Lucy and Ethel have some work done

I met identical twins Lucy and Ethel last summer at my neighbor’s yard sale. We hit it off immediately and they came to live with us that very afternoon. After spending the winter holed up in the garage, the ladies shyly emerged and have sat for some weeks now in the shade of the Chinese windmill palm. You see, Lucy and Ethel don’t feel quite up to going out in public. Being of a certain age, they want to have a little work done first.

red chairs, vintage metal chairs

Lucy and Ethel in their shabby dresses.

Normally, I would assure them that the patina of their years is a beautiful thing, and advise them to wear it with pride … but in this case, I find myself agreeing that improvement is warranted, and even necessary. There’s just too much weather damage and discoloration. Too many years without sunscreen, and I want them to be around for a long time.

rusty metal chair seat

The ravages of time …

Lucy (or is it Ethel?) even has a couple of crude tattoos: “Jean” and “Jim.” Jean was my mom’s name, and it doesn’t belong scrawled across the poor chair’s face. Can you make them out?

names carved in chair, Jean and Tom

Jean and Jim

At some point, the girls tried a cheap cosmetic solution of bright red paint. Whoever applied it did a lousy job, and their makeup smeared and ran. If this isn’t proof that a bad makeup job can age you, I don’t know what is.

red spray paint, vintage garden chair

A careless paint job.

My plan is to give Lucy and Ethel a place of honor on the new side porch, so it’s time to take action. Their previous owner (who moved away) gave me a business card of a friend who does walnut blasting … which of course I’ve mislaid. But having their paint professionally removed wouldn’t be very DIY, would it? Why not go the more difficult, messy, and time-consuming route of grinding it off myself?  After all, I have nothing better to do.

red metal garden chairs

Don’t worry, girls … I have a plan.

The thing is—and I haven’t shared this with L&E—I have no experience refinishing metal, and I don’t really know where to start. It seems reasonable to grind the paint off with a wire brush, so at Lowe’s we bought a wire complexion brush for my friends. Looks mean, doesn’t it?

drill with wire brush

Dermabrasion.

I don’t think I need to take them completely down to bare metal, but I do need to smooth them out before giving them a fresh coat of glossy Rustoleum. That’s the plan.

Hold still, Ethel (or are you Lucy ?) … this will sting a little. After a good ten minutes of exfoliating on her arm, this was the result.

vintage metal garden chair, paint removal

Ouch.

It’s down to bare metal, all right. The paint did come off with some pressure, but the drill was unwieldy and Ethel danced around in pain the whole time. I can’t see how I could keep this up long enough to get all the paint off both chairs, including their backsides and underarms. Maybe it was the 90-degree heat on the back deck that made me feel like quitting.

Maybe a chemical peel would work better? (Please don’t call it paint stripper.)

THREE YEARS later…

That’s right, I wrote that post three years ago, almost to the day! Someone must have leaked the paint stripper idea to Lucy and Ethel, because they beat feet back into the garage, not to be seen for three years. It seemed obvious that the sand blasting or walnut blasting idea just wasn’t going to happen, so I scaled back my expectations and decided that elbow grease, sandpaper, and spray paint would be better than nothing. L&E agreed, as they weren’t getting any younger. I wanted the pair to be front and center for a party we were about to host.

Some WD40 helped loosen bolts that probably hadn’t budged for decades, and soon the ladies lay in pieces. I figured I’d use my Mouse sander on most of the flatter areas (although nothing on these gals is truly flat) but I also bought a shaped foam hand sander to get into smaller areas. Turned out, I didn’t use the Mouse at all because the hand sander did the trick.

Black and whhite cat looks at sanding block.

“Is that a cat toy?”

Sanding created lots of red paint dust. I was glad it didn’t blow around, because I detest wearing a dust mask (bad, I know).

Metal chair seat covered in red sanding dust.

Tomato-red paint and rust dust.

After sanding each piece, I wiped it down with a damp cloth, let it dry, and carried it to my paint booth (a plastic tarp on the grass, with concrete blocks to lift the pieces off the surface). Every single time I set pieces on the blocks to be painted, the breeze came up. Every. Single. Time. I sprayed anyway. Spraying is not the most economical way to apply paint.

The arm and leg tubes are Krylon Fusion Gloss White, and the armrests, seats, and backs are Krylon Fusion Gloss Red Pepper.

Metal chair part after red spray painting.

Paint booth — a tarp on the grass.

Each piece required at least three coats. After painting, I’d wait about 30 minutes, then spray another coat. According to the instructions on the can, you can recoat up to one hour later, but after that you have to wait for 48 hours, otherwise the coat won’t adhere or can develop orange peel. Lucy and Ethel couldn’t risk that.

The actual painting was so much fun—watching the faded, beat-up chairs come to life with color and shine. Except when the skies began spitting. Oh, NOOOOOO!! I tried to sand out the fisheyes, but I was only moderately successful.

