A surprising but simple approach to restoration uncovered great color and patina on a pair of old metal chairs.
An easy way to renew a rusty finish on metal garden chairs.
When our neighbors offered us two vintage metal garden chairs, which, it turned out, they couldn’t use or return to the seller, my husband and I jumped at the chance to add them to furnishings we’d collected for our country home.
The chairs had a beautiful patina; I loved the many shades of green and turquoise shining through the finish. The chairs were pretty rusty, however, so I needed to clean them up, though I hoped to preserve most of the original paint. The goal was to seal them to protect them from outdoor weather without losing patina. At the same time, we wanted to make sure no one would come away with green streaks on their pants after sitting on the chairs.
I tackled this project with my friend Sarah. Not only did it go much faster with a second set of hands, but the project was a lot more fun, too. We set up the chairs and supplies outside in the sunshine and got to work.
The first step was giving each chair a good hand-sanding with steel wool to knock off any rust. We used both 0 and 00 steel wool, depending on which was most effective in any given area. Although progress seemed slow, the transformation was incredible. We figured the more we rubbed, the more paint we risked removing. Instead, as the top layer of rough rust came off, most of the original paint became more visible and more vibrant.
Rather than the color being largely brown with a little aqua and turquoise, now we had mostly green and turquoise with just a few brown areas. We were thrilled with the results. We scrubbed until we were satisfied with the color,
There is no new paint on these mid-century chairs; the glossy yet patina-rich finish came back with just elbow grease and a paint additive used as a rustinhibitive coating.
having removed the bulk of the rust. Then we wiped each chair thoroughly with a clean rag, getting ready for the next step.
We had decided to seal each of the chairs with Penetrol, a paint additive formulated for use with oil-based paints; it improves adhesion, reduces brush marks, and restores luster while inhibiting rust. Be sure to use Penetrol and not Flotrol (both are from the same maker), as Flotrol is water-based and would quickly encourage rust on any bare ferrous metal exposed to moisture.
We applied the Penetrol with foam brushes. The work was quick and easy, but Penetrol produces strong fumes, so I would recommend working outside or in a well-ventilated area. The difference
in color after applying a coat of Penetrol was amazing. The color of the original paint was further intensified, resulting in a rich, saturated color and finish.
At this point in our work, a storm started to roll in, so we moved the chairs indoors out of the weather. They were probably fully dry after about 24 to 36 hours, but we left them inside for a couple of weeks, as we’d gone back to the city.
On our next trip to the house, the chairs were ready for use. They now occupy a place of honor on the front porch, where the restored color picks up some of the light aqua from our front door and echoes the mottled, dark-green hues of the roofing.
You’d never know the vintage chairs gracing the porch of a coastal Foursquare had not recently been painted.
Here the homeowner and her friend apply the first coat of Penetrol, a paint additive that adds a soft, sealed finish to metal.
Hand-sanding with 0 and 00 grades of steel wool removed a surprising amount of rust, revealing the underlying paint colors.
The chairs came with great patina, but rusty brown patches had begun to dominate the finish.
The chairs were propped up indoors to dry thoroughly.
The finished chair looks great after sanding and sealing.