Rejuvenate Vintage Metal Lawn Chairs




Introduction: Rejuvenate Vintage Metal Lawn Chairs

About: Professional Educator for over 25 years. Avid DIYer! Why pay somebody to do what you can do yourself? Active in web design and development for over 20 years. After discovering have started …

Thank you Instructables for motivating me to finally get to this project.

In this Instructable I will show how I rejuvenated a set of vintage metal lawn chairs dating back to the late 1950's or early 1960's. By no means am I restoring these to the original beauty, but hoping to get another 20-30 years of use.

This is truly a Trash to Treasure story.

About 3 years ago I found these chairs on a Sunday afternoon on the curb at a nearby neighbors house. Sunday on the curb means stuff is going out for trash or waiting for the "pickers" to drive by in the pick-up trucks to salvage any metal they can find to haul to the metal scrap yard for $$$.

The moment I saw them I thought WOW! I had not seen chairs like these for years, at least not in use. I immediately pulled in the drive way to grab them and throw them in the back of my truck for keeps. At first I was a little nervous because they seemed to valuable to just throw away. Then the homeowner came outside and kind of laughed and said "I knew they wouldn't last long out there." Of course I then had to ask if they were going out for trash and asked if I could have them. He said they were all mine and invited me into his backyard for another piece of "trash". But, that piece of trash will be saved for another story and Instructable.

Here we are three years later and I am finally getting to this project. Based on the condition of the chairs I had to do some research on how I was going to tackle this project. My options were to spend a lot of money on restoring them or sweat equity. I compromised on sweat equity with a little money for materials.

Step 1: BEFORE

As can be seen from the images, each chair had different levels of weathering, rust, and paint peel. Each chair had probably been painted 3-5 times over the past 40-50 years. Interesting colors over the years including, yellow, pink, white, brown, and green.

Since acquiring the chairs, they have been moved around my yard several times in the past 3 years, I have had many family and friends comment on them. The most recent comment was "nice camo pattern". But, most were intrigued to see what would come of them once I started to work on them.

Step 2: Planning

My initial thought was to outsource and have these all sandblasted down to the bare metal and start with a clean slate with a powder coat process afterwards. Research online showed that chairs brought back to near original condition could resell for $100-$200 each.

But after assessing the amount of surface rust, rust through on the legs, time to dedicate to the project, and my budget, I decided to rejuvenate and keep for casual lounging in the yard, decor, and a conversation piece. Overall, a piece of Americana revitalized!

Trash to Treasure!

So hear is how I did it.

Step 3: Tools

Pressure Washer: Great tool to blast off the initial layer of grime and loose paint

Air Compressor: Clean off residue from scraping and sanding.

Tarp: Need to catch your mess when wire brushing and sanding.

Wire Brushes: Various sizes of steel wire brushes for working off some of the stubborn paint peels.

Scraper: Stiff bladed putty knife works well.

Paint Brushes: Cheap brush for applying rust converter. Higher quality for applying paint.

Paint Pan: Easy to handle liquid supplies; deglosser, rust converter, and paint.

Rags: Wipe work area and use to apply deglosser.

Protective Gloves: Always a good idea when working with chemicals.

Step 4: Supplies

Jasco Prep & Primer: Use this to convert the surface rust into a rust-retarding paintable surface.

Klean Strip Sander Deglosser: Use this to increase the adhesion of new paint finish to old glossy surface paints. Basically it breaks down the gloss finish of the old paint.

Rust-Oleum Rusty Metal Primer: Use this to bond tightly to rust and allow for adhesion of paint top coat.

Sherwin Williams All Surface Enamel: Use as top coat finish. High quality and durable coating provides resistance to weather and sunlight, and maintain gloss. Thicker consistency of enamel tends to cover better than latex or oil paints when working with rough pocked areas of multiple layers of paint.

Step 5: Initial Surface Prep

The purpose of this process...

  • Remove loose rust, paint, and grime.
  • Smooth rough edges of layers of paint.
  • Prepare for rust conversion and painting.
  • Rejuvenate to a usable more attractive piece of lawn furniture.
  1. Power Wash: If you have access to a power washer use it. If you do not have one, borrow one. It will save you lots of time and sweat by blasting off lots of the loose rust, paint, and outdoor grime..
  2. Let dry for 24 hours. This will let the metal dry better for working of chemicals later and give time for the water to loosen up more of the old finish for scraping, brushing, and sanding.
  3. Tarp Work Area: Wherever you decide to work, be sure to drop a tarp to catch all the loose rust and paint chips. Chances are if the furniture is older, lead paint chips will be there. Discard appropriately.
  4. Wire Brush: Use a wire brush to start getting rid of any loose material the washer did not blast or material the the washer made more loose.
  5. Putty Knife: A stiff blade putty knife will help with the scraping of stubborn areas.
  6. Sandpaper: A 150 grit sandpaper will help to smooth some of those old paint edges.

NOTE: As I mentioned earlier, my intentions were not to restore the chair to like-new condition. That would have cost a couple hundred dollars for sandblasting. My plan was to rejuvenate to a usable attractive condition.

