“Is that a Submarine?”

I’m a tub girl. Utterly, totally, and completely. When Jackson Street flooded in the Midwest floods of ’08, and we went 11 (?) days without hot water while the gas was out, Doug went to the City’s gym to take a shower. I, meanwhile, warmed up water in our giant soup roasters, poured it in the clawfoot, and took baths, using a pitcher to wash and rinse my hair. That was about as long as I could go authentic Victorian, but I really do love a bath. And clawfoots are the best. Seriously. They are deep, and have the most comfortable backs, hold their temperature FOREVER, and they are so sculptural.

Here’s my former Jackson Street Tub.

I get why people would renovate a bathroom and just put a giant shower in, and no tub. But I am NOT ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE. Our last two houses had clawfoots, and the fact that this one didn’t, after years of remodels and remuddles, has always made me sad.

Currently? We own 3 clawfoots. And none of them are installed. They are just waiting.

This one sat outside and held drinks at parties!

But after a couple of years as the soda jerk, we brought it inside.

It’s time.

Doug and Edgar got it up on a table for me, because I wanted to work on it standing up. Somehow, they were buff enough to make it look mostly easy. I’m only doing the outside – we’ll hire someone to reglaze the inside who has all the right equipment. This was a Craigslist for $100 find, from a house in the neighborhood.

Being outside for a while loosened up the paint a lot. And made it rustier, too, so it’s not a recommended treatment. But I’m already thinking about how to build something outside so I can keep a drink tub forever outside….

Step One! Scrape the loose paint.

Step Two! Give Doug the feet.

Doug collects and restores cast iron cookware, which is really delicious. He has his own electrolysis tank and everything! I had to get his help on explaining this.

Amy’s Version : Doug takes cast iron to the basement. While down there, he says a spell, and there is sorcery and witch-craft and someone sells their soul and all the rust and paint is gone.

Right? That’s how science works. 

Doug’s Version : “Electrolysis can break down just about anything that is bonded to iron, including rust, paint, and various other crud that builds up over time.  It’s very similar to the process for chrome plating, but in reverse.  Chrome plating takes the chrome and bonds it to the iron to give it a shiny, protective finish.  With electrolysis cleaning, we run the electricity in the opposite direction, and instead of bonding something to the iron, it breaks existing bonds…and in our case, the paint just peels off in sheets.

In simplistic terms, electrolysis is a trading of materials through the passing of electricity.  So you have a sacrificial anode of some sort that will wear away as part of the cleaning process, and will trade some of its material to the piece you’re cleaning as it also collects some of the rust and dirt and such that you’re cleaning off your good piece.  There are various choices for your sacrificial anode, but I use graphite sheets for my setup.  Graphite has the advantage of keeping the tank cleaner because it doesn’t collect rust, and it only imparts a black film to the piece you’re cleaning.  That black film can then be scrubbed off in the sink after you’re done cleaning.”

(Whatever. Witchcraft.)

Okay, Science Guy. Why can’t we just put it in the stripping crockpot, like we’ve done for hardware and other things?

Doug : “The first answer is that we already have it set up in our basement cause I’m a crazy collector.  But in my understanding, the crock pot method uses soaking and a bit of heat to loosen the paint, and you scrub to get the rest off in between soaks.  Electrolysis is acting from the iron out, rather than the crock pot method of working from the paint inwards.  Electrolysis is literally removing the bond to the iron, and it will work in all the crevices and details of whatever you’re cleaning…so it’s especially good for detailed pieces.  It’s also most a set and forget process.  You certainly can get the piece out and scrub it in between sessions to speed things up, but you don’t have to…once you start, it will finish the paint removal all on its own given time.”

So, there you go! More on that later…. they need time to soak.

After I got off the loose paint,  I used soygel to strip the rest off. I tried using a heat gun, but it really didn’t work in this application. And I really went all out – I certainly didn’t NEED the tub to be completely stripped. But I did it, anyway.

It’s as satisfying as peeling off a sunburn.


The biggest thing with using a stripper is to give it time to work. Since Soygel doesn’t have fumes and isn’t toxic, I would put it on before bed, and let it soak all night.

Cover it with plastic sheeting so it doesn’t dry out.

When it bubbles like this, you’re good. Use a scraper and a wire brush!

It’s only a 55″ tub. But still. I am SO EXCITED.

NO ONE WILL EVER SEE THE BOTTOM. So it’s ridiculous to scrape, right?

We knew the maker of the tub, which was prominent on the bottom, even with the paint. I looked them up, and deduced that the tub was cast between 1910 and 1920. Sure enough, once I stripped the paint off the bottom, there it was : September 7, 1916. I am SO glad I did the bottom.

Paint (mostly!) gone!

How’re those feet doing?

Here’s the tank, with the battery charger next to it.

The rig Doug built for the feet. Only two at a time.

Here you can see the sheets of paint coming off.

This is before the black film comes off with a brush.

It’s remarkable. Down to bare metal, and no rust.

