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topic 8937

How to refinish cast iron and cast bronze fireplace surrounds

Current question and answers:

December 9, 2020

Q. Hey there, my name is Michael and I am an avid woodwork and furniture maker.

I have read several of the comments / feedback to folks at finishing.com. I do a fair amount of woodworking and understand finishes for wood but I am not as educated when it comes to metals. I am building a new fireplace in our 1907 house and using an 1895 historic metal surround for a water vapor fireplace. The water vapor fireplace module produces a very realistic flame. This fireplace produces vapor just as a ultrasonic vaporizer does. Because of this minimal vapor I want to ensure that I protect the surround from rusting while keeping the beautiful patina and matte finish. Several of the finishing options look like they add a shine to the finish, which I am trying to avoid.

I was impressed with your level of knowledge and detail in all your comments.

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I was hoping that someone could offer some advice on how to seal this from the moisture while accommodating for some heat. Is does not get nearly as hot as a regular fireplace as there will be an electric heater install in the roof of the fireplace and that will blow out the front under the protruding lip.

I greatly appreciate your opinion on this project and thank you for any insight you can give.

Respectfully written,

Michael Johnson
- Chicago, Illinois

December 2020

A. Hi Michael. Your fireplace surround looks like it's cast brass rather than cast iron. You probably should check it with a magnet because it's important to know.

Assuming it is brass, I would suggest trying 0000 steel wool [affil. link to info/product at Rockler] dry and also wet with Bon-Ami [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] on the back to get a feel for what happens, so you can be more confident about cleaning corroded or discolored areas of the front if necessary without removing the patina you like. I don't know that it's necessary, but there is also Bronze Wool [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] available, to prevent any steel particles from embedding and rusting. You may find that you can clean it without losing any of the look.

Assuming it is brass, I don't think I'd coat it at all. But let's see if anyone else has comments first :-)

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Previous Q&A's on this subject started in 2001 and continued through 2019


Q. I recently came across your fascinating home page, finishing.com, and have a question that I am hoping you can answer. We would like to refinish the fireplace surround shown in the attached pictures.


It is cast-iron, made in the late 1800's. As you can see, it has a slight bronze finish on it already, which may be some sort of overlay, and is in poor condition. Overall, the piece measures 30"x20". We would like it to have a more rich bronze look to it, and possibly an overlying clear coat that can resist heat.

Any suggestions?


Adam Landsman
- Chicago, Illinois


A. Hi Adam,

If you want to do it yourself, let me know. If you can't find a job shop in the finishing.com's directory that will do it, let me know. Have fun and good luck.

Jake Koch
G. J. Nikolas &Co.,Inc.
supporting advertiser
Bellwood, Illinois
nikolas banner ad


A. Hello. Last year I stripped paint from and refinished a cast iron fireplace and grille with a bronze finish. After stripping the paint, I used a very fine 0000 steel wool [affil. link to info/product at Rockler] to clean residue (the bronze is fragile) and then used dentil picks to clean the nooks and crannies. A good metal polish (I used Maas metal polish [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] ) really cleaned the bronze and when polished it looked great. Mine was made by Sharp & Sons in 1890. Like many I've seen with bronze accents, they are applied in "patches" and are circular in shape. I wouldn't try to do anything further than remove any rust or paint and let it's natural finish shine through. I used a clear spray-on sealer from Rustoleum. They make products specifically for grills, ovens, stoves, etc. that are heat resistant. It make take a few trips to find a store that carries what you need. Good luck.

Aimee Hamby
- Neosho, Missouri

To minimize search efforts and to offer multiple viewpoints, we combined previously separate threads onto this page. Please forgive any resultant repetition, failures of chronological order, or what may look like readers disrespecting previous responses -- those other responses may not have been on the page at the time :-)

Patina for bright brass fireplace surround


Q. I have a bright brass (presumably lacquered) fireplace surround. I would like to create a patina finish. As it is obviously subjected to high heat, is there a particular product or process you would recommend?

Theresa Mooney
- Christina Lake, BC, Canada


Q. Looking for a chemical that will allow a slight to moderate change to the brass fireplace finish- making it antique brass. The surround is solid brass with a coating, I believe.

thank you

Carolynn F Sasso
homeowner - Neshanic Station, New Jersey, United States


A. Brass tarnishes, so if it is still shiny it is because it is coated. Hopefully the coating is brass lacquer which can be removed with lacquer thinner [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] . Then the brass will slowly tarnish as you probably wish over time. If you have solid brass, you can apply a Brass Darkening Solution [affil. link to info/product at Rockler], but the manufacturers don't recommend it for plated brass. Good luck.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey


Q. I have just sandblasted a wrought iron (cast-iron) fireplace surround. It looks great but I was a little surprised at the result, a very matte grey. I plan to finish the surround with "Williams" black semi-paste stove polish [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] to give it the black lustrous finish I am looking for. (It's made from graphite and carbon black pigment). Is this polish considered a primer, does it replace the primer, or should I prime, then stove polish black? If I need to buy a primer is it readily available?

Thanks very much.

Andrew B [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Jersey City, New Jersey.


A. I just dropped by their website, it says to only apply their product to UNPROTECTED surfaces to allow for good penetration. So slather it on without primer you might want to take some rough grade steel wool [affil. link to Rockler] to it first to make sure that there is no residual oxidation on it.

Marc Banks
- Elizabeth City, North Carolina

2006 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. I have beautiful brass fireplace doors and and changed my decor in the room that I want to tone it down or make it a rustic look. Is this possible or will I have to replace them?

Susan Lapour
Retired - Blue Springs, Missouri, USA


I am a homeowner who is tired of looking at my dated brass-plated fireplace insert. There is nothing wrong with the insert other than the outdated look hence my desire to refinish it as opposed to replace it. This is a gas fireplace that has rarely been used since gas prices have risen so high but I can't rule out future use of the fireplace. Is it possible to refinish this surface so that it will have an updated look and still be fireplace friendly? Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!

Kay Bammert
Consumer - Marquette, Michigan

A. Hi Kay. Fashion comes and goes. Give me a clue what you consider an 'updated look' and we can talk about how to get there :-)

Luck & Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

November 18, 2012 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. I have a large piece of hot rolled steel I intend to use as a fireplace surround. After fabricating, there are greasy fingerprints and smudges along the edges / sides that I haven't been able to remove. we used lacquer thinner, which cleaned it up nicely, except for the greasy smudges. I intend to put a clear-coat finish after I get it cleaned. Please advise.

Anne Larson
- Victor Idaho

November 19, 2012

A. Hi Anne.

Powdered pumice in water, with a bit of detergent and a scrub brush is the safe and sure way. Good luck.


Ted Mooney, finishing.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Problem refinishing cast iron fireplace surround

October 19, 2019

Q. I'm stripping and polishing a cast iron fireplace surround from the late 1800's in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Some of the underlying finish is irregular, shiny and brown compared to the rest. Is it a variation in the cast iron itself? No amount of grinding with a drill-mounted wire brush seems to change it at all. Thanks for your help.

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Carolyn Rogers
DIY restorer - Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

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