DIY Painted Hairpin Legs

9:49:00 PM mandy 0 Comments

Pinpointing exactly when I discovered hairpin legs is difficult. Sometime last year I became very invested in the idea of getting a custom desk done; I measured dimensions and even drew sketches. I liked the idea of having four posted legs instead of a layer of closed-off wood since my original IKEA desk had legs and table support which blocked off many of my electrical outlets.

The opportunity came to finally make this desk happen recently. Being the extra person that I am, sometimes often times, I became enamored with the idea of having white table legs instead of the raw metal look. The company I bought my hairpin legs from (DIY Hairpin Legs Co. not sponsored, but I wish...) does offer powder coated colored legs; it cost around $60 more to have it pre-colored. I was on a budget and an extra $60 seemed too pricey. Granted I am sure the quality of their paint job is eons better than what I could do and it would have saved a lot of waiting time.

lavlilacs DIY painted raw steel hairpin legs

Before I made the decision to DIY the painting, I tried to find as many tips as I could on blogs and forums. It was surprisingly difficult to find detailed How-Tos. Most posts I found just shared the photo of their beautifully painted hairpin/metal legs and just briefly mentions it was painted in so-and-so color. What prep is necessary? Sand or not sand? Prime or not prime? Paint with a brush or spray paint? I had too many questions!

Luckily, I was able to live chat with someone at the company I bought the hairpin legs from. He suggested that I first clean their raw steel legs with a degreaser because the raw steel variety comes with a light rust-resistant coating straight from the shop. Paint will not stick if not removed. He also said to scuff the cleaned metal with the included green side of the Scotchbrite pad. A non-smooth surface allows the paint to stick better as well. Apparently, past customers of theirs had great experiences with Rustoleum brand primers and paints. I was nervous about not using the right materials to prevent rust since the legs are raw steel.

lavlilacs DIY painted raw steel hairpin legs materials

Necessary Materials

Hairpin legs. Vinegar. Paper towels. Scrotchbrite pad. Maybe sandpaper. Spray primer. Spray paint in the desired color and finish. Spray clear coat in the desired finish. Respirator mask (not pictured but a must).

Recommended Materials

Googles or a not-important pair of old glasses for eyeglass wearers like myself.
Hat/hoodie to cover hair, gloves for hands, and long sleeves for excess skin (spray paint gets everywhere).

lavlilacs DIY painted raw steel hairpin legs cleaned

Since I am a very occasional DIYer, I was hesitant to buy a whole bottle of degreaser. My uncle, who is far more knowledgeable in construction-related things, told me regular vinegar should work just as well to remove the rust-resistant layer.

It took a lot of paper towels and manual polishing but vinegar got the job done: oily residue be gone. However! Despite going over the hairpin legs multiple times with fresh napkins, the paper towels always seemed to pick up a tiny bit more grease. At some point, I felt the rods with my bare hands and self-declared it clean enough.

lavlilacs DIY painted raw steel hairpin legs scuffed

The hairpin legs I used were raw steel, untreated in any sort of way and therefore could possibly rust. DIY Hairpin Legs Co. sends a kit with a bit of wax to coat the legs for the industrial metallic look. Painting the legs would theoretically also seal the legs in a sense that the raw metal isn't directly exposed to the elements.

If the legs are new and raw like mine was, only scuffing (lightly marking) is necessary after the cleaning process.

If the legs have been treated before with any kind of clear coating or paint, sanding with heavy grit sandpaper is a must prior to a wipe down of the dust.

lavlilacs DIY painted raw steel hairpin legs in progress 1

Rust is possible if any part of the raw steel is exposed. This meant that I had to paint every nook and cranny of the hairpin legs. Making sure every part of each rod was evenly covered in spray paint was a struggle—the rods are obviously rounded but they also have a small surface area and many tight spots.

Tip 1// Painting under direct sunlight helped shine a light on bald spots where any silver might be peeking through.

Tip 2// Paint in sections. I preferred to start with the top side of the L plate first (with paint and clear coat then let it fully dry for a few hours). Reason being? That is the side which will face the table top and be unnoticeable after it is secured screwed in. Therefore that face requires fewer coats of primer/paint/clear coat and equals less total drying time. After that side fully dried, I stood the legs up and painted and clear-coated all the rods.

Tip 3// Start your day early and reserve a good 2 to 3 nice-weather days to tackle this painting job. Spraying light layers of anything requires at least 30 minutes in between coats. I gave my legs a minimum of 3-4 coats of white paint and 3-4 coats of clear coating: 4 hours of just "in-between layers" waiting time just for the rod portion. It takes another 24+ hours after the final coat so everything can fully dry through (meaning accidentally scratches with your nail won't leave any marks in the paint). The spray paint is dry to the touch within 20-30 minutes after a layer but not resistant to nicks. Leaving extra waiting time for the paint to cure doesn't hurt.

**If touch-ups are needed, the total project time would be at least 5+ days. The spray cans I used suggests waiting a full 72 hours before reapplying once the shorter 30-90 minutes window has elapsed. Forums seem to say this is because the paint has a curing/drying period that chemicals inside will clash with. It is possible for new paint sprayed after 90 minutes but before the 72 hours passes to cause cracks and/or bubbles on the previous paint. If this makes any sense...

lavlilacs DIY painted raw steel hairpin legs in progress - importance of waiting

The above photo is the prime example of what happens when I didn't let the paint and clear coat fully dry through. I mistakenly assumed the paint was dried because I could run my fingers over it without smudging the paint or getting my hands dirty. I left that tester leg horizontally overnight and found it stuck to the kraft paper I laid it down on. By the time I removed the two, some of the paper was stuck on the leg and some of the paint ripped off as well.

Little nicks might not seem like much but it isn't just about aesthetics. I could have easily used this in a corner that faced a wall and never had to think about it twice. However! The thought of any exposed metal being prone to possible rusting had me worried. In the end, I chose to touch-up the bare spots with a little paint and clear coat.

lavlilacs DIY painted raw steel hairpin legs in progress 2

Painting the hairpin legs is just a small part of the mission. Sure it is difficult to get a hang of the spray cans and it overworks obscure muscles. The fumes from the spraying are also overwhelming. But the biggest challenge is the huge chunk of the time needed towards the waiting game. Once that part is over, I get some darn great looking table legs in return and $60 more in my wallet.

Here's to hoping I protected them well enough! No surface rust on my nice white hairpin legs pretty please.