Paint or not

Back again, just needed to ask again, is it better to leave the press as is or try and paint it flat black? I would like to just clean it up before reassembling my Hopkinson but had been given a recipe for shoe polish and Glycerin, can anyone advice please.

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Shoe polish is not paint, although British paint can be poorly made. Shoe polish and glycerin are not the ingredients for paint either; throw that recipe away. The old presses were painted with lead-based paint, which is illegal in many places today. If your press has a decent paint job that is still serviceable (protecting the castings from rust) then I would leave it as is. Modern paints tend to be brittle and don’t adhere as well to cast iron, without a lot of preparation. A good rub-down with paraffin oil should be all that is necessary.


Columbian at my work- I “Zebrited” over old black paint ie a finish for iron cooking ranges(yes I know others say don’t do that)-it does make it look more like a cast metal effect. I just go over it now and then with a shoe brush to bring it back. Glycerin is water based and might attract moisture so aiding rust attack?? Old ideas include rubbing down with linseed oil but that only attracts dust and maybe softens paint(having cleaned such presses).If paint is really dull maybe use a variety of polishing mops on a dremel type machine to bring it all back with some metal polish/T-cut-gently?
A press restorer refurbisher I know prefers his presses when turned out to have that authentic history look acknowledging their usage, but Rochat who make new Albions I think use thinned down Trimite ( a machine enamel type paint) to finish off their beautiful presses, send a mail to check?)on the cylinder press here I preserve shiny metal with a coating of Dinitrol 4010, ‘cos those are the bits that rust.

I’m with Paul on that one… toss the recipe.

As to the question of whether or not to paint the press, it all depends on what you want. If you want a showpiece then by all means paint it. If you just want a press to print with and appearance is less important, you might want to leave it alone.

For most of my equipment, I use a rust preventative spray and just keep them clean. Some of them look like hell….. but they print wonderfully. In my view, CLEAN is very important. SHINEY is not so big a deal.

Zebrite was originally sold as a metal polish / coating for old-fashioned cast iron oven doors and other fittings in and around the fireplace. Having used it, I’ve found that the pigment tends to come off on one’s hands for a very long time afterwards whenever one touches the coated object.

Iron castings in the UK were historically given varying numbers of coats of paint depending on how prestigeous the product was. The further back in time one goes, the more likely a semi-gloss black was likely to be used. Simple machinery tended to have less preparation and fewer coats than larger and more prestigeous products. Old iron hand presses that have sat in museum stores for many decades and never been restored, seem to have decent but minimally glossy black paint and rarely to have much gold leaf / gold paint, or to have makers’ name inscriptions painted in contrasting colours.

Broadly, for UK-made early and mid nineteenth century iron hand presses, I would suggest a near-flat or at most semi-gloss black, with no gold or contrasting colours, as being the most authentic. Undoubtedly there would have been exceptions, but this is my over-riding impression from a UK perspective of presses that appear never to have been restored.

TFP, that’s interesting. I thought things like cast iron were usually painted with hard enamel and I didn’t realize they had non-glossy enamel in the first half of the 19th century. Or were they just using basic oil paint? Thanks!

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN