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Easy DIY – Refinishing A Metal Address Sign

Easy DIY – Refinishing a Metal Address Sign

At the front of our house along the street, we have a fairly large garden bed. When we bought the house a couple years ago that garden bed was overgrown with weeds from the Mesozoic era, and it was a huge eyesore that really bothered us.

Fast-forward through a montage of spraying, pulling, digging, and mulching, and our garden bed had a fresh new look. But, at the front edge of the bed there was a metal address sign that was left by the previous owners that was still in rough shape.

At this point we have probably thrown out 4 metric tons of junk that the previous owners left for us to take care of, but before we threw this sign out we took a second look at it.

It’s pretty neat – it has a cutout of a dog at the top, with our address below it. We figured that we like dogs, and we like having an address, so it might be worth keeping.

The problem was that it was pretty rusty. It had evidently been repainted a few times, right over previously chipping and peeling paint, so it didn’t show well.

Definitely seen better days…

If there’s anything that I enjoy though, it’s repairing things that are broken and terrible so that they can have another chance at being fixed and not terrible once again.

I’m pretty amateur at re-finishing metal though (and by that I mean I’ve never done anything of the sort before), so I was hoping it would be an easy job.

As it turns out, it’s a very easy job. Like so easy a caveman could do it. Assuming, of course, that this caveman has access to power tools.

All the more it takes is the following:

  • A wire brush
  • A rag + alcohol for cleaning the surface
  • An angle grinder with flap disc, wire wheel, or grinding wheel
  • A rotary tool (if you want to get fancy)
  • A can of rust reforming spray paint
  • A can of topcoat spray paint

And, as always, if you like having all of your faculties and enjoy living, you should make sure to wear all the necessary PPE for safety:

  • Safety glasses
  • Dust mask
  • Hearing protection
  • Anti-vibration gloves
  • Read the owner’s manual for all your tools to ensure safe operation

Overall, the process is pretty simple. Just follow these steps:

1. Secure the object with clamps to sawhorses or an appropriate workbench.

You don’t want it moving around when you start doing the real work.

2. Go at it with a wire brush.

The name of the game here is to use the brush to break off any flaking paint and start to remove a surface layer of rust and dust. Even spray a little rust-specific cleaning solution on it if that helps or makes you feel better. If the rust isn’t very deep and you don’t have a ton of thick paint chipping off, this might be all the more you need. If that’s the case, go directly to step 5 (Do not pass go, do not collect $200). Since that didn’t cut it for me, I had to get a little more aggressive.

3. Break out the angle grinder.

There’s a few different ways to use an angle grinder in this application. If your sole goal is to remove paint and/or very light surface rust, a wire wheel or flap disc attachment with heavier grit will do just fine. In my case, the rust was pretty deep, so I had to remove everything with a grinding wheel to expose bare metal and start anew. The grinding wheel is about as aggressive as you would ever need to go for something like this, and comes with the risk of gouging the metal and creating unsightly divots and scrapes in the surface. Since all this sign needs to do is stand in a mulch bed and absorb the elements, this risk wasn’t really of concern to me.

4. Use a rotary tool to hit the tighter spaces.

While the angle grinder is useful, it can also be clunky and ungainly when you need to hit smaller surface areas. Put a grinding attachment on it, or whatever type of attachment you used in step 3, and go to town on those hard to reach edges, corners, and surfaces.

The sign has been stripped down to bare metal (pardon the glare – it’s shiny)

5. Clean and prep the surface for painting.

At this point I had bare metal to work with. All that was left was to wipe away all residual dust, and clean the surface with alcohol and a rag.

6. Prime, paint, and topcoat.

I went with a ‘rust reformer’ spray paint, which is designed to bond to and transform rust into a paintable surface. This was overkill in my case since I had already ground down the surface to bare metal, though there were some tight areas I didn’t completely get on the backside. Next, I sprayed it with a black exterior paint, then threw on a clear topcoat spray with a flat finish to give it some extra UV protection.

The finished product back by the curb, doing all of the interesting things that signs do

Overall, I was pretty satisfied with the end result. Since I just finished it, I can’t speak to its longevity or if the rust will return, but I will be sure to update if it does.

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