Paints & Coatings Resource Center

Ask the Expert Question-and-Answer Archive

by Ron Joseph

June, 2004

Painting a Steel Headboard

Q. We had a steel headboard made with flowers and leaves soldered on, along with a steel lattice look and now we want to paint it white with a distressed/primitive look. Do we need to prep the steel beforehand? What kind of paint do we use? What kind of brushes or other tools would make it easier to paint with? It would be nice to dip the headboard completely in paint but that's impossible. Looking forward to your expert advice. Thanks.

A. The steel must be clean before any paint application. Check the steel weldments and smooth any roughness and weld spatter. Use a heavy duty water reducible detergent for cleaning. Some of the cleaning chemicals will contain a rust inhibitor; if not, rinse with clean hot water. This will dry and evaporate quickly minimizing the formation of flash rusting on the steel surfaces.

You may accomplish the cleaning at a do-it-yourself car wash. Use a wire brush or wheel to remove any rust formation before applying a coat of good quality solvent based epoxyester metal primer or equivalent. It is important to select a good metal primer, this is the base coat to which you will be applying the antique glaze.

Also keep in mind that you want excellent adhesion of the base coat primer to the metal. The glaze stain is an oil based glaze or wiping stain that will have 10 to 15 minutes of open time, the time that the stain may be brushed or wiped without dragging or balling. The object is to apply the stain to 2 or 3 square feet of area or a section that can be managed before the stain sets up. I prefer a pure bristle brush for this type of work.

In addition to the regular bristle brush another brush with stiff bristles is helpful to reach the deeper recessed areas on the headboard.

One feature of using an oil based glaze stain is the stain can be removed with a rag dampened with odorless mineral spirits which allows for unlimited practice.

A tip about the stiff bristle brush, you can adjust the stiffness by cropping the bristles by an inch or more on a low coast paint brush. Also during the high lighting of the stain keep a dry cloth available to wipe the excess stain from the high light brush. Remember, you may remove as much stain as you want allowing for highlights on the decorations. This is controlled by the amount of white base coat that shows through the glaze stain.

This antique procedure consisting of the white metal primer and the glaze stain will also need an application of a clear top coat that seals in the glaze stain. The clear top coat must be compatible with the white base coat, which means when the clear sealer top coat is applied over the glaze and white base coat it will not wrinkle or lift the under coat. The clerk at the paint store can help you make the proper selection of materials.

Best regards,

Tom Burke


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