Good, old fashioned grate polish (also known as fire black) is the best way to cover small spots of rust, scratches or damaged paint or simply to restore a smart finish to wood or coal burning stoves, grates and surroundings.
How to use grate polish
Only work on your stove once it is cold or gently warm and protect any nearby carpet, flooring and soft furnishings with dust sheets or newspaper to avoid staining. A soft cushion underneath your knees can make the task more comfortable.
Apply the fire blacking paste sparingly and evenly all over the stove or grate using a soft cloth. Allow the paste to dry and then rub with a clean, soft cloth or brush to achieve a rich, matt black finish. Grate polish will stain hands or clothing during use but is safe to touch without any colour transference once dry. If you are using fire black from a tin, add a few drops of water before ensuring the lid is tightly closed to ensure the paste doesn’t dry out.
If you find the surface of your stove or grate smokes when used after polishing, you have probably applied too much. Once the fire has cooled down again, rub away the extra paste with a cloth or warm, soapy water.
When grate polish is not enough…
Most stoves and grates are made of cast iron which, although resistant to heat, is very susceptible to rust. If you own or come across a cast iron stove in very bad condition, you’ll probably find that fire black isn’t enough to restore the condition. However there are a number of ways to bring it back to life.
If the stove is a little rusty but the general condition is not too bad, a strong wire brush should renew the surface well enough to allow you to simply finish it off with grate polish. More substantial damage can be removed using an electric drill with a wire brush attached, followed again by a good application of fire black. Even if a stove is looking very sorry for itself, if the basic structure is sound the damage can usually be sandblasted away to reveal a metal surface that can be refinished with grate polish.
For any of these jobs, a face mask and protective gloves and goggles are essential – and don’t wear your best clothes for the job!
This may sound like a lot of work when new stoves are easily available, but an old, restored stove has a certain antique charm that modern versions simply can’t match.