Resurfacing Cast Iron Pans

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Introduction: Resurfacing Cast Iron Pans

I really like having a smooth surface on my cast iron pans. The spatula glides across them much better and my omelets slide right out with no effort. However, when buying new cast iron pans they typically have a rough surface from the casting molds. Many manufacturers have skipped the process of grinding and polishing the cooking surface in lieu of a lower price tag. Those who are still producing the smooth bottom pans are commanding a much higher price for their cookware.

I will walk you through the process of turning an inexpensive cast iron pan into one that feels like a $100+ pan. This process will also work on those garage sale and auction finds. Those pans may be pitted with rust, and in worse shape that a store bought cast iron pan, but will still clean up with a little elbow grease and be as good as new.

Supplies:

  • New or used cast iron pan
  • Dust mask
  • Sand paper 40, 60, 80, 120, 220
  • Palm sander (optional but highly suggested)
  • Sharpie (optional but highly suggested)
  • Lard, grease or oil

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Step 1: Assess the Situation

Look at the rough surface on a new store bought pan. We are going to fix that today.

Step 2: Safety First!

Get your dust mask or respirator and put it on. You don't want to breath in the fine metal particles produced by your sanding efforts.

Step 3: Sort Out Your Sand Paper

We are going to use 40 grit, 60 grit, 80 grit, 120 grit and 220 grit. We will use 40 grit the most and also for the longest time. On this pan I used 4 sheets of 40 grit until I felt I removed enough of the metal to progress on to the higher grits. I also used , 2 of the 60, 2 of the 80, 2 of the 120, and 2 of the 220 grit sheets. You won't need to sand it perfectly smooth. There may still be some craters/divots left behind due to the casting methods. Those will fill in when you season the pan afterwards.

Step 4: Start Sanding

Start sanding with the 40 grit.

Step 5: Keep Sanding With the 40 Grit

You will be using the 40 grit the most. This first grit of sand paper is removing the most metal and takes the longest time. Keep at it.

We are trying to flatten the peaks by sanding down the metal. Notice the black vs the shiny silver metal? The shiny parts are the peaks we are flattening. What is left behind are the black valleys/craters. We want to flatten the peaks as best we can, making a nice smooth surface for cooking..

Step 6: To Better See Progress Use a Sharpie

If you have a sharpie available make some marks on the pan to watch the progress of the sanding process. Once the sanding stops removing the markings then is is time to replace the sheet with a new one that will cut better. This trick works for all of the sanding grits.

Step 7: Time to Switch to the Next Higher Grit

Once the pan looks mostly leveled out, switch to the next higher grit. In this case we are moving to 80 grit sand paper. Keep going until most of the scratches from the 40 grit have been removed. For me this took 2 sheets of 60 grit. Also use the sharpie trick to gauge progress.

Step 8: Step Up to 80 Grit

Next move on to the 80 grit sand paper. I also used 2 sheets of this grit during the process.

Step 9: Going to 120 Grit

Step up to 120 Grit sand paper now. Once again I used 2 sheets of the 120 grit. Keep using that sharpie trick to make sure the paper is still working. When it stops then swap out the sheets for a fresh one.

Step 10: Switching to 220 Grit

Here we are at the final grit of sand paper. The end is getting near. 2 sheets of 220 was used at this stage as well. Keep that sharpie handy.

Step 11: Done With the 220

You are done with the 220 grit and your pan is ready to season.

Step 12: Marvel at Your Work

This isn't mirror quality, because 220 grit sand paper won't give you that, but look at the reflection of the words. If you want mirror like reflections you could sand to 2000 grit or higher. I have done it before. It is a lot more work. The results are not worth the effort for a mirror like finish.

Step 13: This Is Why We Wear a Mask

Look how dirty that mask has become. That black metal dust could have been in your lungs without proper safety gear.

