Preserve the Beauty of Raw or Rusted Steel & Iron Surfaces

Picture of Preserve the Beauty of Raw or Rusted Steel & Iron Surfaces
I see many ibles made with black pipe here but rarely do they mention any coatings to prevent rusting. I also often build with rusty items where I need to cover the rust so it won't rub of on clothes etc. but don't want to lose the beauty of the patina. An architect once told me he used linseed oil to preserve rusted iron outdoors. I tried it but the damned stuff never fully dries! I could use polyurethane but the oxidation will continue underneath and it will eventually flake off. I've tried "rust stabilizers" but they turn the rust black so it loses it's color. I finally got turned on to a product from an old timer in a paint store I would probably never have found on my own.
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Step 1: Penetrol

Picture of Penetrol
He recommended a product called Penetrol normally used as a paint additive to improve flow and adhesion that also seals and stops rust. It can be used alone as a base coat on bare metal and will fix the rust while preserving the appearance. The finish will be darker than dry rust but similar to rust sprayed with water or oil and can be top coated with a polyurethane for a more durable finish.
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pitbullmama26 days ago

I looking on ideas for making a steel counter top I seen it on T.V. once but don't know how to treat it or the thickness of the steel I should use. Any ideas.

BrianJewett (author)  pitbullmama25 days ago
I used 10 guage (.135 or 1/8 inch) hot rolled mild steel for these counters. They are plenty strong for ANY home use. I'm sure you could use 12 ga as well (.105"?) I wouldn't recommend this finish for a kitchen counter though. The steel is tough enough but the finish probably wouldn't last. You could wax it if it wasn't rusted but you'd have to re wax it periodically to keep it from rusting. That's why stainless steel is popular for kitchens. It needs no finish.
LucyBW1 month ago

Wow - I love that streaky rust finish!

I am also trying to preserve/seal a rust finish but for a fire pit. So I need something that won’t result in toxic fumes if it is heated by fire. I read the fineprint for Penetrol and concluded it is not the right product for this application.

I am not expecting to find a sealant which will hold up over time and weathering
and fire. Its ok if the sealant breaks down when it is in direct contact with
fire but I’m not ok with toxic fumes.

Can you recommend anything???


BrianJewett (author)  LucyBW1 month ago
Actually, for a fire pit, I recommend nothing. If you want to keep the look of the rust, I don't think there's any clear finish I know of that will stand up to fire. My suggestion is to just let it rust. If it's fairly heavy metal, it will still last for years outside. The rust itself will build up a scale that slows down further corrosion.

Ah, that makes a lot of sense.

I was hoping to find something inexpensive that could result in a satin finish and clean to touch compared to straight rust. But everything I'm finding is either toxic and/or flammable, or requires hi-temperature curing (like hi-temp engine paint and clear coat), and I can't imagine hi-temperature curing preserving the rust look.

On the other hand the rust scale is not so dirty as the initial powdery rust. So I'm liking your suggestion to just let it rust...

Thanks for your feedback

Matt Weed made it!1 month ago

Used this on a frame for a ski lift chair. Works Great! After two years of high altitude sun and harsh winters it looks the same as the day it came out of my shop. Used one coat of Penetrol as the base, then did three coats of oil based polyurethane from home depot. All brush applied rather sloppily. Metal is clean mild steel.


Thats a really cool chair Matt. Do you remember what brand/specific product of brush on polyurethane you used?

I can't seem to find the can. I know there is some left in the garage somewhere... But, I'm 90% sure it was Minwax clear oil based polyurethane and that it said it was UV resistant/proof.
BrianJewett (author)  Matt Weed1 month ago
Thanks for the feedback. I'm not sure if the penetrol is needed on clean metal without any rust but it's good to know it's holding up outside.
kesellers16 months ago


I have found your post while trying to figure out how to treat table legs I will be creating. I am going to use black steel pipe from the hardware store to create table legs with butcher block top (see example picture). The legs will not be exposed to liquid, and they will be indoors, but the man at the hardware store gave me the impression they could still rust. He suggested I use some type of wax, but he wasn't specific. I do have small children so I need the legs to be safe for them and it will be pushed against my light colored sofa so it can't be anything that would rub off and stain. Should I just clean them well with steel wool and then use poly or should I use the Penetrol product you suggested? Thank you so much!

