Buying and Restoring Olympic Weight Plates

I wrote about making the switch to a garage gym in a previous post–a move which has been great for both my physique and my wallet.

I mentioned the importance of looking for good deals on Craigslist if you are on a budget (which most of us are).  Another place to find good deals is on Facebook “buy and sell” type groups.  That’s where I found my latest prize: 300 lb. of plates.  These were just sitting around in some guy’s back yard and he decided to clean things up and get rid of them.

You’ll find that you can buy used plates like this for about half of what they would cost new.  New plates usually cost around a dollar a pound.  I bought mine for 55 cents a pound.  You may get lucky and find weights for much less than that–there are people out there who just want to get rid of them and will sell them for pennies per lb. (or even give them away).  But I was pleased with the price, especially since the guy selling them lives just minutes away from me.  I was also really looking forward to having a set of 35 lb. plates.

The new additions to my gym needed a little TLC, so I began researching how to restore/refinish them.  I discovered there’s more than one way to do it, so I’ll share both what I learned and what I did.

Restoring weight plates is a pretty simple process:

  1. Clean them and remove the rust
  2. Paint them

Getting rid of the dirt and/or rust

After some rinsing (still rusty)

The way you choose do step 1 (removing the rust) will depend on the condition of the plates.  My plates were in pretty decent shape once I rinsed them off, so I chose to physically remove the rust spots.  You can use a hand-held wire brush for this, but I decided to buy a couple of wire wheels for my drill.  I’d highly recommend this if you have a drill (or can borrow one).  A 2-inch wire disk attachment will work really well on the hole in the center of the weight.  A drill with the wire brush attachment will make quick work of rust spots.  I’d advise you to wear safety glasses and a construction mask while doing this (better safe than sorry).

I just took a rag and wiped the plates off after hitting them with the wire wheel. I’ve seen some mention using mineral spirits to clean, but I was a little concerned about damaging the existing paint surface (which wasn’t all that bad).  I’m not sure it matters that much either way.

Let’s say your plates are covered in rust and you need to start over with bare metal (or as close to it as you can get).  It seems a lot of guys have success with soaking the plates in vinegar overnight.  That seems to eat away the rust–anything that doesn’t dissolve can be cleaned off the plate pretty easily (based on the YouTube videos I’ve watched).

Re-Painting

The first thing you’ll need to do is put the weights on some old cardboard (either outside or in a well-ventilated garage).

I used spray paint: Rust-Oleum Universal All Surface Paint and Primer.  I used the black satin for the 35’s and the hammered black for the others.  The hammered color has a really nice texture to it, and I wanted to make the 35’s a slightly different color (so I won’t accidentally pick up the wrong plate).  There are other paint brands that may be just as good or better.

Coat one side, let it dry for a while, then put on a second coat if you want.  Check and see if you missed any spots, and don’t forget to get the hole in the center of the plate.

Make sure the one side is 100% dry before you flip it and paint the other side–otherwise you’ll end up with cardboard stuck to the plate and you’ll have to brush and paint again.  I made this mistake, and I would have let one side dry for a day (or at least overnight) if I had it to do over.

A couple of coats of paint and your plates will look good as new–or at least very functional.  There may be a few tiny rust spots that I missed on these plates, but I’m not too worried about that.  I just want to train without getting rust all over everything.

Here’s a before/after picture.

You can buy a Sharpie paint pen and paint the logo/numbers if you want.  I painted the numbers just for the heck of it (put I didn’t bother with the brand/logo).

Now it’s time to put these treasures to good use . . .

See Also: Garage Gym–One Year Later

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