black painted metal railings on front stoops
Photo: Alexandra Bandon
Q: Rough up metal railings and use primer for maximum paint adherence

A: Q: I'd like to repaint the black metal railings on my front stoop. What's the best way to go about this?

— James, Natural Bridge, VA

John Dee replies: With metal railings, the first thing to get rid of is the rust. A modest scrubbing with a wire brush is usually all it takes. Follow that with a scuff-sanding over all surfaces to ensure good adhesion. I find a medium-grit flexible sanding sponge comes in handy for this step. Then dust off and wipe down the surfaces with a tack rag. Coat the areas that rusted, and any bare metal, with a rust-inhibitive primer. For the finish coat, use an exterior rust-inhibitive enamel that's compatible with your primer. Whenever possible, I use spray cans to apply both the primer and finish coats. (In the rough spots where the rust was worst, I brush on the primer.) Spraying leaves a smoother, more drip-free surface than a brush, as long as you keep the can moving and don't hold it too close to the railing surface. Spraying is a lot faster, too. Just be sure to mask off or cover anything that you don't want painted, including steps, plants, and windows. If this isn't possible, you can apply the paint with a mini roller, followed by a light pass with a dry brush. Don't bother with a paint-mitt. All you'll get is an uneven paint job and a sloppy mess. (John Dee, a painting and decorating contractor in Concord, Massachusetts, has restored finishes on five This Old House projects.)
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