Sanding and Polishing - Cast Iron Skillet Cookware




First thing, this isn't a hard project. This process isn't a one hour project. When finished you will have a piece of cookware that you will love, and wonder why you ever spent the money on a new high cost cast iron pan..

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Step 1: Disclaimer - Tools Needed

There is a market for old cast iron. Please do not do this on something that you could actually get financial value if sold to a collector. Old cast iron is beautiful stuff and I don't want you wrecking that on my shoulders. In the end this is Cast Iron, but in sentimental value, older pieces have much more cooking time on them and their age/manufacturer does contribute to its overall worth. My advice is this process is for those pieces that are inexpensive ($40), made in the past 20 years, and have a rough cooking surface after an oven clean cycle. You are going to grind metal off the pan and then polish it. If you are not good with power tools, this project is not for you.

Note: You will get someone in your social circles that will say you have just ruined the skillet, and in every practical way you have changed the way it was designed to cook. This project is not recommended by the mainstream cast iron community. Infact if you ask manufacturers, connoisseurs, or regular cast iron cooks they will say just continue to cook with it, season the skillet and time will make the skillet better. Which is technically correct.

This is an easy project if you enjoy sanding, and oiling your work. You will get out what you put into the skillet. If you take a look at the photo above, this Wagner Ware skillet is not in the best shape but it is older than the cast iron I will be working on (Made after 1959). Pay attention to the inside surface. It is smooth and looks as if a large grinding wheel was placed on the inside. I didn't do this, someone at the plant did.

Step 2: Your Cast Iron Skillet


This project is for iron that is just so rough and worthless, no one even after it was seasoned 5 or 10 times would consider it worth the trouble to cook on.

The picture above shows the skillet I chose to sand and polish. My first shots didn't save properly, but this iron was rusted and rough before I tried scrubbing it. After my first seasoning, this is what I had to work with. Not bad and comparable to what you can buy today from Lodge at Costco.

Step 3: My Video of the Project

I encourage you to read this instructable, however watching what I did will be much more effective, than perhaps the available pictures that I have.

View it here:

Step 4: The Mount - Simple and Effective

The mounting bracket is found in my video at 1:51

I had access to some rough cut thick planks of wood. I bought a long eye bolt, cut the eye to be a hook and I mounted it to one side of the wood. Then I marked the other side. Drilled a channel for the long bolt and made it adjustable to the cast iron I would be grinding.

The bracket was designed to be held in place by my table vise. It was solid and to make it even better I supported the other side with a 2x4 so it rests on the counter-top.

Afterwards, this will be used for fire wood or a replacement landing for my compost entrance. Either way the wood bracket will be re-purposed.

Step 5: Avanti Pro Quick Strip Disc/Sanding Pads


I found all of this at home depot. I can't tell you much. The company has a really worthless website, and I could only find it at one of the big box stores.

I used this for the initial stripping of the iron surface. It worked quite well, but I am glad I moved on the the sanding discs later. If I had to do it again I would have borrowed a more sturdy and powerful drill to mount the scrapper.


These pads worked well Diablo makes a circular sanding pad and a circular foam drill insert for the pad to stick the sandpaper to. They were not fun taking them off when the surface was spent, but they worked. Make sure to get more of the rougher pads and maybe even another mounting pad. Depending how much surface you want to remove, the rough pads do the job quickly

Step 6: 40 Grit

The level of grit is going to get the most product off the surface. Looking back I wish I had bought more if these. I only had two pads and when I was done I could have doubled them and never reconsidered the choice. I didn't push hard and I moved around the surface in even movements. In no time the once black surface was now a dull but vibrant silver colour.

Step 7: 80 Grit

While this level of grit did take the surface down even more, it wasn't nearly as effective as the 40 grit. At the time I was extremely happy with my current progress, so I wasn't thinking I should just stop and go get some more 40 grit.

The griddle was problematic in that the grills were not a lot of surface area but they chewed the pads up quickly. there was no way to get in between the grills so I just left it. Turns out the griddle was not my most valued piece at this stage.

