipped with one that allows you to remove the rust so you see bare metal. Wear a special dust mask that will keep the paint dust out of your lungs. There's a very good chance you might be dealing with older layers of paint that contain lead.

You can purchase inexpensive test kits from a local hardware store to test for lead in paint. If your ironwork tests positive, then go here for good tips on how to deal with it: (The success of your new paint job is based on the amount of time you spend getting ready to paint. Most people don't want to invest the time to get rid of any and all rust. You must do this to get the best finish possible. However, read the primer label, because some metal primers will allow you to paint metal that has a light coating of rust.)

Step four: Once you've removed all rust, take a dry older paint brush and dust off all bare metal. Wipe down any existing painted wrought iron to remove any dust and dirt. Dust is your enemy.

Step five: Read the label on the metal primer can. Follow all the instructions, paying attention to the temperature limits. If you're trying to paint in the early spring or late fall, you could bump up against the lower temperature limit. Also, pay attention to the time it says you have to wait to recoat with finish paint.

Step six: You'll get the best results with your finish paint if you apply it as soon as the primer says it can be recoated. You'll achieve a better mechanical and chemical bond. Plan ahead so you can apply the finish paint soon to the primed areas and not have days of time between the priming and the finish paint application.

Step seven: You may think it's best to paint on sunny, breezy days. That's the worst time. Overcast days with light or no wind are the best, and if the temperature is around 65 degrees, it's ideal. Be sure there's no threat of rain until the paint will be dry.

Step eight: Apply the finish paint with the brush of your choice. If it's an oil paint, dip the brush in mineral spirits before you dip it in the paint. Getting the bristles wet with the solvent will make it easier to clean the brush later. If you're using a water-based metal paint, dip your brush in water first.

Summary: The key to an easy wrought-iron paint job is keeping up with it. If you allow the existing paint to fail miserably, then you'll have more prep work to do that's mind-numbing. Remember, purchase the most expensive metal paint and primer you can. Expensive paint almost always has the best ingredients.

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