Step 6: Just More Before Shots

Added these images to show the difference in condition of each of the chairs.

Step 7: Degloss Old Paint

There were signs that the previous finish had a gloss sheen. More so in the areas that did not get direct exposure to rain, snow, and sunlight. Anytime you repaint over an older oil based gloss sheen you need to consider the surface area to be painted. You have two options here. You can use sandpaper to roughen the surface or use a chemical solution to break the gloss finish. Since this was a pretty large job of three chairs I chose to apply a deglosser to ensure adhesion.

This is a water based solution, so the fumes are at a minimum. But, as you can see I still used rubber gloves to protect my skin from the chemicals. Work in a well ventilated area and be sure to follow the directions of the manufacturer. My Instructable is simply here as a guide through the process of the manufacturer.

  • Pour your solution into a pan and saturate your rag for application.
  • Apply the solution in a circular motion to work the previously finished area well.
  • After you are finished, let dry about 15 minutes then wipe away any residue with a damp cloth.
  • Reapply to any areas that still have a glossy sheen.
  • You are done deglossing when all painted areas have a dull flat sheen.

Step 8: Rust Conversion

The purpose of this process is to neutralize the natural rusting process in order to create a paintable surface. It converts ferrous iron (rust) to iron phosphate. Once again, this is simply a guide to the process I followed. Be sure to follow the directions and guidelines of the manufacturer.

  • Apply rust converter to all rusted areas with a brush.
  • Let dry over night.
  • Use damp cloth to remove any excess residue or converter.
  • Rusted areas will change to a blackish color over night.
  • Ready for primer coat.

Step 9: Spray Primer

Once again, we are dealing with a rusted surface, so we will continue to use products to deal with that problem. I have used this primer before for other projects and have been very happy with the performance.

  • Find a well ventilated area.
  • Place drop cloth and plan movement of chairs with minimal handling.
  • Apply on a day with minimal wind or breeze to ensure the primer makes it to the surface and avoid overspray.
  • Keep can 6-8 inches from surface and move side to side.
  • Apply to once side and let dry about 20 minutes.
  • Flip the chairs.

Step 10: Spray Primer Continued

  • After 20 minutes flip the chairs
  • Apply primer to topside of chairs.
  • Check for any missed areas and touch up your primer coat.
  • Let primer dry. I waited till next day before applying enamel.

Overall, I used 3 1/4 cans of primer for the 3 chairs.

Step 11: Apply Enamel Finish

Sorry, but in the excitement of applying the new finish I forgot to take pictures! Basically I followed the same process as priming by doing the undersides then the topside. Enamel (oil based) takes a much longer time to dry than primer, Usually 24 hours. Actually, it was 2 full days of painting and touch-up for the enamel process due to the wait time on drying.

  • Use quality paint brush for oil based paints.
  • Brush on and pay special attention to drip edges and underside of armrests.
  • Used nearly the full quart of paint for the three chairs with one coat. This stuff covers well!

Note: The center chair has a perforated design in the back and seat. When applying the enamel be aware that you will get drips on the opposite side as you are painting the other. Just let this be known so you can work out those drips as you paint.

Step 12: Trash to Treasure

Based on condition of chairs and asking price on Craig's List, I might be able to get $150-$225 for the set of three chairs. Will I sell them? Probably not. They just look that darn good and the center chair is the most comfortable chair in our yard now.


Preparation: 4 hours

Painting: 3 hours

Supplies: $75

Hope this Instructable is helpful for you if you are thinking on taking on the task. Probably the two things that kept me from doing this sooner was time, heat and humidity. I knew it would be one of those projects I would need to stay with from start to finish straight through. Being a teacher I have the time in the summer to dedicate to these types of projects. But, knowing that I would need to be working outdoors with the chemicals and dealing with heat and humidity it was hard to plan out the time. Humidity and enamel drying time can really string out a project. Sometimes I do not have the patience to wait and get hurried. I really wanted these to come out great. Glad I waited for some nice weather.

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Outside Contest 2016

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Trash to Treasure Challenge

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    Question 2 years ago on Step 11

    I just purchased 6 chairs that I need to restore.Problem: Some of my chairs are missing the armrest or are in bad condition,Where can I find replacement armrest for my chairs?


    5 years ago

    MARVELOUS ! You did a fantastic job. Enjoy them.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Thanks! Be sure to check out and vote for my other ible where I did the glider. Had to do some metal repair and fabrication


    5 years ago

    I was given this chair and it was in awesome condition. I decided to cover in fabric using decoupage fabric and sealed with outdoor decoupage . Just finished but think I will keep chair indoors as it was time consuming. The first pictures shows the chair prior to the finished project.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Interesting. would love to see an instructable on that process.


    5 years ago

    This is a 100% fantastic walkthrough over doing this. I will never pass up another set of these now!! They're my favorite, but I've never been sure of the best way to refurbish them. :D


    Reply 5 years ago

    Thanks for the comment. Please vote. I will have not problem taking on this project in the future if I come across these chairs again. Some mini power tools would be helpful for scraping and sanding. Most of my power tools are too big for this size of project.