Step 8: 120 Grit

You are going to start considering 120 your pre-polish stage. The silver color can now reflect light and the groves left by the grit is starting to make the skillets pop. At this point I am not sure if going further will help or hurt the seasoning process.

Step 9: 220 Grit

By the time I was finished with 220, I was in full grin. I wasn't sure how they would season, but I had smooth shiny skillets that a few hours ago were a rough mess.

Step 10: Wash/Scrub/Rinse/Dry

After I patted myself on the back, I took the iron back to the house for a scrub in the sink with soap and steel wool. I patted the skillets dry and popped them into a 200 degree F oven to dry off completely. The square skillet has some flash rust develop, but it was easily wiped off with a rag.

I was ready to season.

Step 11: Seasoning the Iron

The first season was more about corrosion protection then anything else. It was late in the day and I had been planning on seasoning two times after work for three days. I used a process shown here . I used lard, and followed the instructions always allowing the oven to cool on its own. My advice is don't rush it, and don't worry, seasoning isn't about how it looks in the end. It is about how it protects the surface, protection from corrosion, and offers non-stick cooking through baking the oil into a plastic like surface. The patina is only a small fraction of the reason for seasoning a pan.

While I was happy with the overall results, I was concerned that the pan wasn't browning like I expected. Instead of the blackening, I was getting a yellowing on the silver surface. The 2nd and 3rd did a great job filling the minor dimples left by the sanding process. The yellow/browning continued as the 4th and 5th cycle completed. I stopped with the griddle. and made room for some other cast iron to enjoy the final oven seasoning process.

UPDATE: After reading a few articles on seasoning, I think I know why my pan isn't going black. My lard has a high smoke point, and the carbon in the oil isn't smoking causing the blackening. The oil is plasticized and even though it is golden, the skillets are seasoned.

You have the whole oven, so use it! Don't just season one piece, fill the oven up with as much iron as the shelves will allow.

Step 12: Maintenance of Cast Iron

There are many ways to clean skillets. When I use soap, it is because all other efforts have failed.

Before using soap, get yourself a good plastic scraper, large grain salt, and a plastic scour pad. Steel wool is an option, but try the first items as you don't want to scratch the seasoning off.

Use these methods for cleaning and remember to lightly coat the iron with oil when done. Plenty of videos on YouTube that can help you on the maintenance.

Step 13: What I Learned You Should Also Do...

Take your time, and get more 40 grit pads than you think you will need. Most of the surface issues will come out faster with a 40 grit pad than if you jump to 80 grit. After that 120/220 pads will at best polish your pans smoothed surface.

Wear a face mask. I have recovered now that I finished the project. For a few days afterwards I had cast iron dust in my eyes, my mouth, and nose. My lungs were not happy with my decision to go without a mask. The black mucus I was blowing out of my nose never seemed to stop. Also the taste of cast iron lingered for days.

If you own a version of the Neti Pot, use it after the project just to clean out the sinuses.

Step 14: Before Shots.

Step 15: Raw Look After 220 Grit

Step 16: After Shots

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    26 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Honestly this looks like you just ruined perfectly good cast iron. The before pictures you showed look like beautiful cast iron to me. Cast iron should not be shiny, the seasoning on cast iron should be even and relatively thick; just seasoning it 3 times doesn't put the same level on seasoning on it that you took off. I've worked with cast iron all my life, and all your before pictures look beautiful but the after images look like something that I would find in a garbage heap. I don't want to offend, but I would dissuade anyone from trying this themselves (this is not a proper technique for sanding and repolishing cast iron). I'm sorry if I offend, but I just don't want to see people try this and learn their cast iron was better the way it was before.

    5 replies

    Reply 1 year ago

    Good cast iron should absolutely be smooth. This modern, pebbly stuff is sold unfinished, because manufacturers just can't be bothered to do the final step to turn out a good piece. Hence, we the consumers have to finish the job, as outlined in this instructable.

