A New Look for an Antique Cast Iron Crib/Daybed: Stripping Paint for a Blackened & Lightly Polished Finish



It was extremely difficult for me to begin this project, because I did not want to go through with it…

See, I found a wonderful little crib or daybed on Craig’s List several years ago, and it had the most perfect, gorgeous, layered chipped paint I’d ever seen on a bed frame.  It is the kind of patina that only time and wear can produce, and I’ve never yet seen a convincing modern finish in person (although online there have been a select few potential examples.)  Back then I had no reason or space in the apartment to set up a daybed, but I loved the frame and looked forward to using it as is.  Although beautifully chipped and cracked the remaining paint was solidly adhered and stable.  I planned to clear coat it for more durability, but alas this could not be done in good conscious now, thanks to lead.  (While encapsulation is one way to deal with old lead paint I wasn’t comfortable with relying on a clear coat.)  Instead my options were to chemically strip every trace off or have it sand blasted.

Sand blasting sounded like a great idea, and it was always the backup plan.  I’d found a few places “locally” to do it, and the cost was not outrageous.  There would be no work for me, and if I’d preferred a pristine finish then they could powder coat the frame any colour too.  Over the past few months I mulled over options for decorative finishes, powder coating in pale grey or some variety of white, or a clear finish over the raw iron.  The decorative ideas were all seen online, and I wasn’t sure they were options from the local places.  Besides that I’m really picky about faux finishes.  Meanwhile, powder coating any shade of white kind of killed me since I loved the chippy white so much, and I wasn’t sure how thrilled I’d be with anything new and pristine looking… even if in a grey. Leaving the metal a raw silver sounded pretty neat, and I did a bunch of Googling to see what it could be like.  However, I saw that this would leave the iron too bright and shiny for our tastes, and I began to prefer the idea of saving a little money by stripping the frame myself in spite of it surely being a lot of work.

It was a lot of work indeed!  I spent several days on it last week, and I was left entirely exhausted and very achey each evening.  As I was working I was full of misgivings, and there was a time that I was afraid I’d never get it to look the way I hoped, but by Friday evening it was done and was close enough to the picture in my head.  (Yes, I’m finally writing this a week later.)  So, here is the process I used to strip, blacken, polish, and seal the old iron…

Once I’d decided to go ahead with stripping and a new finish I had the new look in mind: I wanted the iron to look aged and blackened with freshly polished silver highlights.  The idea was to have it look like armour or metalwork at a renaissance faire and to avoid L thinking it looked like an old jail (too dark) or flashy (too polished.)  He never shared my enthusiasm for cast iron bed frames and cribs although he does like when it is used for other furniture.  (Something to do with it reminding him of old institutional furnishings, I believe?)  He certainly didn’t appreciate the chippy paint, but I thought I could win him over with the armour look.

First I had to strip off the old paint.  With all the crevices and bars I knew this wasn’t going to be the most fun task, but it wasn’t too bad.  The worst part was that I couldn’t complete it in one day, and when stripping the work (and amount of stripper required) completely doubles by starting again even if nearly done the first evening.  Bleh.  When I stopped work the first day there was just a bit of paint to scrub out of the deepest crevices on two pieces, a bit more on the other two, and I was very happy with the silver tone of the bare metal.  Sadly leaving it overnight led to the development of specks of rust allllllll over.  I’d been concerned about rust.  Unfortunately every piece of the frame had flash rust by the time all traces of paint were removed.  This is when I worried that I might not manage to get the blackened look.  Brown or rusty-red wasn’t a good tone for the room, and I wondered what would be the best way to get black.

With Citristrip:

Rust the next morning:


Cleaned up and bare cast iron:

Rusting while I was working:

I’d tried to find a product called Penetrol to treat the metal and rust, but no stores in the area carried it anymore.  I’d found a lot of references to it online as the perfect thing for preserving the rusted look of bare cast iron, but I did wonder if it might not play well with spray lacquer, and it most likely wouldn’t have given the look I wanted either.  (It darkens rust as if it were wet, and with so much rust and not going for brown this wasn’t right for the project after all.)  I took another trip to the hardware store and spent a long time considering various types of paint, primers, and rust converters.  Perhaps spraying on black primer, wiping it away from portions, and polishing would work?  Finally I went with a little bottle of rust converter by Rustoleum which the paint guy and the label assured would turn rust black.  It worked wonderfully.

I brushed and wiped the converter over every bit of the frame.  In areas that were supposed to be dark I left a thicker coating and wiped it thinly wherever I planned to polish.  Overall the frame ended up being darker than I meant, but the main reason was that I had put a second package of steel wool replacement pads back on the shelf.  The few I had wore out and stopped brightening the metal after just one side was done.  Shoot!  I tried using actual steel wool in a few levels of coarseness, but nothing polished as well as the plastic pads.  Sadly the best side is not the more visible one when set up in the room either, but I polished everything as well as I could, one side at a time, and sprayed lacquer before moving to the next portion hoping to keep the finish as I saw it without any more rust.  I didn’t dare leave it long enough to go buy a few more pads, so soon the frame was complete and there wasn’t any going back.  I’m actually very pleased with it.

