Restoring a 1915 Colonial Revival house
Second Floor Bathtub
Since the corner tub that was in the bathroom was a total loss during demolition, we set out to find a replacement. Virtually all architectural salvage yards have at least a dozen or so antique bathtubs to pick from at any given time, but care has to be taken in selecting the right one. All to often, the porcelain glazing is badly damaged. There are companies out there that perform tub "re-surfacing" or "re-glazing", but we have heard many stories that this type of treatment has a relatively short lifespan and needs to be re-done every 5 to 7 years or so. It's much better to find a tub with nice original porcelain. And there are still plenty of nice originals out there.

Another issue with clawfoot tubs at salvage yards is they may not have the correct feet on them. This is a bigger issue than it sounds, as many tubs were designed for a specific set of feet for structural support. If you have a tub that weighs a couple of hundred pounds empty and add the weight of water and a person inside, it needs to have the means of support it was designed for.

With all that said, it seemed like all the tubs we were finding either had bad porcelain, were missing or had incorrect feet, were the wrong size, or had some other major issue. We finally found a nice original at Housewerks with good porcelain and a complete set of correct feet. We were able to get a good deal on it and an antique pedestal sink that will be going in the second floor bath as well. The outside of the tub was rough, but that is no big deal as a little sanding and painting can do wonders to the outside of a tub. There was also a little staining inside where rainwater had collected, but staining will come out with enough rubbing.

The tub we found was made by Standard, as many plumbing fixtures were in the early 20th Century. Standard stamped the manufacture date into the cast iron on the bottom of most of their fixtures. This tub was stamped "5 16 08", indicating it was made on May 16, 1908, and that it was 101 years old when we found it in the summer of 2009. The outside looked to have been painted only once in its life, probably at the factory, as the tub was down to its original primer in most places on the outside.

Restoring the Tub

Most of the work this tub needed was on the outside. Fortunately there was only a little bit of surface rust around the bottom. The inside was dirty, but in good condition. We removed the feet and began restoration of them first. The feet were held in place by carriage bolts, which had rusted in place, so getting them off was a bit of a challenge.

As found, the feet were down to their original primer with only a few stubborn bits of paint clinging to some of the recessed areas. There was also a fair amount of surface rust, but nothing that went very deep. We started by cleaning the feet under running water with a soft wire brush. Below is a picture of the sink after the initial cleaning of the feet and a picture of the feet after the first wash.

Just washing the feet improved their appearance. The next step was to apply some Naval Jelly to get rid of the surface rust. Naval Jelly is a pink liquid rust remover that is available at most auto parts stores. It works really well, but has a strong smell so it should only be used outside. It should be left on for several minutes and then washed off. Sanding and primer application should follow once it is dry.

Pictured above are the feet after the Naval Jelly application. Note the cloudy residue left behind. This comes off after washing and sanding, as pictured below.

Once the feet dried, it was time for priming. We used two coats of Rust Oleum primer to prevent future rusting.

With the feet primed and ready for paint, we started on the tub. The first step was surface preparation of the outside, which involved sanding to remove what little bit of paint was left. We started with 120 grit paper and followed with 180, then 220. After sanding, we wiped the outside of the tub down with mineral spirits to remove all the dust.

We applied two coats of Rust Oleum primer, as we did with the feet. Pictures of the primed tub are below.

The tub was then painted with three coats of Rust-Oleum white. After another light sanding with 400 grit sandpaper followed with 600 grit, we applied two coats of automotive clearcoat to the outside.

We then turned our attention to the inside. The water that had stood inside for God knows how long had left a nasty stain in the bottom. This took a lot of scrubbing with Bar Keepers Friend and a non-scratch Scotch Brite pad. Finally, after removing the stain and sanitizing the inside with Soft Scrub, the tub was looking respectable again. Below are two pictures of the completed product.

The inside of the tub retains its original finish. It's amazing what a little elbow grease can do.

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