How to paint a brass fireplace surround

April 16

Question: To freshen and update our family room, we painted the red brick fireplace. But the glass-and-brass fireplace enclosure makes it look stuck in the 20th century. What can we do to cover the shiny brass? Are there primer and metallic paints available for surfaces exposed to heat?

— Annandale

Answer: Painting the brass would be an easy solution. Use stove paint, which stands up to heat so well that it can be used even on the exterior of wood or gas stoves. Two brands are Thurmalox Stove Paints, made by Dampney in Massachusetts (800-537-7023; stovepaint.com), and Stove Bright High Temperature Paint, made by Forrest Technical Coatings of Oregon (800-537-7201; forrestpaint.com).

Both companies produce a wide variety of colors, ranging from deep to pale and including some metallic finishes. But some colors are unique to each company, so you might want to consult the color charts on the company Web sites before you shop.

To ensure that customers get fresh paint, neither company stocks its full color line at local retailers because there are so many color options. If you decide on a Thurmalox color, Dampney recommends ordering directly from Stovepaint.com. Forrest suggests placing an order through a shop that specializes in fireplace and hearth products or ordering from Jim Walz Distributing (800-499-4119; www.totalfireplace.com walzdist@clearwire.net).


The fireplace. (Reader photo./Reader photo)

The paints come in spray cans and brush-on formulas. Both companies recommend spray for a project like yours. Be sure to mask off surrounding surfaces beforehand. Dampney makes a primer for Thermolux paint, but Dennis Aikman, who handles technical advice for the company, says you should skip it on this kind of project. “It’s a primer to stop corrosion,” he said. “You’d use it if you were painting an outdoor barbecue.”

Surface preparation is important, though. For Thermalox paint, Aikman recommends scuffing up the surface first with rough sandpaper, 60- to 90-grit, wrapped around a sanding block. “Otherwise it’s like painting a mirror,” he said. You could peel the paint off with a fingernail. For Stove Brite, Pete Bouchard, an inside sales rep, recommends a finer grit, 150 to 180. After sanding, he suggests wiping away the residue with a clean cloth moistened with acetone.

Both companies recommend applying several thin layers of paint. For Stove Bright, there’s a final step: heat-setting. Directions are in the user guide on the company Web site; for a fireplace surround, follow the instructions for a wood-burning stove.

Question: We have a flatware set in excellent condition except for the handles, which are discolored and look dirty. They appear to be plastic, maybe Bakelite? The initials on the back are “WF,” Mardi Gras, Stainless, Korea. They are more than five years old. Is there any way to clean the handles?

— Severna Park

Answer: Unfortunately, the discoloration is probably a sign of irreversible changes in the plastic itself. But some types of yellowed plastic do bleach clean by being submerged in hydrogen peroxide, so you might try that. Drugstores sell hydrogen peroxide in a 3 percent concentration. For something more powerful, check out the bleach component of hair coloring kits. Test-soak one piece of your flatware before you treat the whole set.

The WF on the back refers to Washington Forge, a company that manufactured the Mardi Gras style beginning around 1980. The pattern is considered collectible, and on Web sites such as eBay you will find sets and individual pieces for sale with handles in a variety of colors. When the color is light, the sellers often note that the plastic is discolored. There seems to be no way to consult the manufacturer for advice. Washington Forge was a brand of JMP-Newcor, which was purchased by a company based in Thailand in 1996.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist: Read Jeanne Huber’s month-by-month roundup of home-improvement tasks at washingtonpost.com/home.

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