A visit to my favorite local family owned paint store helped me to solve my dilemma. I painted each of them first with a coat of red epoxy enamel primer, this is an automotive paint and is very different from regular paint. Once you apply it, it becomes thick and it is best if your first "brush" with the brush is the only one for that particular area. Once the arbors were completely coated in this primer they were sealed in something that had a resemblance to a latex coating.
The final step was painting the arbors with a black machine paint. This too was very different from regular house paint, not as thick as the red expoxy but dried very quickly. I used inexpensive brushes that I could just throw away for both types of paint as they became sticky after about 2 hours of use. Also, this is a painting project that needs to be done when it is not too hot out. All of that said, each arbor took me a total of 16 hours to paint completely. Last year I painted the steel gazebo that is in the center of my cutting garden (see earlier post; Cutting Garden Redo). It has held up beautifully. It sounds like a lot of work, but really it was more about time. My paint store assured me I will get about 10 years out of this paint. As I have so many different things to see to here at Tangled Gardens it will be nice not to have to re-visit the painting of the arbors and gazebo annually with a spray on type paint.
I am very pleased with the finished results and highly recommend this process to anyone trying to keep their beautiful black outdoor furniture or garden accents rust free.