Grit blasting cast iron is a relatively easy DIY project if you have a compressor, respirator, goggles, and a suitable work space. Grit (or sand) blasting is not appropriate for most historic materials, but cast iron can withstand the pressure without pitting of the surface or other damage.
Here, an 1850’s fireplace insert, or Franklin stove, is being cleaned of rust and old paint prior to being installed in a reconstructed chimney. Cast iron was the plastic of the Victorian age. Its ability to be cast into forms both functional and ornamental led to its widespread use. Combined with advances in transportation (steam ships and railroads primarily), it was made its way into and onto homes all across the nation.
The material was ideal for casting stoves and fireplace insets as it is very efficient at radiating heat and can be cast in decorative forms. Inserts like this were used for new construction, as here, and for modifying older and less efficient masonry fireplaces. They were a step in the evolution from open fires to closed stoves, and eventually furnances.
This topic is covered in detail in Restoring Your Historic House, The Comprehensive Guide for Homeowners. The 720-page hardcover book is now available in stores and from online retailers. Signed copies can be ordered directly from the author at YourHistoricHouse.com.
If your local bookstore doesn’t have the book, please ask them to contact their W.W. Norton rep to order copies.
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