 Fisheyes develop in wet paint.

Wet paint + raindrops = fisheyes.

This seat was the worst of the pieces.

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Assembly day! We attached L&E’s bodices to their skirts with new stainless steel bolts (a gift from Eric). Their bolts will never rust again. We slipped their white arms into the red sleeves, then bolted their arms and legs into their bodies.

Red metal vintage garden chair being assembled.

Body ready to attach to arms.

Man tightens bolt on red metal garden chair.

Eric tightens the new bolts.

And there they were, resplendent! Don’t their petal-topped outfits remind you of 1950s kitchen aprons?

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Lucy and Ethel hopped right into position on the deck, ready to party. I’m so proud of them! They’re not perfect, but I assured them that if you were born in the 1950s, no one expects you to be perfect 65 years later.

As I went back in the house, I heard Lucy giggling—something about all the backsides they were about to meet. Or maybe it was Ethel.

Epilogue … and almost tragedy.

After Eric and I put the chairs together, he suggested adding a clear coat to protect the finish, which hadn’t crossed my mind. I was glad we didn’t have to take the girls apart again. I simply sprayed them intact, using Krylon Crystal Clear Gloss.

But wait—WTF?—the gloss coat didn’t appear glossy, especially on the seat and back. In fact, it dried decidedly UNglossy and changed the texture of the metal from fairly smooth to sandpapery! I have no idea why the gloss coat reacted adversely with the red paint. You’d think paints of the same brand would be compatible. I wonder if the can was spraying propellant instead of paint? Has anyone else had this experience?

I was so mad that I didn’t even think about taking photos. I slipped some white garbage bags over the chair arms to protect them, then recoated the seats and backs with gloss red. It helped a lot, but I don’t think the seats are quite as glossy and smooth as they were before the clear coat. But, disaster averted—whew!

Lucy and Ethel exude confidence now and look amazingly bright and cheery on the deck. They’re my new favorite garden accessories!

Two red metal garden chairs from the 1950s.

Lucy and Ethel are ready to party!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

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20 thoughts on “Lucy and Ethel have some work done

      1. ACountryBoy

        My wife let her have the chair for $2. We found out later that they had taken it to the scrap place. That was a little upsetting as all it needed was sanding and paint.

  1. Tom & Judy Huppert

    I love those chairs. I had a couple of them but they broke when a heavy person sat in them and broke the legs. Should have reinforced the legs but didn’t realize there was a problem until it was too late. You have done an outstanding job of bringing Lucy and Ethel back to life.

    Reply
  2. Barbara H.

    This was a hoot to read, along with being a tale of comedy and tragedy with a good outcome, thank goodness. They look fantastic. I bet they are comfortable, too.

    Reply
  3. Cathy Lee

    A delightful post! Personalizing those gorgeous chairs adds a humorous dimension to the whole experience, and I look forward to meeting Lucy and Ethel!

    Reply
  4. Nine Dark Moons

    love this post!!!!!!!!!!!!
    you’re awesome at writing stories that are fun, entertaining, and educational 🙂
    love that you turned the chairs into a story. funny that you wrote it 3 years ago and finally finished – diy is like that, isn’t it? and art projects, for me.
    they look amazing!!! that’s creepy about the clear coat doing that… is it a new can? maybe the heat didn’t something adverse to it? i’m glad you were able to salvage these beauties!

    Reply
    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Thanks, Alison! I have no idea what went wrong with the clear coat. Yes, brand new can … I’m just so glad they came out OK in the end! They are shockingly bright!

      Reply
  5. Lynne

    You have sponsors now? Or are you getting Birch Lane Outlet money? They are at the bottom of your blog.

    Reply
  6. Karen B.

    My grandparents had a pair of those chairs. They sold them when they moved and I was too young to realize how great it would have been to have them. I believe they were in pretty good shape, but you have brought L & E back to life!
    Karen

    Reply
  7. Donna O.

    I love your story of how you brought L & E back to life – they turned out beautiful! By the time I got half way through your post, it finally dawned on me that (most likely) your L & E are based on the Lucy and Ethel of the “I Love Lucy” television show of the 1950’s. Am I right? I think only people of a certain age, like myself, would’ve guessed that. LOL! (For those of you not familiar with the show, Lucy and Ethel were not twins but were best friends on the TV series.)

    I have to agree with Nine Dark Moons above: You are a talented writer, and your wit and humor really shines through! A lot of fun to read. And the great photos really help to make your stories come alive, too.

    Reply
    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Thanks, Donna! Yes, it’s THAT Lucy-and-Ethel pair that I was thinking of. I suppose some will get it and some won’t … that’s OK. Even the “dresses” these chairs wear look 1950s to me! They were the hit of the party, btw.

      Reply
  8. Jo

    I loved the chairs before you started refurbishing. They look fabulous now. Sorry the “topcoat” didn’t work out. Hate when that happens. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

    Reply

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