We’ve recently been getting a lot of questions regarding the restoration, maintenance and running of our original Edwardian fireplaces and have put together this little list that will hopefully answer most of your questions and give you a helping hand.
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How do you restore a cast iron fireplace?
Our cast iron fireplaces were covered in layers of paint. We started by stripping everything with a chemical paint stripper. You should never use a heat gun on cast iron, as the sudden difference in temperature can cause the cast iron to crack.
What paint stripper is best?
We used a slightly different method for each of the two fireplaces we restored. We stripped the fireplace in the master bedroom with Nitromors and we stripped the fireplace in the guest bedroom (formerly in our dining room) with Peel Away.
You can check out each of those methods in more detail here and here. We personally LOVE PeelAway. It worked really well and stripped away all layers of paint in one go.
What do I need to restore a cast iron fireplace?
- Paint Stripper | We absolutely love Peel Away and it’s the only paint stripper we recommend
- Plastic scraper | Using a metal scraper could damage the cast iron which is why plastic scrapers are ideal
- Gloves | It goes without saying that stripping a fireplace is messy work. Chemical strippers are also really harsh, so always wear protective gear!
- White Spirit | To clean the cast iron fireplace. Don’t use water to clean it as it will rust.
- Fine Steel Wool | Steel wool is perfect for getting rid of the odd stubborn bit of paint and cleaning detailed areas.
- Grate Polish | For the finishing touches, you’ll have to apply a layer of grate polish. It’ll protect the cast iron and turn it a lovely deep black colour.
- Lots of old rags or kitchen paper
It’s stripped, now what?
After removing all of the paint, we found that the cast iron had a thin layer of rust on it. Most of it came off with the stripper. To remove any left-over paint residue and rust, we gave the whole fireplace a sand with some fine steel wool.
Okay, it’s stripped and sanded, how much more can there be?
Don’t worry, you’re almost there. The next step is the easiest and most fun – applying the grate polish. Make sure your cast iron is cleaned and dust-free. Then mix a small amount of grate polish with a bit of white spirit.
The addition of white spirit makes the paste much easier to apply and it also goes much, much further. When it’s dry, buff it to the desired sheen with a soft cloth.
Oh, and wear gloves – I had black fingers & fingernails for about a week after doing it without… Ups.
What grate polish did you use & how much will I need?
We used ZIP grate polish that we purchased from a local fireplace restoration company. We probably used about a quarter of the tube (mixed with white spirit) per fireplace.
How does the finish hold up? Does the polish wear off?
It depends. Our fireplaces in the bedroom and living room have a slightly polished finish. If you touch or wipe them, a small amount of black grate polish will rub off, but not much.
Our fireplace in the guest bedroom has a slightly more matt finish (same paste and application, but just not polished), here the polish will rub off much more easily – although we like the matt finish, we will probably polish it just to make it more durable.
How often do you need to reapply the polish?
We’ve had the fire in the living room for 3 years and haven’t had to reapply the polish yet. It still looks exactly like it did on the day we had it installed.
How much does it cost to restore a cast iron fireplace?
If you’re willing to do the work yourself, it’s a much more affordable project than you probably expect! Paint stripper is expensive but that’s almost all you need! In total, it cost us about £70 to restore each of our fireplaces.
I’m really struggling to light my fire? Do you have any tips on how to light coal a fire?
We really struggled with this in the beginning, too.
After a few years of practice, it’s definitely become easier. The trick is not to be too delicate. Start by layering your fire, we use about 3 small firelighters, a load of kindling on top and then a few coals balanced on top of the kindling.
Add more coal (quite a bit) when the first coals are glowing. Make sure you have the bottom vent open to allow a lot of air to circulate the fire. Once it’s going, you can close the vent.
It will take a couple of hours before the fire really gives off a lot of heat.
How often does it require cleaning?
It all depends on how often you use it. I will usually give it a quick wipe after every use and a more thorough clean after about every fifth use.
How do you clean it and how long does it take?
For the quick clean, we just give everything a quick dust and wipe with a standard duster. For the more thorough clean, I first sweep away any dirt & dust, and then clean & polish everything with a rag and WD40. You should never use water on cast iron as it will rust. The quick clean is a 5-minute job maximum, the more in-depth clean takes about 15 minutes.
How much wood do you use?
As we live in a smoke control area, we aren’t allowed to burn wood in our open fires. Most cities in the UK fall in this category and you can check out if you’re in one here. We burn smokeless coal in our fires.
Okay, so how much coal do you use?
Each winter, we use about four 50kg sacks of smokeless coal. We have central heating and only use the fireplace in the living room – the ones in the bedrooms are purely decorative. We probably have the fire on for about 3-4 evenings a week for about 4-5 hours.
Don’t forget to have your chimney swept regularly – at least once a year (more often if you use your fire a lot)! You can find a chimney sweep in your area on the NACS (National Association of Chimney Sweeps) homepage. A poorly maintained chimney can lead to house fires, so don’t skimp on having your chimney swept! Not having your chimney swept regularly could even invalidate your house insurance!
Do you have any safety tips?
Burning fuel will result in the production of carbon monoxide. For safety reasons, we have a carbon monoxide detector in our rooms where we use the fireplaces. They are only around £15 and could potentially save your life!
Oh, and, of course, you should never leave your fire unattended.
I don’t have a period fireplace, but I’d like one installed. Where do I start?
We spent a few weekends going to reclamation yards and fireplace restoration centres just looking at the fireplaces on offer. It’s a good idea to take exact measurements of your chimney breast and room with you so that you don’t fall in love with a fireplace that is not the right size for the room.
It’s also a good idea to get to know your neighbours and see if they still have any original fireplace. It’ll give you a better idea of what style and size fireplace would have originally been in your home, too!
We had a wood burner installed in our dining room and there are a few things to consider when choosing a wood burner, too. The process is similar but there are differences so we’d recommend reading our post where we share everything you need to know about having a wood burner installed, too.
I’ve chosen a fireplace, now what?
You have the stove fitted by a professional. Even if you think that this is a job you could do yourself, you will need certain certificates to comply with building regulations. A good installer will also check the state of your chimney, flue and make sure that everything is safe and secure.
Let us know if you have any other questions or any advice you’d like to share. We’ll try to answer if we know the answer!
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