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Edit May 15, 2016: This was first published on April 28, 2008. It looks like parts 1 and 3 of this series were lost when this website was jacked and I had to recreate it. If I had the posts, they’d be on hard drives long since smashed to bits. In the original incarnation of this how-to, there are more steps between the re-numbered step 8 here and step 9 in part 2. The finished product is a little less shiny, but it looks and works the same. We’ve had to replace the ball valve at least three times because we often don’t shut the water off soon enough for our first freeze of the winter and they obviously don’t make brass valves like they used to. Or, it takes us more than three times to learn a lesson.

If you’re concerned that a fire hydrant in your yard will confuse firefighters in the event of a house fire, read this and know that you are insulting their intelligence. This no-longer-functioning hydrant is about 100 feet up our driveway. If a fire truck pulls up that driveway to our house and thinks the hydrant with a garden hose coming out of the front of it is where he or she needs to attach his or her giant fire hose, we’ve got bigger problems to worry about. After the small fire linked-to above, the firefighters noticed the hydrant next to the steps leading to our front door (it was dark): “Oh, cool. Hey, come and look at this.” I asked if there were any way this sort of garden decoration would be confusing to a real firefighter. Oh, how they laughed.

I don’t know where one would get an old fire hydrant. If only there were a way to search for such information. Captain OCD got this off of an old commercial job site where they tore out almost all of the existing infrastructure to make way for a new shopping complex. He wouldn’t tell me what other sorts of heavy duty commercial parts were in the scrap heap because he didn’t want to haul home even more crap that I might someday use for something.

1. Gut the hydrant. I don’t know what the guts looked like because someone decided that he could disembowel it without any helpful hints from me, but I hear they were extremely heavy.

hydrant inside

2. Assemble your tools and strip the big chunks of loose paint. We were going to have the whole thing bead blasted. Like that was ever going to happen, so I used an assortment of wire brushes and wheels so it wouldn’t be yet one more unfinished project taking up space. I decided that I wanted to honor the noble heritage of the old hydrant by proudly displaying its many layers of experience instead of stripping them away, like something to be ashamed of. And I was too lazy to strip the whole thing down to bare cast iron. We don’t have a shop, so I cleared away most of the hay in the carport because it’s open and covered.

hydrant tools

hydrant caps

hydrant top

3. The top was so encrusted with a sandy cement-like covering that there was no hint that any of these letters were underneath it all. It came off pretty easily with this, on the end of a drill (that’s an arbor in the middle so it would fit in the drill). Be careful if you’re fond of your skin because this will mess you up.

wire brush

4. When you go to the hardware store to buy a wire wheel sturdy enough to get all those layers of life off, don’t be fooled by the seductive promise of up to ten times more use out of this piece of crap with the orange bits. It costs twice what a wire wheel costs, so it must be better, right? It will last 100 times as long because it does nothing more than caress the old paint.

plastic brush

5. For the bolts (and the caps, above), I used a wire wheel on a bench grinder. We’ll need only ten of the bolts, so no need for superfluous rust-stripping on the rest of them. The rest of the hydrant was too heavy to muscle around the bench grinder, hence the drill with wire wheels.


wire wheel

6. Tape off everything you don’t want paint on, like threads.This whole thread assembly, including the base where it meets the body that I didn’t tape off, is brass. It would look great with the new paint job if it were polished and clear-coated. Yeah, too lazy to bother stripping and polishing that up, too.


bolts taped

7. Wash off all the grinding dust and any oil or grease, then prime all the parts. Even if the paint says no primer needed, do it.

primed top

8. Paint all the parts. I used Hammerite on the red parts. I don’t know if this kind of Hammerite paint still exists.

bolts painted

body painted

And antique brass Rust-Oleum Metallic indoor-outdoor paint on the top and the caps that will cover the holes on the body. The big hole (above photo) is where the spigot will be.

top paint

Now we’ll find valves and such to make the whole thing work in part 2.