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Restoring a cast iron wood stove covered in rust

Steel wool is the best choice. But if the rust is too bad for that, start with wire brushes. Sandblasting is okay if you have the equipment, but expensive if you don't. Stove polish may be preferred over high temperature paint. Read on...





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September 21, 2011

Q. I have a wood burning stove. It came with the house and is not old but does have lots of rust on the bottom and top. It is Installed in the house so I can not take it outside.

I have some questions:
1) First what are the best methods of getting the rust off that doesn't include Blasting.

2) After the rust is off, do I need to seal it? If so with what? I cannot heat the bottom of the stove so it has to be something the does not require heat.

3) It is black cast iron what is the best paint for it?

I am open to all ideas. (I don't have a drill with a sander as I saw on posts, but if someone can show me what it is and it's not expensive I can try that).

Thank you for the help!

Janis Garland
- Mascoutah, Illinois, USA


Sanding Flap Wheel

September 21, 2011

A. Hi, Janis.

1. Depending on how heavy the rust is, you can scrape some off with a putty knife, then remove the rest with sandpaper. The suggestion for the drill meant that if you have an electric drill, you can get a wire brush or sandpaper attachment of some sort =>
that fits in the drill and will save you some elbow grease.

2. After you've removed what you can, you can apply Naval Jelly [linked by editor to product info at Amazon]
which turns the remaining rust into a more stable form. This is just brushed on; it doesn't require heat.

3. Stoves get hot, so high temperature stove paints like Rutland stove paint [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] are more appropriate than general purpose paints.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey



To minimize searching and thrashing, and to provide multiple points of view, Finishing.com combined formerly separate threads into the single dialog you are now viewing. Please forgive any resultant repetition.



(2004)

Q. I, too, am in the process of refinishing an old wood burning cookstove. I was advised to have all of the parts sandblasted, and then paint everything with Stove Paint [linked by editor to product info at Amazon]. It comes in a spray can, or brush on. I'm wondering if it might work best to use a bit of each. Has anyone got any advice for me?

Mary H [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Saxtons River, Vermont


A. Hi Mary. There is no essential difference in brush vs. spray. Use whichever is most convenient for you for the circumstances.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


(2005)

A. Hi. I just came across your stove restoration questions, many of which were my own, and then discovered this link to an article from MotherJones called "Wood-burner Restoration." Maybe it will help: http://www.motherearthnews.com/menarch/archive/issues/059/059-024-01.htm

Cindy R [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Kansas City, Missouri

----
Ed. note, Dec. '12: Sorry, that link is no longer functional.



(2005)

thumbsdownA. Well I have read most of the letters and have come to the conclusion that everyone is mad. First of all the most direct approach is to assess the stove and take corrective action. If it is rusty, so what? It will burn off with a good hot fire. If bolts are in bad condition, replace them. No matter what the problem is, it is only a matter of getting dirty and taking the dirt by the horns. I have restored stoves that looked like they should be sold for scrap. Answer, hard work and perseverance. Good luck and quit whining!

Gary V [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Ashland, Ohio


(2005)

A. No sense in going overboard if your stove isn't in real bad shape. Taking the whole thing apart and sand-blasting it takes a lot more time and money, not too mention it's messy (which means you can either get sand all over your house, or you can lug that heavy stove into the yard -- a real pain either way). A drastic overhaul is only really necessary if:
a) The stove is completely covered in thick rust and looks like it was sitting in saltwater for the last 10 years, or
b) You get your advice from someone who is in the business of reconditioning stoves and wants your money.

If it just needs some basic refinishing, don't spend all that time and money! You just need 3 things:
1) steel wool [linked by editor to product info at Rockler] (start coarse if needed, then go with more fine wool)
2) High temp paint (One brand has already been recommended in this thread)
3) Good old fashioned ELBOW GREASE (the rust isn't just going to come off like magic, you've got to work at it and show it who's boss. Accept that fact and deal with it).

Jim S [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Madison, Wisconsin


(2006)

thumbs up signMost of us like the magic answers. Good to hear the ones with experience. I myself was given a Glacier Bay wood stove that is not really bad with rust. Just want to clean it up, and protect it so I get many years of use. Plan on trying the steel wool, & Rutland Stove Polish [linked by editor to product info at Amazon]. Makes the most sense for the level of rust I'm dealing with.

Kevin T [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Baltimore, Maryland


(2006)

A. Regarding finishing old cast-iron stoves, most of the general information herein is correct. From personal trial and error, I can say what has worked well for me and what hasn't.

