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Save Our Signs - a new direction

Sunday 22nd October 2017

Save Our Signs - a new direction

One of our much-loved signs

The HWA is raising awareness of the importance to our local heritage made by our many distinctive road signs. We are concerned that some are in need of renovation and that they are in danger of being replaced by soulless modern signs. Indeed, a number have been replaced quite recently, making our familiar roads look like ‘just any other place’.

In our last Newsletter we asked for volunteers to help with renovations that we might carry out ourselves and we’d like to thank everyone who came forward.

We have also benefited from some expert advice from a local resident with knowledge of this type of restoration work. As a result we have decided not to go ahead with attempts to clean and repaint the signs ourselves. Instead we are making enquiries into the financial and other implications of having the signs temporarily removed and professionally restored. This approach will ensure the best possible finish and guarantee the long-term future of our lovely old signs.

If you’re interested in the detail, here is the advice we’ve received:

I guess what we’re all aiming for is to conserve / preserve these old signs and stop the council from replacing them. Having been involved for a long time with conservation, here’s my two penn’orth, for what it’s worth. The standard procedure for conserving old cast iron signs is to remove them from site, strip all the paint using gentle sandblasting, prime using PVD or a professional iron primer / rust killer, and then 2 coats of UV paint – white first, sprayed overall, then when that’s thoroughly dry, black to pick out the letters. That’s how to preserve the signs in the long term, and get them to look like they did 100 or so years ago. (The original paint was an enamel which they baked on, that’s why it’s lasted as long as it has.). Yes, I understand, this is time-consuming and costs money.

The problems with blitzing them in situ might be:

If you’re painting the black and white at the same time, you won’t get a crisp delineation, and the sign will look worse than before. Perfect excuse for the council to come along and replace it.

You need to get every scrap of paint off the sign, which is nigh-on impossible with a wire brush alone. Paint doesn’t take on paint, particularly chipped and peeling enamel, and as above, the sign will pretty soon look worse than before, with the potential consequences. Additionally, a wire brush will only remove superficial rust, not deep oxidisation. Painting over such deep rust will lock the rust in and could well accelerate the damage to the sign.

Hammerite. Hmm. Well, it’s not bad for railings and pipes, but it’s difficult to get a smooth crisp finish. Also, its efficacy as a rust-killer is limited. And I seem to remember it works by ‘converting’ the rust to some kind of rust/paint compound, which irretrievably affects the surface of sign, and thus its authenticity and, crucially, appearance. First rule of conservation: don’t do anything you can’t undo. Proper priming and finishing with UV paint is pretty much the only way to go if you want to achieve a result that the council can’t complain about. And if they get to remove / replace one sign, they might decide to descend upon the Wick and replace the lot.

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