If we’re going to get the master bathroom functioning while Darwin’s off the week of 4th of July, that means we have a lot of prep work to do. For my part, I was determined to scrape and paint the clawfoot tub this weekend.

I researched it first on Houseblogs.net because I knew I’d read about other folks doing this. I came up with this practical advice from John at The Devil Queen. He gimped up his hand while going at his tub with a drill and wire brush grinding attachment. I planned to tackle my tub the same way, only I hoped without the gimping.

Darwin and my dad lugged the tub out of the shed where it’s been hanging out since December 2004 and into a shady spot on the grass, the better for me to contaminate nature with lead paint.

On one side the tub appeared to have two layers of paint (we discovered later it was actually three layers), the top one dirty and so dry and cracked I could brush much of it off with my hand. The other side of the tub had no paint at all, just a little rust.

I started working on it with two different wire brush attachments, one a flat disk and the other a cup shape. Both worked fine at getting off the loose top layer and any already-exposed rust.

But when the second layer of paint saw the wire brush coming, it simply yawned and went back to playing solitaire. The brush had no effect whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Darwin was standing around watching me, interjecting the occasional word of advice, his fingers twitching (while I gave him my patented Death Glare). It makes him insane when I tackle a project on my own because he is convinced he could do it better. Maybe so, probably so. But just back off, okay?


Then he actually made himself useful by taking the corroded old chrome hardware off the tub. I won’t tell you what short and curly parts of another human he found in the drain. Blechhcchhelaccchhhh. Shudder.

Okay. So then he went and found a scraper and started working on the second layer of off white paint and the old beige paint underneath it. The scraping worked, but it took a lot of brute strength, which I’m sorely lacking.

So here we were again, Darwin doing all the work while I was standing by with my drill and grinding attachments feeling useless.

Well not entirely. I did use the drill to work on smoothing the rusted areas.

Then Darwin got a blister on his hand from all the scraping and had to quit. I tried it, but all I could manage was to make a few chips in the paint when I wielded the scraper pickax style. The paint is hard to scrape because it’s on slightly bumpy metal, which doesn’t let the scraper slide along.

So I decided to bust out the trusty heat gun. But even the heat gun proved no match for that dastardly paint. The off white layer didn’t budge at all, and the bottom beige layer only got gummy and smeared everywhere.

In the end, we had to give up on my plans to get the tub fully scraped and at least primed. We decided the only thing left to try is chemical stripper, which we’ve never used before. Our local hardware store was already closed by then (why would a hardware store close at noon on Saturday, I ask you?), so the project had to be discontinued until we could make our next trip to Evil Empire (aka Lowe’s).

But I wonder if this stubborn (or as we say in Alabama, “hardheaded”) paint is the dreaded milk paint I’ve heard so much about. If so, will even chemicals phase its diamond hide?

Darn you, tub. I thought at least this part of the bathroom project was going to be easy.

Before During After

The one bit of good news for the day was that we finally found the date mark on the bottom of the tub. 9-7-1931. Our new goal is to have this tub in place and fully functioning by it’s 75th birthday.

posted by Kristin | filed under Clawfoot | 10 Comments


10 Responses to “I Just Want to Take a Bath”

  1. John on June 12th, 2006 1:50 pm

    Don’t feel too bad about not getting it finished in one go. We attacked ours four or five times. We had some really tuff stuff (paint? enamel?) that WOULD NOT come off. In the end, we just gave it a good scuff sanding and painted it. We were going for a “hammered” finish, so the random texture blended in pretty well.

    Don’t fear the chemical strippers. Just take your time, wear gloves, and don’t snort it or stick it in your eye. You should be fine.

    Good luck!

  2. Diane on June 12th, 2006 3:19 pm

    I thought milk paint, while durable as far as fading goes, was pretty much water-soluble? I’m planning to use it on an unfinished armoire…

  3. amanda on June 12th, 2006 5:00 pm

    This might be a great application for the chemical stripper. I used the nasty Methylene Chloride stuff- wear the old school blue or yellow dish gloves- thin disposable rubber gloves will melt. Just a word of caution on using it in the Alabama heat- it won’t require nearly the time that the can says that it will to work. I made this mistake a couple of weeks ago when it got into the upper 90s (97 to be exact) in the sun. I put the stripper on the window, went inside for a glass of water, talked to Aaron, and came back out after the required 10 minutes to find a window with a dried layer of film from the chemical stripper on it. I glopped more on a different, and it started bubbling up the paint after about 2 or 3 minutes, then I could scrape it nearly clean. Good luck!

  4. amanda on June 12th, 2006 5:01 pm

    Oh- normally I use the heat gun, but I wanted to use up the can of stripper that I bought last summer. It sucks that the heat gun doesn’t work for the tub.

  5. Jordana on June 12th, 2006 6:48 pm

    It’s going to be beautiful when it is finished! Have you decided what color you’ll paint the outside?

  6. Gary on June 12th, 2006 8:33 pm

    If you are going to paint it again then just get it to a paintable finish. That means using 50 grit sandpaper through 100 grit with a palm sander. Any dings can be filled with sandable putty and painted. We spray painted our clawfoot tub with gloss black Rustoleum and painted the feet gold. We got it to the second floor with much huffing and puffing. Then the wife decides she wants it in the other section of the house so we haul it down two steps. Now she wants a laundry room where the tub was supposed to go so I have to put it on the 3rd floor…. more huffing and puffing.

  7. Trissa on June 12th, 2006 11:18 pm

    Great post! I’m glad Nick tackled our tub. Our must not have had as many layers of paint. Keep looking to the future and think of all the relaxing baths you will take. It is worth all the labor!

  8. Nick on June 12th, 2006 11:34 pm

    here and here are our posts on the subject.

    I did all the same stuff – a wire cup brush on an angle-grinder did the majority of the work. Chemical stripper did the rest. I used a Rustoleum primer beneath the finish coat and it turned out great. Ready for another 75 years, for sure.

  9. Kristin on June 13th, 2006 2:25 pm

    Thanks for your comments and advice. We are planning to repaint it, and I wondered about whether we had to get it entirely clean of paint first. But we’re going to paint it white (“canvas white” to be exact), so I’m afraid every little imperfection will show.

    At first I wanted to paint it black, but now our bathroom is sending us in a brown/off white direction rather than black/white.

  10. allison on June 15th, 2006 10:08 pm

    I give you lots of credit for tackling this yourself. It reminds me of scraping and staining old wood in our last house. It never seemed to end. On the topic of color, would a cream work to go with your brown but give you a chance to hide some imperfections? Good luck!

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