I like to plan ahead, which is why I decided to refinish my metal outdoor furniture now. Sure, I am about to store it for the winter, but imagine how happy I will be come spring when, with a fresh coat of paint, it looks like new.
The last time I undertook such a project was seven years ago. I had bought a wrought-iron dining table and eight matching chairs at an antiques fair. The set was painted celery green, and although it showed no rust, the paint did have a few chips. I set about sanding, priming and painting the pieces — a huge endeavor that took the better part of a week. (Don’t let anyone tell you that repainting something is easy.) And despite my diligence, my refinishing was mediocre at best; as hard as I tried, I could not get a perfectly smooth finish.
Fast-forward to a few weeks ago, when I saw rust inching its way up the legs of the table — a sign that it was time for me to tackle the project again. When I complained to a friend about having to devote hours to the project, she suggested I consider having the furniture powder coated.
Of course, I had heard of powder-coating; it’s the process used to transform car and motorcycle parts (think of the iconic paint metamorphosis of the drag-racing car in the 1978 classic “Grease” or any of the makeovers on Discovery’s “American Chopper”). Or open any home design catalogue these days and you will see images of shiny, often colorful, powder-coated light fixtures, tables, chairs, trays and hardware. I just had not thought of the process as a possible remedy for the sad state of my dining set, mostly because I could not do it myself. It required professional help.
I turned to an expert, Gary Lamb, owner of Extreme Powder Coating in Lorton (www.extremepowdercoating.com). Lamb, whose company recently powder-coated a handicap ramp for the White House, is as excited by the possibilities of powder coating as I was when I got my first Shrinky Dinks. “I can powder-coat just about anything that can withstand the heat, from toilets to toasters,” he says. By heat, Lamb is referring to the 400-degree temperature that is required to set the powder particles on an item, which means that most of the items eligible for powder coating are metal. However, recent advances in technology have made the process suitable for glass, some woods and ceramics (hence Lamb’s reference to a toilet, which incidentally he powder-coated for WWDC (101.1 FM) DJ Elliot Segal, a.k.a. “Elliot in the Morning”).
The process goes like this: Lamb’s crew first strips the item of all paint and/or finish with a sandblaster (beats my sanding by hand!), then applies an iron phosphate pre-treatment to stop any future rusting, followed by a zinc-rich primer, which acts as a second rust deterrent. Two coats of dry powder particles are then sprayed onto the item, and because of electrostatic charge, they stick; the metal item is given a slight negative charge, while the powder particles have a slight positive charge. Once coated, the item is baked in a 400-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. When the piece has cooled, it is finished. Unlike regular paint, which Lamb points out can take up to six weeks to completely dry, powder coating has no curing time, and the result is far more durable.
Another benefit to powder-coated finishes is that they are a “green” option because they contain no solvents. Standard paints contain a solvent that makes them liquid during application; the solvent evaporates as the paint dries. With powder coating, the finish goes on as tiny dry particles.
One also can’t help but be inspired by the color possibilities of powder coating. Lamb’s and other shops offer more than 120 color options and dozens of finishes, from smooth to speckled. For my dining set I opted for plain old white (I had to choose from four different whites that ranged from creamy to grayish), but I have visions of sending out my daughter’s metal medicine cabinet to be coated in a peony pink and a client’s set of metal sconces to be coated in a French blue.
Lamb offers a pickup and delivery service, and powder coating prices are based on the item’s surface area — the more metal to sandblast and powder-coat, the more expensive. For example, a single metal dining chair ranges from $135 to $150 and a 42-inch round table ranges from $250-$275, with about a two-week window for completion.
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Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”