How to Refinish Metal Furniture

Learn how to strip rust off a piece of outdoor metal furniture and repaint it for a brand new look.

By: Samantha Pattillo

Be sure to let the chair cure for 24 hours in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area before use. This chair is now rust-free, repainted and ready for a few more years of outdoor use.

Before

After

You can rescue rusty metal furniture from the scrap heap. Just get rid of that rust and brighten it up with a fresh coat of outdoor paint.

You can rescue rusty metal furniture from the scrap heap. Just get rid of that rust and brighten it up with a fresh coat of outdoor paint.

When we found this old chair, it looked like it had been left out in the rain for decades. But with a little elbow grease and some primer and paint, this chair is now a showstopper.

Tools and Materials

  • outdoor (anti-rust) spray primer for metal
  • outdoor (anti-rust) spray paint for metal
  • outdoor spray clear coat
  • wire brush
  • palm sander and pads
  • chip brush
  • safety gear
  • drop cloths
  • sandpaper or sanding block
  • acetone
  • tack cloth

Step 1: Scrape With a Wire Brush

Use a wire brush to remove any loose pieces of rust. Gently scrub off the big pieces, but don’t worry about getting all of it because you can remove the rest with a sander.

First, use a wire brush to remove any loose pieces of rust. Gently scrub off the big pieces, but don’t worry about getting all of it because you’ll sand next.

Step 2: Sand Off Remaining Rust

Use a palm sander to remove the rest of the rust. If you don’t have a palm sander, you can sand by hand but it takes much longer. Sand the entire chair with 80- to 100-grit sandpaper. Pro Tip: When it comes to sandpaper grit, the lower the number, the coarser the sandpaper, thus the more material it will remove.

Sand by hand to get to those hard to reach areas, like the curves of the legs and arms. Once you see most of the rust is gone switch to 150 grit sandpaper or higher. Continue sanding until the entire chair feels smooth to the touch. You may still see rust on the surface. That’s ok as long as it feels smooth.

Step 3: Hand-Sand Crevices and Curves

Sand by hand to get to those hard-to-reach areas, like the curves of the legs and arms. When most of the rust is gone, switch to 150-grit sandpaper or higher. Continue sanding until the entire chair feels smooth to the touch. You may still see rust on the surface. That’s okay as long as it feels smooth.

Step 4: Clean With Solvent

Once the surface is smooth and even, wipe it down with a solvent like acetone to ensure the chair is clean and ready for priming and painting.

Once the surface is smooth and even, wipe it down with a solvent like acetone to ensure the chair is clean and ready for priming and painting.

Step 5: Apply Primer

Apply a coat of high-quality rust-preventive spray primer. Choose a white primer under lighter colors and a darker primer under darker colors for uniform coverage. Spray slowly for a consistent spray pattern to avoid drips and overspray. Use a back and forth motion following the natural lines of the chair. Be sure to get the back and underside since the chair will live outside. Apply two to three light coats, allowing the primer to dry between each application. Check the label on your primer because drying times can vary. When it is dry, lightly sand the chair with very fine sandpaper if the surface feels a little coarse. Use a tack cloth to wipe off any dust before moving on.

Prime with a high quality rust preventive spray primer. Choose a white primer under lighter colors and a darker primer under darker colors for uniform coverage. Spray slowly for a consistent spray pattern to avoid drips and overspray. Use a back and forth motion following the natural lines of the chair. Be sure to get the back and underside since especially since chair will live outside. Apply 2-3 light coats, allowing the primer to dry between each application. Check the label on your primer because drying times vary widely. Once dry, lightly sand with very fine sandpaper if surface feels a little coarse. Wipe off with a tack cloth to remove the dust before moving on.

Step 6: Spray on Paint

Use a high-quality oil-based spray paint specifically designed for outdoor use to prevent rust. Spray using a back and forth motion, holding the can far enough away for a consistent spray pattern to avoid drips and overspray. Follow the natural lines of the chair to coat it evenly. Remember to get the back and underside of the chair. Apply two to three light coats, allowing each coat to dry to the touch between applications.

Step 7: How to Fix Drips

If you get a drip, lightly drag a clean chip brush over the area to stop the run and smooth it out before moving on. Chip brushes are inexpensive, disposable natural bristle brushes that work well for touch-ups.

Even with rust inhibiting spray paint, a clear coat is a smart idea. Look for a clear oil-based urethane that’s for outdoor use, preferably with UV protection to help prevent fading. Hold the can 10-12” away and spray using a back and forth motion. Follow the natural lines of the chair to coat it evenly. For a smooth finish, lightly sand between coats with 200 grit or higher sandpaper.

Step 8: Protect With Sealer

Even with rust-inhibiting spray paint, a clear coat is a smart idea. Look for a clear oil-based urethane that’s for outdoor use, preferably with UV protection to help prevent fading. Hold the can 10 to 12 inches away and spray using a back and forth motion. Follow the natural lines of the chair to coat it evenly. For a smooth finish, lightly sand between coats with 200-grit or higher sandpaper.

Step 9: Let Dry

Be sure to let the chair cure for 24 hours in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area before use. This chair is now rust-free, repainted and ready for a few more years of outdoor use.

Be sure to let the chair cure for 24 hours in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area before use. This chair is now rust-free, repainted and ready for a few more years of outdoor use.

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