Step 14: Season the Pan

To season the pan wipe down with a very light coat of cooking oil, lard, or bacon grease. I do mean very light. You don't want any puddles or drops of oil on the pan. After applying, come back with a paper towel, and wipe it down one last time. This will leave a thing trace of oil on the pan.

Place the pan into a preheated oven at 400 degrees with the cooking surface facing down. Put a cookie sheet on the rack below the pan to catch any drips in case you left too much oil on the pan. Let it soak in the heat for 60 minutes. After 60 minutes turn the oven off and let it cool down naturally for a few hours without opening the oven door.

You will want to repeat this process a few times to build up a good seasoning layer. Once it is all nice and blackened you are ready to cook with it. Enjoy!

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    34 Discussions

    4
    Davilyn2
    Davilyn2

    8 weeks ago

    I am old enough to have pans that were made when they actually made good cast iron pans, and they were inexpensive. All my pans are slick, just like a mirror. You made me realize how bad the pans are nowadays and also made me more grateful to have mine. Nice tutorial.

    0
    ChuckF35
    ChuckF35

    Reply 5 weeks ago

    The pebble-y surface on Lodge cast iron is partly due to the sand-cast surface not being ground down and they spray it with 'preseasoning'.
    I'm sure we would all rather have the interior surface ground smooth and a light coat of oil to keep it from rusting and let us do our own seasoning.

    0
    scott weston
    scott weston

    Reply 8 weeks ago

    Some companies still make polished pans but they will cost you a pretty penny. Every now and then I score one at goodwill or an estate auction that is in good shape.

    0
    KellyCraig
    KellyCraig

    Reply 7 weeks ago

    But can you use it on the ceramic and glass stoves, like you can the smoother surfaces on the older pans?

    As to weight, my older pans were far from lighter than the newer ones.

    1
    CharlesD82
    CharlesD82

    Reply 8 weeks ago

    It wasn't that he pans were good or bad per se, it was just that they were made differently. In the old days, they used plaster/ceramic molds to cast the iron pans, which gave them a smoother surface, and also allowed them to be cast thinner, which made them lighter. I'm sure there was a little more human interaction with the finishing of the metal too.

    Now that companies use oiled sand (sand casting) to build their molds, they generally have to be made thicker, and that's what results in the "pebbled" finish.

    My opinion, based on the new and old pans that I own that span 100+ years is that the shiny finish that they're selling people is nothing more than a marketing ploy to get you to buy a more expensive pan. I have never had anything stick from a properly seasoned pan that was properly heated before the food was put in. Just saying.

    0
    indawgwetrust
    indawgwetrust

    7 weeks ago

    I did this a few years ago, it works ok, buy cast iron is never going to be non-stick like teflon. One tip: This will take a REALLY long time to do with a regular sander. For about 8$ you can get a paint and rust stripper that attaches to a drill, and will do this so much faster.

    0
    froggy1641
    froggy1641

    7 weeks ago

    I as well just had to re-season four 6-8 inch cast iron skillets of my late grandmother that she gave me. They were already super smooth so I used the lard and putting the oven on self clean method about three times. Now all four work great. However I appreciate the idea of the outside as I wouldn’t use them on my glass cooktop till now. Well written instructable

    0
    JimH209
    JimH209

    7 weeks ago

    In my extensive culinary experince, I do not recommend sanding down to a mirror finish as that will ruin your cast iron pan.

    Having that not-smooth finish with the seasoned patina is what gives them that non-stick surface you want with cast iron.

    The best way to resurface them is to place them in your oven, upside down, and set the oven to self-cleaning cycle. After it is done and completely cooled. Rub it down with canola oil then rub it off with a paper towel, leaving a very thin layer of oil covering the inside and outside of the pan. Then put it back into the cooled oven, again, upside down. Set temp to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Let it get to that degrees, let it stay at that degrees for at least an hour, then turn off letting it cool down completely. I repeat this process at least 3-5 times

    0
    KellyCraig
    KellyCraig

    Reply 7 weeks ago

    As to refinishing cast iron pans, I know of no one who took smoothing of a pan to the mirror finish level, but I doubt doing so would, in any way, ruin the pan.

