Restoring Antique Iron Work. The story of an unloved Victorian Fire Guard.

Restoring Antique Iron Work. The story of an unloved Victorian Fire Guard.

An Antique Iron Victorian Fire Guard.

Antique Iron Work is wonderful, it is usually full of marks, it often has scars, corrosion and signs of manufacture that produce an attractive, weathered effect that can be used in a modern home as a functional and/or decorative item.
Antique Iron work also speaks of history, of old skills and of times gone which I think adds real interest and makes good Antique Iron work really appealing.
This is the restoration story of an Antique wrought iron Victorian fire guard which had been neglected and unloved for many decades.

A grubby old fire guard that had a hidden beauty.

I found this old piece of history while browsing the various and interesting Junk and Antique shops in a seaside town called Hastings. Hastings sits right on the south coast of England.
While in one of my favourite shops I spotted a rather dirty and unappealing fire guard stuck at the back of a pile of old and Antique iron work.
The guard had a great look and was quite obviously Antique in age, despite the initial appearance the guard had real aged appeal. The price was OK so I had another addition to my “project” list.

Victorian Fire GuardHere is the Victorian fire guard as found.

As you can see the fire guard looks unloved. On close inspection, and with the help of a magnet, I discovered that nearly all of the guard was made of steel. In the centre of the guard was a pressed decal featuring cherubs that appeared to be made of Brass or Copper.
The guard was covered with a thick black waxy type paint finish which I suspect was a form of Grate black that was used to black and polish cast iron fire places. I had no idea why someone would cover such a beautiful item in thick black gunk?
Antique Iron Work
Antique Wrought Iron

Antique Chrub DecalDespite being really grubby the fire guard revealed some wonderful Antique detailing.

The first task was to disassemble the guard into individual components.
The various components were bolted together, time and moisture has rusted the bolts really badly to they were soaked in penetrating agent for a couple of hours to avoid any unnecessary stress to the frame of the guard during disassembly.

This great old piece of Antique Iron work consisted of a wrought iron frame that had a pressed and folded embossed cover. The carrying handle and two feet were made of beautiful hand wrought iron with handmade twists, jointing and hammered scroll details.  On close inspection I noticed that the frame of the guard had drilled holes on the unused edges and also at the back the guard has unused holes where the cherub detail was mounted, another oddity.


Cleaning and polishing time.

The Wrought iron handles and feet were cleaned using coarse wire wall, as the grime and coating lifted aged manufacturing details were slowly revealed.Antique Wrought Iron

The main guard body and cherub decal was then treated with a coating of paint stripper and gently rubbed with a fine grade of wire wool.As the old painted finish was removed the fire guard revealed a lovely but dull Copper finish, it turned out that the steel sheet front of the guard had been “Copperised” at manufacture. This Copper coating was a finish that gave the look of Copper but without the expense of the actual Copper material. The Brass decal had also been Copper coated.

Antique Iron WorkWith the old finish removed the guard starts to reveal its original Copperised finish.

Once the old dark finish was removed I started the long process of polishing the guard and much to my delight the copper coating started to glow. The reason for the horrible black coating was also revealed; with copperised steel there is a tendency for the copper to speckle if corrosion gets into the steel under the coating, the front of the guard was speckled and I believe that back in the day the owners did not like the speckled look.

After all of the components were cleaned and polished it was time for reassembly, this is when the odd pre drilled and unused holes were explained. Whoever had made the guard had drilled the frame to allow the fittings to be attached on all sides meaning the guard could be used in landscape or portrait orientation. I decided to reassemble the guard in portrait mode as the extra height makes it suitable for a wider range of fireplaces.

During the final polish the Brass cherub Decal revealed both Brass and Copper coated finishes along with patches of the applied dark finish in the detail, I was happy to leave this variation of finishes as they highlight the depth of the decal.
The dark sports of speckling on the front look great and add to the antiqued and aged look of this lovely old iron guard which by now looks reborn and ready to grace a period fireplace setting.

The restoration finished.

Victorian Fire GuardThe Fireguard finished and ready for use.

Antique wrought iron

Cherub Decal

A restoration like this is never going to make a piece of Antique metal work perfect as it is not possible to undo years of corrosion and use. What we can do is to bring an old item back to life and to give its marks, bumps and history new life.
This old fire guard will now just need a wipe over with an oily rag every now and again and an occasional polish to keep it going for another 100 years.

I hope you like this restoration project, I am very pleased with the result I think it reveals the skills and originality of this old craftsman made item.

Materials – Coarse Medium and Fine wire wool. Paint stripper. Cleaning Oils and finishing Wax. Penetrating oil. 6 new brass assembly screws.

Time Spent on the guard – 3.5 Hours.

I often have a number of Vintage and Antique items for sale in my eBay shop – Hertfordshire Lighting and Design 

I would love to hear from anyone who has performed a similar restoration project; it’s always great to share ideas and projects with other people.
If you have any questions please contact me and I will do my best to help.

Michael Adkins.

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