Restoring a cast iron fireplace

One of the first things we said when we bought our house was that we were going to reinstate cast iron fireplaces in every room apart from the living room (a wood burner will go in here eventually-more on that later!) to put back the character that had been taken away over the years.
The fireplaces had all been boarded over and we couldn't wait to rip off all the plaster and see what was hidden underneath!

Unfortunately, there were no original fireplaces hiding behind the plasterboard (sad face) but the brickwork was in good nick.

In the living room we are having exposed brick on all three sides of the fireplace and installing a wood burner later this summer. This is the mess from Summer 2014 when we were taking off all the old lime plaster.


We repointed the brickwork and this was the finished result before the walls were plastered.

You can find original cast iron fireplaces at reclamation yards, the tip and sometimes in skips outside building sites. Go and have a look and see what you can find!
We were lucky enough to be given a couple of small ones for our bedrooms and found two large fireplaces in need of restoring.

The first large fireplace we came across was painted and rusty so we decided to undertake the  restoration work ourselves. If your fireplace is Victorian or Edwardian it's very possible that the original paint layers may contain lead, which is toxic and can cause health problems. Before trying to remove old paintwork, if you suspect yours may have been painted with lead paint, it might be a good idea to get it tested to be doubly sure. For more information on how to get the paint tested, visit the Lead Paint Safety Association.

If your fireplace is already installed, you can either remove it to do the restoration works or leave it in place in the wall but  cover the walls and surrounding area with protective sheets and make sure your room is well ventilalted
Be warned; this is a very messy and time-consuming job so wear old clothes and be patient.  If you want to try this yourself, you will need:

  • Protective sheeting
  • Gloves
  • Eye and face shields (Stripper is potent stuff and you don't want to get any in your eyes/mouth/face)
  • Chemical paint stripper
  • Stripping knives (large and small)
  • Old screwdriver/pointed object
  • White spirit
  • Wire wool/stiff brush
  • Old rags/cloths

Apply the paint stripper liberally with a paintbrush to remove all the layers of paint which had been applied over the years. Once dissolved (but not dry), scape it off using a stripping knife and wipe any excess off using an old rag. Ours needed three coats of stripper as it was so thick! One thing to note is that your old fireplaces may have been painted with lead paint which is highly toxic so you need to be  Then use the screwdriver or some wire wool or a stiff brush dipped in white spirit to remove any paint from any heavily patterned areas. NEVER use water as this will cause it to rust.

The detail is starting to be revealed!

Once all the paint has been removed, give it a wipe down using white spirit on a clean cloth. Then buff it using a fine wire wool to remove any rust. Give it a final wipe with white spirit to remove any dust.
If you are planning to paint your fireplace then it's a good idea to add a coat of red oxide paint to prevent any rusting. You can buy this in handy spray cans from most DIY shops. Then use a specialist heat resistant paint such as Stovax ThermoLac.
If you want a traditional look then you'll need to get hold of some grate polish like Hotspot Stove and Grate Polish and apply this using a rag or a clean paintbrush to go over any hard-to-get-to patterned and detailed areas.

Even though we were pleased with the final result, we felt it was too time consuming to try and restire them all ourselves. The small one below was so rusty and required shot blasting by a metal finisher to get a smooth finish. So we decided we to send the others to a metal finishing specialist to be sand blasted and painted. This was costly but it was so worthwhile and saved us a huge job. The fireplaces came back sparkling and looking as good as new!

The length of wood is holding the fireplace in the wall as the glue dries! We are going to make a wooden fire surround for this small one in the front bedroom.

Ta da! Beautifully smooth fireplace!

This is my favourite one of the lot. The paint was so thick it would have taken so long to restore it, we thought we would leave it to the professionals!

A bit dusty from being in a building site but will come up sparking after a quick wipe down with a dry cloth!

Have any of you ever restored a fireplace or planning to do one soon? Let me know how you get on!

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