I live in the Ohio Valley, very humid summers, damp winters. The stoves I have worked on have had moderate to severe rust, from surface rust that is powdery to deep, scale-type rust. Steel wool works best, if you have time and want a long term project. Sandblasting is cost prohibitive, in my opinion, unless you have the equipment and time. I have found that an angle-grinder mounted wire brush or drill-mounted wire brush is best. Go with stiff one first over entire area of the stove, and then go with a more flexible wire brush. Then, quick rub down with steel wool.

I am a fan of old fashioned stove polish (black) that uses waxes and pigments to cure and seal the surface. I guess you can use high-temp paint, but I never have on cast iron. I have used high-temp paint on pot-metal stoves, but I think they smell really bad when first lit in the winter, and they tend to smell for several burnings. The classic finish that one is used to seeing on cast iron comes from black stove polish or paste (Rutland seems to make a good product). Fire the stove after applying polish and the stove will cure itself (a little smell, but it's non-toxic per label).

Any steel bolts or nuts can be used to replace worn ones. Non-stainless stove pipe rusts easily too, so check your stove pipes frequently for holes, weak joints, etc. The next important restoration or maintenance issue is the firebox, the seals, and air controls. Make sure inside is relatively free of rust scale (not necessary, but looks better), and check firebricks for cracks. Don't overfire any stove, and burn only what's meant to be burned (i.e. don't burn coal in a wood stove). Only burn wood that is cured and has a low moisture content. Good luck.

Brian M [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Prospect, Kentucky



(2007) -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. I was given an old cast iron outdoor fireplace that is rusted. I would like to know what to do to restore it to the beautiful black it once was. I have purchased a can of Krylon BBQ & Stove paint [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] along with a wire brush. I took the brush to it, but some rust remains. I am wondering if I need to remove ALL rust before painting, how to do so if necessary and if I have purchased the right product.
I would appreciate any and all help you can offer.

Debra Higgins
hobbyist - Tacoma, Washington


Rust Converter

 

A. Hi Debra. It's usually considered good to apply a rust converter if you can't get every bit of rust off. This is a phosphoric acid based chemical that converts the rust from the powdery flaky "red rust" to a hard, stable, "black rust". Then a coat of your stove paint, a couple of fires to fully cure it, and another coat.

But some readers don't like the idea of stove paint, and urge us to use stove polish instead. Good luck.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


(2006)

A. Din't go frettin! I just called my mom in Tenn. askin' her how to clean up my rusty wood burner; she said to use a steel brush and get it all off, then take some old grease or oil don't matter, take a rag wipe it down real good. Best to be outside, then start a fire and burn it for a couple hrs; I did and it looks great.

Roberta R [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Monterey, Indiana


January 6, 2008

A. I have an old cast iron wood heater that was given to me because my fireplace wasn't putting off enough heat. It had to be installed immediately because we were freezing. We didn't have the time to clean all the rust off and refinish it properly.

Well, my cast iron pans are easy enough to refurbish, just cover them with cooking oil or grease and heat them up several times. So we employed the same principal with the wood stove. I just spread a thin coating of used peanut oil over the stove while it was hot and now it's beautiful. I have pictures of when I started and after I worked on it for about 15 minutes.

It did smoke a bit after applying the oil but not much. I think the results were well worth the bit of smoke we had to put up with.

Stephanie Lowery
- Gastonia, North Carolina


November 6, 2008

A. Hi everyone! Just wanted to share some tips that I used in restoring my first cast iron wood burning heating stove! It was a Cribben & Sexton. (I am currently working on my second-a Round Oak) The best way to do it right is to take the stove totally apart. It might sound like a huge job but it is worth it to do it right. On the first one I took the time to remove all of the nuts & bolts etc which took a lot of time & most were not salvageable anyway. On this stove I just broke all of the bolts & will replace them. I then took a big plastic bin & filled it with vinegar & let the cast iron pieces soak for at least 24 hours. Vinegar is very cheap! The rust comes right off! If there is some stubborn rust, scrub it (I use a Dremel [linked by editor to product info at Amazon]) and put it in the vinegar again. Only use this on the cast iron parts! For the parts that need polishing I sand them until the pits are gone & then continue to use finer grits. I finish it all off with SimiChrome [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] & the final result looks amazing!