Time for paint! I started with a tinted primer.

Now you can really see the maker’s mark. L. Wolff Company. Wolff Tubs were made in Chicago, and you can find more information from the Encyclopedia of Chicago. You can also check out their posted 1912 Wolff Catalog, which is awesome.

On one side of the tub, what I thought was paint-build-up, turned out to be casting flaws. Grrr. Initially, this is the side of the tub that was going to face the room. We might be flipping it.

I took this picture, and sent it to Doug at work (I was on Spring Break). He wrote back, “Is that a Submarine?” I mean, I guess. I see his point.

Next. Paint! This is shocking, but I’m not painting it a color. I KNOW. The room is going to be yellow and gray, so I went with a dark charcoal. The other tubs will be colorful!

Pedicure time! I started with gold leaf paint.

They looked good with just gold, but…..

….More is more with Victorians, right?

Only two feet are done – the others are still in the tank. But, soon!

Then, we’ll hire out the inside. Still a ways to go before it’s installed, but it was a great project to do over break, and it looks brand new. I love it so much.



    1. Beautiful! Wow! That’s all I can say! You did a really NICE job with that tub! I live in old Victorian apt house, 3rd floor, with old cast iron claw foot tub. I am a renter and have question about cleaning inside of tub: What is best way? cleaning agents never really seem to get this clean. Also, outside – only one side shows as tub sits right up against a wall in a very snug space – tiny bathroom. Since it’s not my tub is there a useful way to put a coat of paint on the outside that would be acceptable over the paint that’s already there? I cannot remove the tub, flip it over, etc etc.

    1. Thanks, Joanie! I kept one gold, and did the black on the second, and just stared at them for a while because I wasn’t sure. But I’m glad I went with the 2-colors!

  1. wait! so where are the other two tubs that have been pretty-fied?! Waiting for their moment in the new(est) house?

    1. Oh, the other two aren’t ready yet. Not even CLOSE. They are sadly still waiting to be pretty-fied. And the bathrooms for those are literally years away (which, yes, is tragic). One is 60″, and the other is 67″!!!! I’m excited for you to meet them. I hope it’s earlier than I think it’ll be.

      1. you mean you left that turquoise and gold one at the other house?! You are such a good person! haha, I’m sure someone else who lives there loves it just as much. You’re like the MIss Rumphius of clawfoot tubs!

      2. OMG. That’s the best compliment I could EVER get! Yes, we left the turquoise one. It is definitely loved now! And it was original to that house (or, at least, original to when that house got indoor plumbing), so there was no way I was taking it. The other two that I found for this house – one came out of our next door neighbor’s house. I’m thrilled it can remain on the street! The other I found at an antique store, and it has the most ridiculously ornate feet I’ve ever seen. Originally, I wanted to put that in this bathroom I’m doing now, but it’s JUST too long.

  2. That charcoal will be perfect with that color scheme, and I love the way you painted the feet. I so enjoy learning about the different methods used for restoration.

    1. Yay! Thanks, Stephanie. I’m so glad you love it, and even more excited that anything in it was informative. That makes me so happy. Save all the clawfoots! 🙂

    1. Yup! That’s why I asked Doug the difference between using just electrolysis as opposed to hot water – and it’s the rust. Electrolysis gets the rust removed as well, which is amazing!

  3. I would love to see a guest post from Doug on how to set up an electrolysis tank. I have no patience for scrubbing between crock pot soaks and so much of the beautifully detailed hardware in my house has been painted.

  4. If the casting flaws bother you, you could grind them off. That’s a normal manufacturing step for sand-cast parts. You’d want to be careful not to smooth the area down too much or it may stand out against the sand-textured areas elsewhere, though.

  5. Your tub looks terrific, and the feet really pop. I just scored a short clawfoot tub during Spring Break at a salvage yard. It’s pretty beat up and I’m not sure whether it can be reglazed inside due to extensive damage (chipped porcelain down to the iron). I also need to find it a set of feet. I have feet that are owls and amazing, but they may too good for this poor beat up little tub. I hope it doesn’t have to end up as a flower bed, but at least it now has a home. As of now, I have two claw foot tubs and a sitz bath, but as yet no old house to put them in. Is collecting bath fixtures and Victorian hardware believing in the dream, or am I losing my mind?

  6. P.S. I really appreciate the information on electrolysis. I knew what plating can accomplish, but I had no idea that electrolysis could be used to reverse paint and rust. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience.

  7. I laughed out loud at the witchcraft comment. You take a tedious job and make it interesting and that takes talent! Thank you for the story and the history and the laughs!

  8. The tub is looking great, Amy! I love how you did the two colors on the feet! We are preparing to paint our clawfoot tub; the inside is in very good condition (amazing, I know), so all we have to do is paint the outside and the feet. We are going to paint the outside with Rustoleum metallic copper, but haven’t decided yet on the feet. And I am with Beth, I would love for Doug to tell us how to set up our own electrolysis bath! I have tons of stuff to strip, just wish I could strip my radiators…

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