Bath Resurfacing: A brief History

Bath Resurfacing: A brief History from THE BATH BUSINESS-West Sussex

By: THE BATH BUSINESS-West Sussex  19/03/2009
Keywords: Bath, bathroom, antique

BATH RESURFACING; A BRIEF HISTORY


Bath Resurfacing, as a professional service, is a relatively new industry, dating back decades rather than centuries. The oldest company in the UK that is still resurfacing baths is in its 4th decade.  

This isn't that suprising when you look at the fact that the bathroom itself, with plumbing to supply water and removes waste is something that was not broadly common until well through the 20th century. In fact only 1% of american houses had a bathroom in 1921. Although I've not been able to find much information relating to the UK, I've no reason to suspect things were any better here. Certianly I have heard stories from old people living in cities in Scotland who were, as children, amazed to visit friends who had a whole room devoted soley to cleaning yourself. What luxury!

And although you come across orginal bathrooms from the 1920's and 1930's, sometimes even a little earlier, the vast majority of baths that we see are from the '50's and later.

However, once bathrooms were pretty much ubiquitous, different industries and services came to be built up around them. One of these was Bath Resurfacing.

Bath Resurfacing itself is an off-shoot of the car refinishing trade. In fact, in America, the usual term used to describe the trade is “Bath Refinishing”; not “Bath Resurfacing” or “Bath Re-enamelling”, both of which are the terms mostly used in the UK. At The Bath Business we describe what we are doing as 'Bath Resurfacing' generally.

Although there are quite a lot of companies that do Bath Resurfacing professionally, and each of these may have their own system or materials they use, the one common denominator is that all of them spray  on the new surface. And the techniques and methods used have been derived from the car refinishing trade. Bath resurfacing has been around long enough now that many who do it may never actually have sprayed a car (I'm one of them) but this doesn't change where the industry itself sprang from.

Many of the tools, equipment and techniques would be fairly familiar to anyone who has spayed cars, although there are some differences due to the fact of where you are working and what you are spraying.

Many of a car sprayers' tools will be run by compressors. In other words, they are air driven. Not just his spraygun but other things such as polishers, sanders, etc are all air driven. But compressors are bulky, heavy items, even small ones; so for mobility purposes, most bath resurfacers will use electrical sanders and polishers.

Again, the primers used by a bath resurfacer will often be different as the surfaces he is spraying onto are not the same as a car sprayer. The Bath Business uses a primer or bonder that has been designed specifically to adher the new surface to the enamel bath.

The car industry is the major mover and shaker in the development of spray paints and systems. For example, in the mid 90's BMW unveiled its development of a water-based, coloured base-coat with a clear lacquer sprayed over it. At the same time, other companies were spending a lot of money doing research and devolpment of water-based systems for cars. A lot of bucks have been spent on this. And the result of all this is that today cars are sprayed with a water-based coloured coat with a clear lacquer on top.

These developments trickle down to the Bath Resurfacing industry.

The idea of putting a new surface onto a bath is, however,  not a new one at all. In fact it probably pre-dates the cast iron enamelled bath itself.

The first enamelled cast-iron baths began to appear in the late 1800's, around 1870 and 1880. (Interestingly, one of the figures credited with its development was David Dunbar Buick, who is much better known for going on found the Buick Motor Company in 1903. The success of this company [although not run by  Buick himself by this point] went on to fund the formation of  General Motors.)

Prior to this the baths most people used  were made of galvanized metal. The kind of thing you see in a western movie where the hero is soaking in a tub with his hat on, smoking a cigar. Once he'd finished, the water would be tipped out and the bath hung back on the wall.  

These galvanized baths began to get painted on the inside. I came across one of these baths which had been installed into a bathroom. The old man who owned the property told me that when he was a child, the bath was painted once a year and he was the one sent to get the paint. I got the impression that there was a specific paint which was used. Very like the DIY kits you can get today, of which “Mr Tubby” is probably the best known.

The Bath Business delivers a professional bath resurfacing service. We resurface bathroom suites, baths, sinks, toilets and shower trays. We also deliver a professional invisible chip repair service again to baths, sinks shower trays etc. So we don't sell DIY kits. We are however looking at supplying our materials and system to other professional bath resurfacing companies.

When exactly painting galvanized baths started as a practice is something I'm not sure of, but is does seem to be the earliest example of Bath Resurfacing, and as I said, may even predate enameled cast-iron baths.

Bath Resurfacing as a profession is, today, practiced in many countries, but to say it is world wide would give a slightly wrong impression. It seems to be based mainly in those countries with a strong anglo-saxon culture or bent. America, Australia, Canada, etc. In a lot of countries, the idea of having a bath is somewhat odd and not really part of the culture. Hence, no Bath Resurfacing.

There are some gaps in what's been written here, and if anyone has some information that I've not, I'd really like to hear from you. Some of the things I'd like to know are: Where did Bath |Resurfacing originate as a professional service? When? What were the first materials and equipment used?

I'd guess that the answers to these are that it was North America, probably after WW II and that Epoxy Resin was what was sprayed. But there are guesses. If you know more about this, please e-mail me at [email protected] and I can include it here in this article. Thank-you.

If you want to know more about the services we provide at The Bath Business then please look at our website, http://www.thebathbusiness.co.uk

We operate on London, Edinburgh, Surrey, Kent, Brighton, Glasgow and throughout the UK.

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