BrianJewett (author)  kesellers16 months ago
I've built several things with black pipe. I've always just wiped them down with mineral spirits (paint thinner) to be sure they're clean and then sprayed them with a few coats of flat polyurethane. I've been using a towel bar for over 4 years daily and it still looks like the day I hung it.

I used Johnsons Paste Wax for a steel bookshelf I built. It's good after 3 years but it will probably need re-waxing periodically. It's not as durable as the poly and it would not work well on the threads and fittings.

Hi Brian, I am also using black steel pipes as table legs. I have searched all over Calgary, Alberta for aerosol polyurethane that says it is good for metal, and cannot find any. One vendor said there might be environmental restrictions here that prevent suppliers from importing it. Are there any other products that would work to clear coat the steel? Could I use penetrol on its own? Are there brush-on polyurethanes that would work? I can find minwax polyurethane, but it says it is meant for wood. Was really excited to find this, but am discouraged now that I cant find any aerosol polyurethane.

BrianJewett (author)  adam.laws1 month ago

Wood is the most common usage but it's also good for a clear top coat on metals or other finishes. Any aerosol poly should work fine. Penetrol is not very hard or durable on it's own. If the pipe is clean with no rust, you can skip the penetrol and go straight to the polyurethane.

Thanks for the help! Its great getting advice from somebody who knows what they are talking about.

Thanks so much!!

My picture didn't work, but I think you get the idea. :)

csweet20142 months ago
Have you noticed any yellowing of the finish after a while? Ive read that penetrol can yellow over time since it contains linseed oil.

If its not, Im curious if topcoating it with a clear coat like you say will prevent the yellowing.

From my understanding linseed oil yellows due to its reaction with oxygen over time.

I've had a swing frame outside for about two years now. It looks the same as the day I finished it. The material is non-rusted mild steel so any yellowing should have shown. One coat Penetrol as the base and three coats poly on top.

BrianJewett (author)  csweet20142 months ago
I haven't noticed any yellowing but I probably wouldn't since I only use it on rusty steel. On the dark, red-brown color, a little yellowing wouldn't show.

Hi Brian, this is just the info I was looking for. I have an antique iron bed that is rusted and I would love to keep the look without the rust and paint getting all over everything. I will try this. Thanks!

BrianJewett (author) 2 months ago

What are looking at, raw steel tiles? From your description and the picture, I wonder if someone treated it with linseed oil? Is there an inconspicuous place you could clean with some paint thinner or mineral spirits? Those rust colored streaks might just be in the oil and may wipe off. Anyway, the streaks look brushed on and may not be in the metal.

sorry yeah they are interior tiles for a feature wall. yeah the streaks and blotches are certainly brushes/wiped on.

would that be something added to the linseed oil to get the color through it? or is that just how the linseed finishes.

BrianJewett (author)  jarroddanielthorntom2 months ago
I have no idea. You'll have to clean it off to find out. Do you have an inconspicuous spot you can test it on? My instinct would probably be to clean it all off if possible and start fresh so you can know what you're dealing with. If you're doing this for a client you'll have to sort it out with them.
BrianJewett (author)  BrianJewett2 months ago

BTW, I'm just guessing about the linseed oil based on you're description.

hello love the finish on your vanity!
just wondering if anybody would be able to help me with achieving this finish in my attached photo?

it has a waxy satin appearance and when rubbed with your finger the rusty color will transfer to you fingers. oh and it's just mild/raw steel

thanks heaps


Trashleysjunk2 months ago
Hi Brian, thanks so much for the info. I have been asked to finish out a custom table for a client but I have no idea how to treat the base to prevent it from rusting. I don't believe it's the same material as you've shown but do you think penetrol would work?
BrianJewett (author)  Trashleysjunk2 months ago
If there's no rust on it, you don't need the penetrol. You can use polyurethane directly on the steel if it's clean of rust or any oils. Sherwin Williams even makes one specially made for metal that's extra tough and flexible. I would pop the top out and finish the wood and metal separately so they are both sealed al the way around.
Thank you so much, Brian! You've been a huge help! Happy Holidays :)
minzi.zeng3 months ago
I've heard of clear powdercoat.. Not too sure how it will react to rust.. Or perhaps will still rust below the paint and flake it off..
BrianJewett (author)  minzi.zeng3 months ago
Powdercoat can only be applied over clean bare metal.

