After Joe was unsuccessful in his attempt to epoxy-coat his vintage porcelain drainboard sink, he replaced it with a new Elkay Lustertone stainless steel drainboard sink. Even though the metal drainboard sink looks great, Joe says he would have preferred to keep his old porcelain sink top and have had the original enamel restored, refinished or replaced. But he didn’t know of a source — and neither did I. Until now.
Thanks to reader TappanTrailerTami, who let us know:
I hate to mention this after-the-fact, but it could be something that Pam can investigate for us, and report on. There is a company in Illinois — Custom Ceramic Coatings — that does actual REAL porcelain enameling (the baked-on kind). I’ve seen them mentioned on a couple of different websites. I don’t know how much the cost is, but I think it would be worth checking out and having the information handy just in case someone here wants to save their current sink. It is my understanding that they are the only company in the country to do real old fashioned authentic fired on porcelain enamel work.
UPDATE: We subsequently identified a second company — Independence Porcelain — that can do reporcelaining if you have a STEEL base; Custom Ceramic Coatings can do reporcelaining onto steel or cast iron.
And another UPDATE: Antique Baths Sydney (Australia) also has left comments that they do this work on both cast iron and steel substrates. Check out Antique Baths Sydney here. And, see the comments thread in this story for some back and forth with them regarding their shipping costs.
A note on terminology: I have seen the terms “Porcelain Enamel”, “Enamel”, and “Porcelain” each used to describe the top coating that is baked onto metal substrates on bathtubs, sinks and other products. As such, you may see the various terms used interchangeably on this blog by me and by others who are interviewed or commenting. To verify what types of products you have and what they are made of, do your own research including consulting with the original manufacturer or your own professionals.
Understanding potential lead hazards in old porcelain enamel bathtubs and sinks and tile of any age:
If you are the owner of an older porcelain enamel bathtub or sinks — or are considering buying one — please see my May 2, 2016 story Understanding potential lead hazards in old porcelain enamel bathtubs and sinks and ceramic tile of any age; this article focuses on raising awareness around three other potential sources of lead dust exposure in your home – old porcelain enamel bathtubs and sinks and ceramic tile of any era — and steps you can take to assess and, if required, address them.
Well, I followed up on Tami’s tip, made a phone call, and yes — Custom Ceramic’s owner John Ballantyne says that, indeed, he does true, old-fashioned re-porcelaining of sinks, tubs, stove parts and even vintage motorcycle parts. He does lots of (all the?) reporcelaining work for companies that take apart and re-manufacture vintage stoves piece by piece, for example.
John says can strip and then re-porcelain onto steel substrates, and usually, onto cast iron, although he tells me there is an issue with cast iron right now:
As I told you on the phone, I have been having some trouble with the thick heavy cast iron pieces since I had to change my porcelain supplier. My old supplier went out of business and we had things matched up pretty good. The stamped steel sinks are no problem. We are working with the porcelain for the cast and it has recently worked out on some pieces that had failed badly for outgassing. Once I try a couple of sinks that have failed and if they work out now, then I will return to doing the heavy cast iron again.
The porcelain re-enameling process is not cheap, because it is time-consuming and requires craftsmanship, materials and the tools and equipment. John explains that porcelain = glass. To re-porcelain a piece, he says, he first must blast away all the old porcelain down to the bare metal. He then applies a “ground coat” — a special primer, more or less — usually two coats, each fired separately. Then, he creates a special chemical mixture of ground glass and other materials — this is called “slip” — and applies thin coats in a wet spray, drying and firing in between. The firing all occurs at up to 1500 degrees F. The “outgassing” he refers to, is when there are problems getting the porcelain coats to adhere to the ground coats during the firing process. Expansion, contraction, chemical formulations — all must be just right or you get bubbles and pocks and flaking or worse.
John can create white porcelain, or color-match to about any color you want. Vibrant reds and yellows are more expensive, he warns, because the formula for these colors use cadmium, an EPA-controlled substance requiring special procedures.
Costs vary according to the piece. John read to me from his rate card: A 42″ sink runs $750-$800, plus shipping. As you can imagine, shipping can be a substantial part of the expense, too. For example, John is in Illinois, just across the border from St. Louis, and one-way shipping to California for a piece sitting in his shop while we talked was looking like $230. He says he works with a special shipper to help get the best cost possible.
That said, remember that it’s probably at least $1,500 for an Elkay Lustertone stainless steel drainboard sink. And I bet if anyone ever started making porcelain drainboard sinks new, they would be in that price range or higher.
A 40″ stovetop, in white, with four burner holes, would be about $335, John said.
He can also do stove grates, with simple single grates starting at $50.50.
Currently, lead times are three-to-four weeks.
John says that he started his business in 1997, after running a large porcelain plant in St. Louis. He got his start when he reporcelained the exhaust pipes on his Harleys.
- Custom Ceramic Coatings — tell John you heard about him on Retro Renovation!
- Update May 2015: Custom Ceramic’s waiting list is now two to three years long. Yes: Years. If you have a STEEL sink, try the other source have now profiled: Independencc Porcelain Enamel. Their timeline is weeks — but note, they cannot reporcelain cast iron.
- Understanding potential lead hazards in old porcelain enamel bathtubs and sinks and ceramic tile of any age.
- Do you want to buy a drainboard farmhouse style sink — new? There are options! See our complete Farmhouse Drainboard Sink Resource Page here.