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.
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.”
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.