Meanwhile I also decided to paint the mattress support thing too.  I’d thought to keep it original, but eventually the idea of clean black won over since I already changed the rest of the it anyway.  I only had a little can of black Rustoleum, so I had to brush it on in a few coats.  I think it looks much better than the worn out gold, brown, and rust, and I typed the original markings to leave them visible.  I also had to make new hardware, because the movers lost one very important piece.  Grrrrrrrr!  To recreate the missing piece, and a match for a pair, I bought steel dowels and steel end cap nuts to JB Weld to the top mimicking the mushroom-cap end of the original.  I also had to drill a hole in the other ends for a cotter pin, and I selected shiny new pins and springs while I was at it.  The metal was all extremely shiny, so I scoured it with sand paper to tone down the finish.

The big to-do list has had some very nice progress since my last post:

Mini’s room
-Brush final trim coat on nursery panelling.
-Remove storm windows
-Disassemble, and replace storm screens.  (Update: make new screens to install for summer instead of storms.)
-Scrape and glaze: (One,) (two,) (three.)
-Paint exterior windows.
-Make & install screens.
-Remove old security crap from windows.
-Paint windows (interior.)
-Scrape and vacuum.
-Install sash locks.
-Change light switch and cover plate.
Install shades.
-Have crib sandblasted and finished or do clear coat (Update: strip and finish bare cast iron.) 
-Add more blackening to crib
-Paint the mattress support section?
-Clear coat crib.
-Attach casters or feet to crib.  
-Create replacement hardware for side.
Polish and oil chrome stroller frames, wash Emmaljunga fabric, finish installing new hardware on re-covered vintage Hedstrom pram, make pattern and new seat for Emmalunga?
-Attach casters to walker and assemble.
-Bring dresser from Dad’s and refinish.
-Sew Kirghiz felted carpet to a dowel for wall-hanging.
-Strip rocking chair.
-Sand rocking chair.
-Stain rocking chair.
-Reupholster rocking chair and sew pillows.
-Clear coat chair and touch up hutch.
-Fix leaky sink valve.
-Set up furniture, Mammaroo, and organise.
-Strip new mid-century hutch.
-Patch and sand hutch as needed.
-Stain hutch.
-Clear coat hutch.
-Pack hospital bag.  -self  -Mini
-Arrange furniture.
-Organise, again, and again.
-Hang wall decor, mirror, mobile.

Main living areas and stuff
-Replace certain outlets, switches, and cover plates.
-Paint dining/living windows.
-Scrape messy paint.
-Finish painting kitchen trim and panelling
-Repaint living/dining ceiling.
-Apply sealant on entry and hearth tile/grout.
-Sew back of sofa.
-Staple cambric.
-Sew pillow covers.
-Finish sanding dining chairs.
-Stain and wax chairs.
-Paint and Mod Podge antique travel chest.
-Touch up kitchen chairs and hoosiers.
-Repair coffee table.
-Repair and sand end table.
-Paint table.  
-Paint main bath.
-Reupholster recliner.
-Reaupholster little round chair.

Front of house
-Patch broken front steps.
-Paint foundation a more pleasing shade.
-Buy new light fixture and install with sensor bulb.
-Last bit of patching.
-Last bit of painting.
-Wash exterior windows and skylights (uninstalling storms.  Make screens.)
-Finish glazing windows

Unfinished part of basement
-Finish painting walls.
-Rewaterproof spot on floor.
-Touch up floor paint.

-Organise storage area.
-Organise basement.
-Organise Garage.  Again
-Organise attic.  Sort stored items again before sale.
-Organise kitchen.  Pantry.
-Organise sewing room.  Again?
-Organise baby items in closet.
-Organise master closets: L’s & mine .
-organise master bath closets and vanity.
-organise linen closet

-Have yard sale.

Dressing room and spiral stairwell

Sewing room

Other kinds of non-house projects 
-Stain and make a busy board for Mini
-Sew dresses for myself
-Fall/spring linen coat for myself and Mini
-Diaper and clothing organiser squares
-Dresses, pants, and quilted coats for Mini from scraps
-Small and full sized quilt
-Sew some soft toys
-Crochet or knit sweaters, hats, pants, and booties for Mini
-Make a mobile?

-Paint master ceiling.
-Touch up master bath vanity.
-Recoat walls.
-Properly hang mirror.
-Install tub trim kit and drain.
-Install shower trim kit.
-New switches, outlets, and cover plates.

-Weed garden and path
-Stain east side of house.
-Stain or hire west side of house.
-Powerwash patios and chairs.
-Paint rusty table with hammered finish.
-Stain patios.
-Permanently attach umbrella to deck with bolts.
-Powerwash fence.
-Stain fence.