Patio furniture: Sprucing up for spring

March 16, 1997|By Boston Globe

Here's a good project for an early spring weekend: Fix up the furniture. The lawn, patio and porch furniture, that is: wood, vinyl, iron or aluminum. Heaven knows it needs some help. It has a habit of getting dirty, rotting out or losing paint.

Start with vinyl. It's the be-all and end-all of patio chairs: good-looking, easily maintained and unbreakable. Almost.

But it does get dirty, including scrape marks and smudge marks. Best treatment is cleaning with a heavy-duty detergent and water, or maybe sprinkle a bit of scouring powder on a wet sponge and rub clean, then rinse. For extra tough areas, sand with fine sandpaper.

If a chair or two is broken, it's probably best, or at least economically worth, replacing rather than fixing. Most vinyl chairs are molded in one piece, and fixing them is iffy, if possible at all.

Aluminum chairs, those folding monsters that can cut a finger if you get it in the way of the folding part, can be refurbished by scrubbing lightly with steel wool dipped in paint thinner. Replace broken webbing; stores still carry spare webbing.

Cast-iron furniture has a bad habit of getting rusty, even under a good paint. For rusty cast iron, you must sand off every speck of rust before priming and painting.

Prime with an oil-based primer (not water-based latex, which can cause quick rusting), and finish with an oil enamel in a spray can. The spray-can method is an expensive way to paint, but the best way to handle the curlicues of cast iron.

If you can't get all the rust off, treat it with Rust Reformer, or similar material, which is basically phosphoric acid. When applied to rust, this acid turns it black, and makes it paintable. It's one rust inhibitor that really works. Then prime and paint -- with oil-based primer and paint.

It's the wood furniture that may need the most care: repair, painting and replacement of decayed parts.

Some consider it the best of the patio furniture: sturdy and good-looking, and heavy enough not to get blown all over the place in a mild breeze. If it is stained with a semitransparent stain, another coat will spruce it up nicely.

If it's painted, then you have to do to it what you hate doing for the house: scrape, sand, prime and finish off with whatever paint you used. If you do repaint, try to stick to the same color, because if you change color and the finish coat peels, the contrast between old and new paint will stick out like a sore thumb.

One problem with wood furniture is its inclination to decay if it gets wet and stays wet. A good paint job will often prevent this, but in some wood furniture, store-bought or built from a plan or kit, some of the joints are constructed so that they retain water. Retaining water is a sure step to decay.

Good old-fashioned Adirondack chairs, one of the most comfortable wood chairs you can buy or build, sometimes have these tight joints where water can collect.

If the decay is not excessive, you can dig out the soft, punky part to expose sound wood, treat the cavity with bleach, and fill the cavity with a wood rot filler, an epoxy compound designed specifically to fill those cavities. Sand it smooth and go ahead and prime and paint.

Pub Date: 3/16/97

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