Lori Smith
- Turlock, California


Ospho Rust Converter


Liquid Wrench

October 29, 2010

A. I lived in the Ohio Valley for many years and have restored a lot of wood stoves as I used these for both heating and cooking. Now I am a boat captain and have been working on a submarine for 5 years here in Hawaii (who knew?) we deal with a lot of rust due to the salt water and need to keep all the metal parts looking shiny for the tourists. We use what we call 'Ospho' (Metal Primer by Jasco) =>
comes in 1 gal. bottles. For the old stoves I used to hose them off and scrub with a stiff brush for all loose rust, then let dry and use the recommended wire brush and sandpaper. Problem with this is, it also works rust particles into the metal to propagate more. However, penetrating stove treatments and regular use of the stove keep this at a minimum.
With the Ospho, wait until the stove is thoroughly dry (hot sun or starting it up) and spray into every crack and crevice. This chemically changes and dissolves the loose rust. Then wash and use again a wire brush. I agree that a good penetrating lubricant is a good idea to soak bolts and joints with, then burn off the excess. Some bolts (or all) will need to be replaced. An old stove can last indefinitely if well treated (and occasionally retreated as necessary) with a good penetrating treatment. Good luck! Nothing like wood heat!

Ardele Kershaw
- Kailua-Kona, Hawaii USA



May 25, 2011

Q. I've followed the many suggestions in this thread in restoring a rusty pot-belly stove. I performed the following all out in the sun on a hot day (in order):
1. Soaked the pot-belly in CRC (WD40) for a week
2. Wiped it down and re-applied another coat for 1 day
3. Wiped it down and then used an angle grinder with a wire brush attachment removing all instances of rust (big transformation).
4. Applied 2 coats of a foaming degreaser followed by a blast of water each time.
5. Wiped down with hot soapy water and dried.
6. Applied a generous amount of Pot Belly polish to all areas rubbed in.
7. Started a fire and once up to temp rubbed in existing excess polish.

Now after applying the polish (step 6) it came up perfect, probably better than day it was made. On having a fire burning for sometime I noticed the polish on the warmer parts went a light grey. 3 days later I went to apply more polish (I liked the polish look better) and found there to already be a light coating of rust over all of the surface bar the heated areas. The rust wouldn't come off with a simply wipe but I fear I will need to hit it again with the wire brush. Is there anything I have done wrong as it seems the heat has removed the polish and exposed the surface to hungry rust? (steps 3-7 were performed on the same day)

Sal Peterson
- Washington, Australia


August 4, 2011

A. My father-in-law recommends cutting a potato and rubbing it on the surface every once in a while to keep the surface pretty. I may try this after the complicated solutions above.

Debbi Tyler
- Oswego, New York, USA


June 27, 2012

A. If you wish to maintain that antique look (patina?), the best way to clean/restore an old cast iron stove is by using:

1) Wire-wheels and buffers on both electric drills and a Dremel.
2) Large and small wire brushes.
3) Wax-based stove finish.
4) Elbow grease & nearly unlimited amount of PATIENCE.

Depending on how filthy the stove is, I usually vacuum them out with a shop-vac & blow out any remaining debris/loose sediment with an air compressor. Then I tear them down. Locate the bolts and screws and figure out how to best remove them. If they are rusted in place use a Metabo or similar hand-held grinder to shave them off, and again, patience & a steady hand are key to prevent serious gashes in the metal. If you think they can be cajoled into loosening, then heat up each nut with a torch and hopefully you can twist them off with ease.

You may have to use a hammer or screwdriver to knock/pry the stubborn pieces loose, but once they are off you can start cleaning in earnest. Don't worry too much about the old fasteners, as they can be cheaply and easily replaced.

Scrape off everything you can and give the stove a once-over with a wire wheel, focusing on any trouble areas. Repeat as necessary, but keep in mind that they are made of parts cast from boiling iron, and are rarely flawless. Patience is also key here, because I find going over a piece lightly, many times, gives it the best finish.

Repeat this process on the finer/detailed areas with a Dremel or similar. Hopefully you wind up with a rich, black cast iron. If you wore through the old finish/patina and the iron-grey is showing through, you are best off continuing until the entire piece matches.

Once you have eliminated all rust there are a few things you can do. Quite often I polish them using the buffers and they are ready for sale, but occasionally, having invested the time, I decide that it needs additional finish. There's no real trick to it, it either looks good or doesn't look good enough. I'd rather have a black stove than a splotchy or dull one.