I would say that Penetrol is most likely based on linseed oil. There is just no other oil that has those properties. Why yours didn't dry was because it wasn't coocked/boiled or of a lesser quallity.

BrianJewett (author)  jesper.jonsson.5094 months ago

I never had that problem with penetrol. That was with an early project with linseed oil where I didn't know I needed BOILED linseed oil. 12 years or so later, that lamp is STILL a little sticky. The penetrol works fine but it's not a very hard surface. That's why I top coat it with poly.

I didn't say Penetrol would give the same result as raw linseed oil. I just said that Penetrol most likely consist of boiled linseed oil. This due to what it is said to achieve. There are very few oils that has those abilities. As I own a large producer of linseed oil I have some understanding of where and how it is used.

Tr0ublesome4 months ago

Ive not seen a Matte Polyurethane spray. Would a satin work? Im trying to preserve some decorative Roman Armor pieces. I don't want them to rust through and currently I have to keep them oiled which I would much rather not be doing.

BrianJewett (author)  Tr0ublesome4 months ago
If they're repros, then yes, this should work. If they're actual Roman antiques, talk to a conservator for professional archival techniques.

If there is no rust, you can clean the oil off and go straight with the polyurethane.

Thank you sir! I appreciate the info.

I have some small steel tags I would like to make bracelets with...the steel tag will be personalized with metal stamps and attached to a leather band. The tags are raw steel. Is there anything you'd recommend to prevent rust for small steel tags used in this manner? Thanks in advance for the advice!!

Anyone have any ideas??

BrianJewett (author)  jacqueline.westbury4 months ago
Shoot. I already replied to this but it seems to have evaporated. I guess I screwed something up.

My first suggestion would be to not use raw steel. Aluminum, brass, stainless steel, silver or gold won't need coatings. There's no coating that I know of that would stand up to the wear this would receive. If you choose to ignore this advise, (you should always ignore advice like this ;-) then I suggest you experiment with a few pieces for yourself before gifting or selling any. My first try would be to make a piece without coatings and see how it ages or wears. If you keep it dry and wear it continuously, it might develop a nice patina on it's own and the oils in your skin might be enough to protect it. You could do another piece and coat it with pure carnauba wax or Johnson's Paste wax. This would need to be re-waxed every month or two.

You could also try heating one with a torch and dipping it in oil while hot. This could be dangerous so find out the right way to do this and what kind of oil to use first. I have no experience with this but I know there are ways to heat treat steel for a blackened or blued surface. These would still need to be oiled or waxed to prevent rust long term but wearing them everyday might be enough to keep them nice.

In the end, you'll just have to play around and find out. You could also check on some jewelry forums. I haven't seen raw steel used in jewelry but jewelry people may know something.

Good luck, and let us know if you learn anything useful.
cjh3335 months ago

I have 8 steal panels 15.75 X 26 inches-- each piece will have various cut outs that when viewed is smooth with various designs on one side and sorta rough on the other. The 8 pieces of steal will hang over the exterior deck and subject to the weather. The side of the steal facing the deck will have a patina chemical finish. I am researching the best method to clean the steal, and prepare the surface for the patina chemicals then preserve each piece the deck side with the patina (any advice appreciated). Murratic acid and mineral spirits before the patina chemicals is today's plan.

Both sides could have and application of the penetrol --- but after reading this blog a ploy aplication on the side facing the deck would likely peal over time so re- applying the Penetrol as needed would be a correct method.

The side facing the sun can have an application of the followed with several coats of poly -- If the poly peals I would rather re-apply as needed for the areas that face the deck --- Is that right?

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