    It's impossible to "ruin" a "valuable" piece of cast iron by polishing the inside, because the good stuff - the valuable vintage stuff - has ALREADY been polished by the manufacturer, so no one would be grinding it down anyway. Only recently-made pieces (i.e. those that are not valuable to collectors, i.e. those that are only worth the moderate purchase price) even NEED to be ground down, therefore you are not ruining a valuable piece, rather you are vastly improving a fair-to-middling piece.

    This bit about iron "needing to be rough for the seasoning to stick" is pure marketing B.S. put out by Lodge when people complained about their pebbly surface. Seasoning sticks just fine to smooth cast iron, and it shouldn't take twenty coats to do the job. (My Griswold piece was a rusty mess when I got it, so I used oven cleaner to take it down to bare, raw metal - yet even on that smooth polished surface of bare raw metal, it took only two coats of seasoning with flax oil to get a perfectly tough, smooth seasoning that's held up for years.)

    And don't tell me that my vintage Griswold piece is smooth because it was used for years - the outside is as smooth as the inside and I don't think they cooked on the outside. Also, there's documentation that they were indeed ground/polished at the factory.

    TL;DR: modern cast iron pans aren't done yet. Grinding the inside smooth is the finishing touch that manufacturers skip to cut down costs, so we the consumer need to do it if we want a quality product. I'm glad I found this Instructable because I wasn't sure how to go about the job.

    Check out these guys, making cast iron right: (but considering the high cost, I'll stick with grinding down my pebbly Lodge pans)

    From their site:

    "High quality cast iron has a smooth finish. Period. If a manufacturer
    leaves a rough finish on the products, it is because they don’t care
    enough to make sure it is finished correctly before it leaves the


    Reply 8 months ago

    I agree!
    Just because the factory/company doesn't, or even has never, doesn't make it right.
    Just because the factory/company says so, also doesn't make it right!

    The things I pay money for are only things I'm willing to go the rest of the distance for what I want. There's always a willing to settle for factor.


    Reply 2 years ago

    @roosenpandi, if this is "not a proper technique for sanding and repolishing cast iron" then I would really appreciate if you can explain what IS the proper technique or provide a link as to how you think it should be done. I don't really know what to do with the comment you made, as there's no altewrnative to considser. I would genuenly welcome another approach if you have one. Otherwise it's, 'well its better than nothing to do it this way'


    Reply 2 years ago

    If I humbly understand your concern; is it not addressed in the author's numerous warnings?


    Reply 2 years ago

    My high end Finex skillet is machined after casting, its smooth and cooks like a dream. Don't worry, while you couldn't offend me, you need to read this:

    Myth 6 is for you. Cast Iron is metal. Seasoning is plastzied oil. Shiny or rough, cast iron will cook the same because it is cast iron. Mine is just less rough. Old cast pieces were processed differently than today's. The 220 grit isn't required but the beautiful cast Iron you think you saw in the before was really rough, and worth less than a modern lodge skillet after I took the time to see if it was worth anything. It wasn't.

    I make sure to put a disclaimer on this project for users just like you. No offence taken. This piece was in the trash, rusted and rough before I scrubbed it and seasoned it to what you saw. I mean you no offence when I say if you want to warn people about making stuff out of stuff, you are on the wrong site. I used to think like you, but research into this changed my mind.


    10 months ago

    Hi, I got my hands on two skillets last week. One had been kept inside, and had a fresh glass surface from decades of use by my grandmother. The other one was beated up by rust from staying in someones moist garage for years. The fresh one was ready for use, the other one i ground using an 80 grit disc. As that was the only one i had, i stopped there as I was already happy with the really nice surface you describe. I then seasoned it with 4 layers (canola). I then fried an egg in both pans. Nothing stuck to grandmas pan, just like i hoped to see from it. Edges of the egg lifted up, it flipped, and could be moved around with the spatula. Unexpectedly, with the sanded pan ... the egg didnt just not stick, it foated around, just from tilting the pan. I was so surprised of how well it fried.

    right now i think the smoothness is the main factor for easy cooking. For sure 3 decades of use will smooth out those poores, and make it smooth, but sanding seems to just have removed the vast majority of them altogether.