When this happens I employ a combination of wax-based finish and buffing. Wax-based finishes will require the stove to be lit & heated up, so after application I balance it on cinder blocks, light a fire inside and wait for the wax to cure, feeding the fire if necessary. Then, when it cools down, I buff it, depending on the finish I'm going for.

This is the same way people maintained their stoves in the old days, minus the electric buffing.

I would like to note: What I've described requires using potentially dangerous items. Simply put, if you don't know what you're doing, don't do it. And wear proper safety gear, i.e., don't inhale airborne mouse droppings.

With a good eye and patience you just might be able to hit your mark.

Zack Bell
- Quanicassee, Michigan


November 15, 2010

A. WD40, WD40, WD40, WD40, WD40, WD40, WD-40 [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] ... ENOUGH SAID! Takes the rust off with little effort.

Ron Burgundy
- lewiston, Maine


April 2, 2012

! I think these are all good questions, and glad that people with positive responses offer help. My wife and I just bought an old wood burning stove yesterday, and are looking forward to doing all the refurbishing ourselves. Thanks for all the helpful hints! I will post my own suggestions as I get through the process.

Joel P [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Colorado Springs, Colorado



To minimize searching and thrashing, and to provide multiple points of view, Finishing.com combined formerly separate threads into the single dialog you are now viewing. Please forgive any resultant repetition.



(2007)

A. I am an amateur. I just finished my first and only wood stove which I bought last weekend at a local antiques dealer. It's a lovely Wood & Bishop stove with a "thing" at the top that looks like the Holy Grail. It was badly rusted, but I took it home anyhow because it was only selling for $150 and I was desperate for a stove. I live in Maine, and the cost of oil is beyond what I could ever handle.

I used WD-40 [linked by editor to product info at Amazon]. I used to work with a locksmith, and this is what we used to remove dirt, rust, whatever, and also lubricate stiff locks. It was also good for my old furnace, when the screws were so rusty they would otherwise need to be cut off. But WD 40 took all that off, and also cleaned and lubricated the screw threads. So I thought I would try it on the stove. It was worth a shot before I tried sandblasting or a blow torch.

It worked. The rust, which was like tough orange barnacles, absorbed the WD 40, which softened it and then it came right off with paper towels. There were lovely embossed decorative patterns on all sides, and the WD 40 was absorbed into all the angles, and made the rust soft and easily removed.

Last phase was that after I wiped the WD 40 off, I noticed some of the smooth rounded moldings were pitted. So I sprayed WD 40 on them, and let it sit, and then wiped it again, and all of the pit marks were easily removed.

The "Holy Grail" at the top was entirely covered with rust to the point where I could not see what it looked like, and again, sprayed it heavily with WD 40 and all of the rust came off. I did the same to rusty patches on the inside of the stove, and the screws that hold it together are now clean also.

The whole process took minutes at a time, though I did have to wait for the WD 40 to sink in before rubbing.

Seems to me, this is a good and gently way to clean off the rust. Now, I need to find out what to do next for blackening and also, if there is a way to re-nickel the "Holy Grail" on top [Ed. note, please see thread 13218, "Restoring Nickel Plating on Wood Cookstove"].

Erika Donneson
Erika Donneson
- Saco, Maine


December 11, 2012

Q. My husband is restoring a cast iron Loth Liberty wood cook stove. He is sand blasting off the rust. Then will paint with high temp paint. My question is, after the rust is removed, does he also paint the cook top (eyes, etc.) or just wipe it down with oil then start a fire and burn it for a couple of hours? Thanks.

Marilyn Hall
- Rural Retreat, Virginia, USA


December 11, 2012

A. Hi Marilyn. It's probably fine to paint them with the high temperature paint, but they might be prone to easy scratching (it's only paint). Some readers suggest that you use stove polish instead of paint for such a situation. Good luck.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


January 5, 2013

Q. I have read many responses of stove paint vs stove polish with much of the differences being based on personal preferences. I'm still unsure of what the qualities of each are such as look of the finish, durability, and approx life of finish (if applied properly). Can someone take time to explain the differences between these products. Also, Ted, what do you prefer and why? After so many years experience, I'm curious of your professional opinion. Thanks

Kevin King
- Elon, North Carolina


January 6, 2013

A. Hi Kevin. I run this site, but I am not an expert in all these subjects. I re-painted my own wood stove a couple of times, but that's the limit of my personal experience :-)

Sorry, I've never used the stove polish.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


March 27, 2014 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. I found a severely rusty Garland stove and need to know how to remove the rust.

