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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
This seat was the worst of the pieces.
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.
And there they were, resplendent! Don’t their petal-topped outfits remind you of 1950s kitchen aprons?
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!