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Vulcan Painters Protects Birmingham’s Historic Iron Man

Birmingham AL--Vulcan Painters Inc. has completed the first maintenance on Vulcan, the statue of the god of the forge and a popular city landmark, since the statue’s $15 million restoration was completed in 2003 and the statue was returned to Vulcan Park, overlooking the city.

Vulcan is the largest cast iron statue in the world and stands 56 feet tall on a 124-foot 1938 WPA-era sandstone pedestal.

Seven years after his reinstallation Vulcan showed signs of wear and was ready for a maintenance coat of paint. Several peeling spots had developed on the statue and the pedestal was permeated repeatedly by rain during storms, with water infiltrating the inner stairwell and marble-lined landing.

Areas of peeling paint on the statue were cleaned to bare metal and a zinc-rich primer was applied. An epoxy primer was applied next and the entire statue received a coat of polyurethane. The primer used was Tnemec Series 161 Tnemec-Fascure epoxy, with a topcoat of Tnemec Series 73 Eudura-Shield Polyurethane. Painted was rolled and brushed on to prevent overspray.

The pedestal was cleaned and sealed with a waterproof sealant. The cleaner was applied with a low pressure sprayer, scrubbed with a brush and rinsed with fresh water. Two coats of sealer were applied with a low pressure sprayer. Windows in the eight-sided pedestal received surface preparation, caulking and paint as well.

Weather was a significant factor since the ambient temperature had to be high enough for the paint to cure (ice chunks were falling from the statue on the first day of work in late March), but not windy—single point suspension scaffolding (spider basket) was used to access the pedestal and bosun’s chairs were used to access the statue. While painters finished cleaning and sealing the pedestal, another crew began surface preparation and priming the statue itself.

Vulcan Painters had painted the statue several times in previous decades, but did not paint the statue during its 2003 renovation. Some of the grips painters had used previously to access the highest areas, including Vulcan’s outstretched arm in which he holds a spear, were removed when the statue was disassembled and repaired. Left until last, these areas were finished with the help of a 400-ton crane, with 285 feet of boom and 114,000 pounds of counterweight. The crane was set up in the museum parking lot and the boom with suspended metal basket swung close enough to the statue that a painter could finish the work. A crane manager rode in the basket, giving directions to the crane operator below by radio, while safety personnel constantly monitored weather.