    I only read this article after doing this, trying to figure out what was really going on.

    I see how this method would upset anyone who likes to go by convention. The 80 grid does remove metal, and it will change edges and details if you touch them with it. It will be a slightly different pan than it was.

    To me it has given satisfactory cooking results with much less time than i have spent cooking, oiling and seasoning a third pan i have had for several months, not managing to reach a surface anywhere close to the one my grandmother put on her skillet.


    1 year ago

    Wow, thanks to following links and leads in the video and comments, I've found there ARE a number of new manufacturers making cast iron the way it used to be - that is, machined or polished SMOOTH (and often thinner-walled and lighter, too.) So cool to see that they DO make it like they used to! I am saving up for a Butter Pat pan! Also there's nice ones out there from Marquette, Stargazer, and Finex.

    But until I can spring for a $150 pan, I'm sure glad I found this Instructable to fix up my bumpy Lodge pan!


    2 years ago

    The old collectible stuff has a smooth finish. Why doesn't the modern Lodge brand cookware? Mine are all very pebbly. Don't care how much seasoning it has, it's not "non stick."

    4 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    They were made differently back then. That's one of the reasons they are more valuable. The other being thicker casts had to be made. New cast iron has thinner sides.


    Reply 1 year ago

    I don't know, my old cast iron is much thinner, especially on the sides, than the newer pieces I have. Still seems to hold heat just great and obviously it's durable, despite being thin.


    Reply 2 years ago

    The cast iron I inherited from my mom is smooth because she cooked on it for 40 years. After a while, it gets smooth the way it should be to cook. If you're collecting, don't mess with it. If you're cooking, the old smooth as glass cast iron is the way to go.


    Reply 1 year ago

    The old stuff was ground smooth before it was sold. It should not have to take 40 years of cooking on it before your cast iron is finally suitable for cooking. This instructable is a great way to take modern pans which are sold without having that final step done, and fix them yourself so they are smooth like the ones you could buy new in the "old days."

    If you're collecting, the modern pebbly stuff isn't worth anything to collectors anyway, so go ahead and fix it (by sanding it smooth) so it's useful for cooking.

    If you're lucky enough to find some of the "old smooth as glass cast iron," great! Enjoy cooking on cast iron the way it should be. And of course you wouldn't mess with it by grinding it down. Why would you? - it's already "smooth as glass."


    2 years ago

    I kind of disagree with you assertion that this is not for the mainstream cast-iron community. I consider myself part of that community. The polished Griswald pan I have is by far my favorite. The smoother surface is better than a rough one in every way. Still works like cast iron should. Rough surfaces are just bad.

    2 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    I get what you're trying to say. I guess my concern is sanding a pan that is worth $120 or more is not something I would want to do first try. There is always a chance I could gouge or grind a spot that will not be easily scrubbed down the road. If I had a few more attempts at this. I think I could have sanded the pan flat with a few more 40 grit pads. Instead I have a found rusted skillet, with $20 of supplies and a couple hours of work which I think resulted in at least a $120 surface.


    Reply 1 year ago

    If you had a pan that was worth $120, it would be the vintage kind that's already smooth, and you wouldn't need to sand it! So, really, there's no way you can "ruin" a "valuable" pan by using your method. All your method does is IMPROVE a (recently made, i.e. non-vintage) pan that has a crappy, bumpy finish.


    2 years ago

    I bought a set of 5, a 10-1/4 skillet, an 8" skillet, a 10-1/4" griddle, and a 5 qt Dutch Oven, by Chard, for less than $30. For my daughter. I have 20 minutes into getting the skillet ready to season. So, I see a few hours into getting everything ready to season. Should it work out, the cost is less than $10 each piece. Can't beat that!
    And i lie don't it!.

    I'll know shortly...


    2 years ago

    Well done! Now, does it cook as nicely as it looks?

    2 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    There will be a follow-up video... ;)