Sue Sherry
Auction restorer - Pennsylvania


July 1, 2014

A. The very easiest way to remove rust is with a coarse wire wheel on an angle grinder . Use Eye protection just in case and maybe an old long sleeve shirt . If you are getting into awkward places you might want to wear gloves ... I've hit my hand with the running wire brush and it doesn't feel good. If you don't own an angle grinder, borrow or rent one ... you'll be amazed at how well it works . A 4 inch wheel is about 7 dollars .

Michael Benjamin
- Bernville , Pennsylvania USA



December 5, 2014

Q. I have inherited a pot belly wood burning stove. An Evening Star No. 12 to be exact. From the front it is in decent shape, but the backside is horribly rusted, quite weak and brittle and corroding, even separating itself from the base leaving an inch gap from side to side. Is this even salvageable?

11428-17a  11428-17b

Any feedback is greatly appreciated as an earlier post mentioned, info on this is hard to come by, online anyways.
Sincerely
Adam

Adam Nelken
- Vancouver, B.C., Canada


December 2014

Hi Adam. The 3-legged design and the porthole front are really attractive. It would be great to have a lighted glass aquarium behind the porthole, or a banana plant growing out of it, or something like that. Cool looking!

But to try to get this thing airtight and safe enough to contain a hot fire in the middle of your home? I wouldn't.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey



December 24, 2014

A. Very good info on stove polishes and pastes --
http://historiccookingschool.com/formula-for-stove-blacking-polish/
Hope it helps and good luck!

Goran Budija
- Zagreb,Croatia



April 6, 2015

Q. Hi,
My Dover wood stove is pulling all the heat out the chimney. It draws so fast that it make a noise -- the oven doesn't want to heat up. It is built-in.
Thanks
Desi

desi smit
- south africa


April 15, 2015

Q. I have a cast iron wood stove with several cracks. Is it dangerous to keep using it? What should I do please?

jeannette speight
- hira nelson, new zealand


June 3, 2015

Q. Hi what will it cost to get my stove restored? It is rusted, not sure how bad. Would like to use the stove?

Michelle Naidoo
- Cape Town kuilsriver



sidebar September 17, 2016

Q. What is the best insulation on the surrounding a restored old cast iron wood burning stove? Our stove is in a small
Cabin. It is placed in a corner and we would like to use it for wood burning / heat purposes only.

Kathy Manning
- Victoria , Texas USA


September 2016

A. Hi Kathy. This is a metal finishing site rather than a home heating site, so it may not be the best place to get such questions answered. Nonetheless, my take on it is that you don't want insulation between the stove and the flammable walls, you want to block radiant heat from landing on the walls, plus provide good air flow for cooling them...

Get a good sized sheet of galvanized metal, bend it 90° at the middle so it follows the shape of the corner, and secure it about an inch away from the wall on metal standoffs of some sort. Leave an air gap of a couple of inches from the floor to the bottom of the sheet so air can freely flow under it. The sheet will get hot from the radiant heat but the walls won't, and air will flow upwards over both the inside and outside of the sheet, cooling it, and keeping the walls cool. Good luck.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey



Is my wood stove insulation asbestos?

October 18, 2016

Q. I have recently acquired a Great Majestic Wood Cookstove patented in 1900. There is a number on the clean out door below the oven "36468", which I assume could be the serial number of the stove. My inquiry is to determine if the insulation located on the back and oven side of the stove wall is asbestos. Is there a link or information regarding this concern? The insulation appears to have been removed at an earlier time but is still present under the cast iron grid. I have considered just removing the grid completely.
Thanks for your information!

Carol Ruiz
buyer - High Rolls Mountain Park, New Mexico USA


October 18, 2016

A. You would need to send a sample to a lab for examination by polarized light or electron microscopy.

Is the insulation flaking, or is dust from it falling out? To do harm, asbestos needs to be what they call "friable." Frequently, the best thing to do is let it be, or coat it with some kind of stabilizing coating.

dave wichern
Dave Wichern
Consultant - The Bronx, New York



January 21, 2017

Q. About a Dover cast iron stove.It is a cook stove,with an oven! Do I clean it in the conventional way, with a wire brush, then with steel wool and stove polish, as described above?

Sean Higgins
- South Africa


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Readers: Please see also thread 19039, Where & how to find information and parts for cast iron wood stoves.

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