    I could be wrong.

    As I see it, based on my significant experience polishing everything from resin and plastic to aluminum, brass and iron, at worst, you'd only have to scrub the pan to remove the coating, then let water do it's rust thing, just enough to take the shine off the surface, then remove the rust. Or you could just run over it with 320 to 600 sandpaper.

    On my table saw, which I confess to having used less than very little for cooking, I used some of my granite polishing diamond pads to produce a final finish you could see your reflection in. In spite of that rather smooth surface, I have no difficulty apply protective coatings to the surface.

    Older pans came machined to a surface similar to the table top of my
    cabinet saws. That is, very smooth, though you can still see the
    machining marks. Generally, newer pans, by comparison, are like the one in this
    Instructable - very bumpy.

    Too, if pans are not taken to or almost to a mirror finish (with softened (rounded over) edges), they are a danger to glass top or ceramic stove tops.

    _______________________
    Check out this page on whether or not cast iron [and stainless] pans have pours:

    https://cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/50403/do-pan-pores-exist-what-are-they-and-what-are-their-effects

    3
    DavidF15
    DavidF15

    8 weeks ago

    It might be good to discuss things gone wrong -- The 400F for an hour should polymerize the oil into a hard, smooth, non-stick surface. If the heat & time isn't enough to polymerize your chosen oil, you get a gummy, sticky surface and should reheat it until it is hard (try adding 20F and don't add more layers of new oil until the first are hardened.) If the heat and time is too much for the particular oil, the polymerized/plasticized layer will burn and start to flake off & you have to clean it off and start over.

    2
    KellyCraig
    KellyCraig

    Reply 7 weeks ago

    I don't know, so am open to new information. Is my torch or the other heat polymerizing the oil or lard, or is it carbonizing it?

    Generally, polymerization is accomplished by way of reaction with oxygen, at least with "boiled" linseed oil, walnut oil, tung oil and anything else that hardens by way of reaction with oxygen.

    0
    scott weston
    scott weston

    Reply 8 weeks ago

    That is good advice for those new to caring for cast iron. After using them for so long I tend to forget those things are not common knowledge.

    0
    FrancisK22
    FrancisK22

    8 weeks ago

    An experimenter on Youtube showed polishing a cast-iron pan until it had a near mirror surface. He seasoned it and then tried cooking an egg. The egg stuck to the surface and the flipper pulled off the seasoned finish. It may be that some texture is needed for the seasoning to have a grip. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=id2GLt8Nd4s

    0
    KellyCraig
    KellyCraig

    Reply 7 weeks ago

    Keep in mind, seasoning is not full on armor. If it were, we could wash the pans in soapy water, like other kitchen ware. As said by Scott, a release agent is a good thing. Even silicone molds benefit from silicone sprays. Here, butter is good ;)

    1
    scott weston
    scott weston

    Reply 8 weeks ago

    I am not sure his pan was properly seasoned and he didn't use any oil on the first egg. Eggs always need a little release agent. I use bacon grease that I save in a jelly jar.

    0
    lindbergh27
    lindbergh27

    8 weeks ago

    I would love to see at the end of your article your opinion or how effective the effort was. Was it worth it?

    0
    scott weston
    scott weston

    Reply 8 weeks ago

    To me it is worth the effort to grind down a pan. Even if you dont get it perfectly smooth, it is worth it to remove the high spots that make it feel like sandpaper. I have been sanding down my pans for years. I sand down used thrift store finds as well.

    0
    lindbergh27
    lindbergh27

    Reply 8 weeks ago

    Could you talk about the performace difference pre and post sanding?

    0
    KellyCraig
    KellyCraig

    Reply 7 weeks ago

    HUGE

    See my posts.

    0
    pmillho
    pmillho

    8 weeks ago

    This is great! What sander did you use? Thanks!